The Public Works Department in Assam has installed signboards at several locations along Bengtol-Santipur road restricting movement of Bhutanese vehicles on that route.

According to the signboard, movement of all Bhutanese vehicles is restricted. “Movement of heavy vehicles carrying the load more than 25 metric tones and trucks ferrying oil to Bhutan are also restricted,” it also stated.”

The Santipur-Bengtol road is a secondary route Bhutanese vehicles use while travelling from Gelephu towards Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Nganglam, and Panbang. It is used as a short route.

The shortcut route starts from the first diversion on the left after crossing Deosuri causeway, about 15 minutes drive away from Gelephu border gate. One signboard is displayed there. It goes through the village and connects to the main Assam highway.

Another signboard is displayed near the bridge at Kajalgaon in Chirang district of Assam.

A taxi driver in Gelephu, Tenzin Wangchuk, said that plying through Bengtol road shortens the distance by more than an hour. It is a farm road through the village where the road is quite narrow. “Most travellers choose that road because the official highway is in bad condition.”

However, it has been over a year that Tenzin Wangchuk stopped using that route after locals attacked some Bhutanese vehicles. “A taxi was even burnt last year.”

He said it was always safe to ply the highway but not the village road.

A source in Gelephu said that these days all heavy vehicles including buses travelling to and from Bhutan used the route.

The restricted area is a clustered settlement with livestock that have fallen victim to accidents.  “The restriction does not affect Bhutanese travellers as there is a highway,” the source said.

A Gelephu resident, who travelled from Phuentsholing recently, Ugyen Rabten, said that the short route was smooth but narrow.

“The road reduces the distance but it is quite confusing for new drivers with a lot of diversions. We’ll miss the peacefulness while driving through the villages but it’s always safe to use the regular route,” he said.

More than 200 vehicles move between Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Phuentsholing, Panbang and Nganglam daily.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang