Road is the main infrastructural development evident in Zhemgang, where people living in far-flung villages say life has become much easier now for them.

The dzongkhag’s rugged terrain of thick forest and deep ravines are cut through and the inaccessible villages being connected with farm roads. The dzongkhag, which had only 210kms of roads in 2008 and only three of the eight gewogs connected with motorable roads, now boasts of having more than 251kms of farm roads.

All gewogs are now connected but the gewog centre (GC) roads of Bardo and Shingkhar gewogs are not blacktopped yet. While works are on-going, it is likely to take a few more years considering the distance.

Dzongkhag engineer, Kintu, said there are 43 farm roads in the dzongkhag and except for Barpong and Dali villages of Bjoka gewog, Pongchula and Tashibi of Phangkhar gewog, Phulabi and Langdurbi villages of Bardo gewog and Kamjong and Dunmang villages of Nangkhor, all villages are connected.

“Works are ongoing to connect those villages also,” he said. He explained that in the 12th Plan they would maintain and improve all the existing chiwog roads. “While 11th Plan prioritised on gewog connectivity, 12th Plan prioritises chiwog connectivity.”

According to Kintu, it is difficult to connect all villages at one go since it has rugged terrain and limited resource allocation based on the population. He also said Zhemgang focuses on gradual phase of sustainable socio-economic development without any negative environmental impact, as it has one of the richest biodiversity.

The dzongkhag falls under three national conservation parks of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Phrumsengla National Park and Royal Manas National Park. The assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer, Jambay Ugyen, said the sector is now focusing on commercialisation of cash crops like citrus and cardamom. He said they increased cardamom production from 2 metric ton (MT) to 10MT as per the annual performance agreement.

Meanwhile, although the Buli-Nimshong road that connects Shingkhar and Bardo gewogs is undulated and filled with boulders and potholes, people say it benefitted them. Sangay Choden, 72, from Bardo said people had to carry patients for five days to the nearest road when the village was not connected. “Now the ambulance comes here to pick up patients.”

She said people now own Boleros and everything is available in the village. Her only daughter, who stayed in Gelephu, now returned home and is working on the farm. “Without the roads, my daughter would have never come here.”

A civil servant from Zhemgang, Sangay Chedup, said students from Khomshar and other villages walked for three days to reach Dakpai carrying their rations. He shared how he cried when he and his brother had to ferry cement for bridge construction for three days. “Road is penetrating into all villages and improving lives.”

Bardo gup Kunzang Jurmi said people do not contribute labour to ferry school rations and equipment, cement and metals for developmental activities because of the road. For many people, who remained in extreme poverty and lived in temporary sheds in lower Kheng, the road has changed their lives. They have started constructing permanent structures.

Tashi Dema | Zhemgang