First snowfall leaves hundreds stranded

Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) officials have cautioned drivers of passenger buses yesterday to avoid forcing their way through, after heavy snowfall temporarily blocked Wangduephodrang-Thimphu highway on January 11 night.

The cautionary note comes after hundreds of commuters were stranded on both sides of Dochula pass, following heavy snowfall that spread down to Lumitsawa under Punakha and Thimphu valley on either side. However, unlike the residents, who welcomed the flakes, travellers like Sangay Wangchuk, on his way to Thimphu from Trashigang in a passenger bus, went through harrowing times to get to the capital.

Around 3pm, traffic police stopped the bus he was travelling in and some 15 other buses at Lumitsawa, some 40km from Thimphu. As they waited, not knowing what was happening, some huge excavators were seen heading towards Dochula. “I simply wished the road would clear before dark,” he said. “Nothing happened and we were to spend the night there, on the bus. I was shivering the whole time.”

While darkness crept in, some travellers made fires by the road and took turns to warm up. While it was not of much help, Sangay said there were four women with infants on the bus, who went through so much difficulty in the cold. Food became scarce in the nearby restaurants and alcohol finished in the bars, all before midnight.

Meanwhile, around eight passengers travelling from Tsirang, whose bus arrived earlier than the rest at Lamperi, opted to complete their journey on foot. “Once we crossed Dochula, we were lucky to have gotten free ride until Thimphu,” one of the passengers said, adding they walked for more than two hours. The highway was officially opened to traffic around 8am yesterday, after RSTA officials and roads workers, with the help of excavators, worked on clearing it.

Among others, RSTA officials helped spray 16 bags of salt on the highway between Hongtsho in Thimphu towards Lamperi, Punakha. Thimphu RSTA base in-charge, Ngawang Gyeltshen, said, of the hundred or so stranded vehicles, about 17 were passenger buses coming to Thimphu.  There were also about 10 trucks stuck on the way.

However, authority officials said, there were no major accidents caused by the snowfall.  About 18 RSTA and traffic police personnel were at the site to monitor the situation. Thimphu RSTA base in-charge, Ngawang Gyeltshen, said the authority would be monitoring the road conditions. Meanwhile, Sangay Wangchuk, who was happy to have completed his journey, “in almost three days, despite being a two-day trip”, said it would have been wise to stay back in Bumthang, had they known such a situation was going to arise.

“I’m sure there’s a way for agencies to find out and communicate, rather than have passengers, especially mothers with infants, suffer,” he said.


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