Transport in Bhutan

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Until 1961, because of the lack of paved roads, travel in Bhutan was by foot or on muleback or horseback. The 205-kilometer trek from the Indian border to Thimphu took six days. Modern road construction began in earnest during the First Development, Plan (1961-66). The first paved road 175-kilometers-long was completed in 1962 (a branch road later linked Paro with the PhuntsholingThimphu road). Described as a jeep track, it linked Thimphu and Phuntsholing with Jaigaon, West Bengal. The travel time by motor vehicle from the border to Thimphu had shrunk to six hours. Some 30,000 Indian and Nepalese laborers were imported to build the road with Indian aid at a time when India was bolstering its strategic defense against a possible Chinese invasion. Bhutanese also were obliged to donate labor for the construction work. Another road connecting Tashigang with Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, also was built.[1]

By the mid-1970s, about 1,500 kilometers of roads had been built, largely by manual labor. There was a linked network of 2,280 kilometers of roads in 1989; at least 1,761 kilometers of these were paved with asphalt, and 1,393 kilometers were classified as national highways (see fig. 16). Despite the construction of surfaced roads linking the principal towns in the south, the mountainous terrain elsewhere makes travel even from one valley to the next quite difficult. Most roads run in river valleys. As part of the Sixth Development Plan, the Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the Indian Border Roads Organization, made plans to construct and upgrade 1,000 kilometers of roads and to extend the road network through the five major river valleys by 1992. Motorable roads were not the only important development. It was estimated as part of the Fifth Development Plan that Bhutan also needed some 2,500 kilometers of mule tracks to connect the nation's 4,500 settlements.[1]

Rail

As of 2008, Bhutan did not have any railways.[2]

Bhutan and India have signed an MOU to connect Bhutan with the Indian Railways network. Further progress was reported in March 2006.[3]

On January 25, 2005, the King and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to carry out a feasibility study for rail links.Possible routes are Hasimara - Phuentsholing with a branch to Pasaka (18 km); Kokrajhar - Gelephu (70 km); Pathsala - Naglam (40 km); Rangla - Darranga - Samdrupjongkar (60 km); and Banarhat - Samtse.[4]

Roadways

  • Total: 8,050 km
  • Paved: 4,991 km
  • Unpaved: 3,059 km (2003)

The country's primary road is the East-West highway, known locally as the Lateral Road, which was constructed starting in 1962. The road starts in Phuentsholing on the SW Indian border and terminates in Trashigang in the far east, with spurs to other main centres such as Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha. The Lateral Road is built to a standard width of only 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) yet must support traffic in both directions (the cost of cutting a wider road through the mountainous Middle Himalayas is prohibitive at this time). Safety barriers, road markings, and signage are sparse. Traffic proceeds at a slow speed, typically around 15 km/h, to minimize head-on collisions. Road accidents still occur frequently and, because of the steep mountainous topography, are typically horrific. Most of the route between Paro Airport and Thimphu has recently been improved to a two lane road.

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