Thimphu Traffic? We saw it coming

Thirty years back, in 1986, I started working for the Radio NYAB (the predecessor to the Bhutan Broadcasting Service) as a young junior engineer. One of my responsibilities was to operate the sound system at the Royal Banquet Hall where almost every important government meetings, workshops and seminars were held. One such meeting was called by the erstwhile National Urban Development Corporation on the Royal Command of His Majesty the King to discuss the city plan for, and the growing traffic in, Thimphu City. All our leaders of today were there as young directors, under-secretaries and deputy ministers. NUDC was chaired by the late Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Dawa Tsering. Dasho Lhatu Wangchuk was the Secretary. The meeting was steered by late Dasho Lam Penjore, the Deputy Minister of Planning Commission – assisted by a very soft-spoken Director of Planning, Ugyen Tshering (who retired as foreign minister, Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering).

During the meeting, briefly graced by His Majesty the King, the issue of the growing traffic came up. One attendee (I think it was lyonpo Om Pradhan who was the Deputy Minister for Trade then) pointed out that the main issue to be tackled was the Chubachu junction that posed a bottleneck as majority of traffic users moved to Tashichho Dzong in the morning and then away from it in the evening. Many more ideas and feedbacks were floated in that meeting, which were all excellent. I don’t remember exactly what His Majesty commanded but I remember along the lines of not making the mistakes of other countries, to maintain adequate offset between the houses, etc.

Thirty-one years on, and my last visit home, few weeks back, I was stuck in my car for over thirty minutes to go from my house in Kawajangsa to the centre of the city. It would have taken 15 if I had walked. The Chubachu junction, which was causing the bottleneck, was still there taking around twenty minutes to clear me and my old car. As I moved inch by inch, literally, I couldn’t help but think about that meeting – and about how we Bhutanese never learn from, or listen to, our King.

Countries and nations fail because of bad or no leadership. That’s unfortunate. We are failing despite having a great one. The traffic problem, which has now become a chronic issue, is just one of the many thing we could have avoided if we had just listened to our King. Just until 20 years back Thimphu was a blank slate on which we could have drawn a beautiful artwork. We had 30 years to address this issue.

Maybe it is late. Or maybe, it isn’t.


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