Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From Thimphu to Bumthang: a journey between life and death!

Road blockage between Wangdue and Trongsa on 23rd September 2015

Coinciding with the Tshechu holidays in Thimphu, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) had organized a workshop in Bumthang to develop its five-year strategic plan. As I have been an active member of the Association, I was invited to be part of the workshop held from 24-26 September 2015. We had hired a Bolero truck for our entire journey to and from Bumthang. As we started our journey on 23rd September, I was worried about the road conditions on the way, because just a few days back, a taxi had slipped off the road between Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa killing five passengers. The road between Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang was fine although there were some minor obstacles on the way due to the ongoing road-widening activities. But the conditions began to get worse after crossing Wangdue Phodrang.

The massive road-widening works and the incessant Monsoon rain have really affected the conditions of the East-West Highway these days. It’s very risky to travel to the East nowadays especially in small cars. We were relatively lucky because we were travelling in a Bolero truck which could escape the muddy and slippery roads without much struggle, but still it was not a comfortable journey. The climax of our struggle reached near Nubding when we narrowly escaped a mass of falling boulders. The boulders fell on the road in front of us just at the distance of about 50 meters. Had the boulders fallen just about one minute later, we would have been crashed. It was really scary and dangerous. We had to wait for more than an hour for the excavator to arrive and clear the blockage.
Photo of me with the freshly fallen boulders at the background

We continued to bump through the muddy and slippery road and we could never afford to fall asleep although I had not slept properly the previous night. . With a lot of anxiety and worries, we however reached Bumthang safely after more than 12 hours of travel.

Once we reached Bumthang, we had a very comfortable stay in Tashi Yangkhil hotel where the workshop was arranged. It was a great experience exchanging creative ideas, skills and knowledge during the 3-day workshop. After meaningful interactions and discussions, we could complete the 1st draft of the plan document on the final day of the workshop.

Photo of me near Mebar Tsho, the Lake of Burning Lamps in Bumthang

Although the duration for the workshop was quite short, it was not so intensive. At the cost of working till late night, we could take out some free time in the afternoons to visit some nearby Lhakhangs, witness Tshechus and receive blessings. We went to Tamzhing, Jampel and Kuje Lhakhangs to receive blessings. We also went to the historic Mebar Tsho (the lake from where Tertoen Pema Lingpa had discovered treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche in 1475). I really feel fortunate to have got the opportunity to visit quite a lot of holy places in Bumthang during this short stay.
Photo of Mebar Tsho, the Lake of Burning Lamps

On our way back, we also got the opportunity to meet the famous Rangshikhar Lama who has now settled in Bumthang. We received his blessings and wisdom during our interaction with him for about an hour in his residence. We started our journey back to Thimphu at about 10 o’clock in the morning. We came through similar road conditions on the way: muddy, slippery and watery. At one critical point between Trongsa and Wangdue Phodrang, a heavily loaded lorry had nearly slipped off the road and was stuck at the very critical edge of the road. One of its rear tires had almost crossed the edge of the road and nobody had dared to attempt to move the vehicle to safety. All other cars were jammed beside the lorry and we too got stuck there for about two hours. The excavator finally arrived but it only cleared the space beside the lorry to let us go. We smoothly passed through the lorry but still no attempt was made to save the lorry. This was the condition of the road when we came. The entire area was very slippery and even our car had to be pushed by people to cross over. Negotiating with all those blockages, we could finally cross Wangdue Phodrang and escaped into the safer world. We reached home only at 1 o’clock in the morning. It was in fact the most tedious journey I ever had. It is highly advisable not to travel at this time of the year especially on the East-West Highway. Believe me, this road really runs between life and death. It keeps tickling your ass until you get to your destination. But upon the completion of the ongoing road-widening works, I know this will be the most comfortable and peaceful highway in Bhutan.


  1. i am very much glad to know about the road conditions along the bumthang highway. I am planning to travel to bumthang by bolero on monday so i would love to get the clear cut about the road conditions nowadays la.

  2. This article was published last year but the road condition seems to be still worse. Anyway be careful and take care la.