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East-West-Highway: Cafeterias and restrooms along the lateral highway

One of the most common complaints of travellers plying the 546 kilometre lateral route, that links Thimphu to Trashigang via central Bhutan, is the lack of eateries and restrooms along the highway.

Many travellers carry packed meals and relieve themselves behind bushes and below the road on the journey. Passengers of public transport services travel for hours at a stretch before they get to an eatery most of which do not meet required hygiene standards.

The tourism department is now looking at building cafeterias with restrooms spaced out at two-hour drive intervals along the east-west highway up to the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar and also along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway.

According to tourism officials there was always a need for cafeterias and restrooms along the lateral route but now the need was greater with the increasing number of tourists and Bhutanese travellers frequently plying the route.

The tourism department has already set up three restrooms at Dochula, Sengor, between Bumthang and Mongar, and one at Zalaphangma on Mongar - Trashigang highway.

"We have finalised to build 10 cafeterias with restrooms along the lateral highway and have more in the plan," said the head of the services division, Kunzang Norbu. He said the department had a budget of about Nu. 3 million for each cafeteria.

Shop near Wangduephodrang
The cafeterias will be single storeyed, traditional Bhutanese style built with timber, stone and mud. Cafeterias with spacious lawns were an added advantage since they could be developed into campsites for tourists.

While the department would set up some of the services, it is encouraging private sector people to build such services on their own.

"We will assist them in terms of drawing, designing and supervising the works to ensure that the quality is maintained," the infrastructure development officer, Rinzin Jamtsho reported.

Jakar Dzong, Bumthang
The cafeterias built by the department would be given to the local community to manage and they would be charged a nominal fee by the department.

"Besides creating employment, we are also opening up avenues for local communities to provide meals and sell their vegetables and dairy products," Kunzang Norbu said.

The department would provide training to members of the local community to manage the cafeterias, maintaining proper hygiene and preparing particular cuisines.

While setting up the facilities may not be much of a problem for private entrepreneurs already having land along the highways, Kunzang Norbu said that they would acquire lands from the government on long-term lease and in turn lease it out to interested entrepreneurs without land.

"Within a years time several new cafeterias should be up and running along the east-west and Thimphu to Phuentsholing highway," said Kunzang Norbu.

Contributed by Samten Wangchuk, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006
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