The government has been considering keeping motor vehicles off the Barhabise- Tatopani section of Araniko Highway during this rainy season due to continuing landslides triggered by the April 25 earthquake.
Barring automobiles on the highway linking Kathmandu with the Chinese border will make it difficult for people living in the surrounding regions to bring people to the capital for medical treatment besides hindering trade with the northern neighbour.
Tatopani is the busiest conduit for overland trade with China, and around 25 percent of the commerce passes through this border town. The volume of trade through other land routes such as Rasuwagadhi is very small at the moment. As traders begin importing goods for the shopping rush during the Dashain festival in August, blocking transportation on the route will cripple garment and footwear importers.
Tulasi Sitaula, secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, said that the government was considering suspending vehicular movement on the Barhabise- Tatopani section for a few months since the continuous landslides could result in human fatalities. “The earthquake and aftershocks have caused several landslides, and operating vehicles on the road would be hazardous,” he said.
According to him, the government has not yet decided to declare the road off-limits to motor vehicles, but discussions are going on with the Home and Local Development ministries on that option. Trade with China through the route has remained at a standstill and normal life has been affected since the April 25 earthquake.
The Customs Office in Tatopani remains closed. Likewise, the customs, immigration and other facilities on the Chinese side have also been shut down since the disaster. About 300 Nepal-bound container trucks remain stranded on either side of the border. “First, we want to clear these containers and ship them to Kathmandu before deciding whether to forbid traffic on the road,” said Sitaula. Although the government has requested China to clear the Barhabise- Tatopani road, there has been no firm action so far, according to the Physical Infrastructure Ministry.
The government does not intend to rebuild the road during the rainy season, and has stationed earth-moving equipment at different places on Araniko Highway to clear debris in case of landslides, according to the ministry.
Even if vehicular traffic is not officially suspended on this stretch, few motorists will dare drive over it due to the constant danger of landslides. Under the circumstances, the government has been considering rerouting shipments through Rasuwagadhi, another historical trade route to Tibet. Currently, trade through this route has also remained shut. It lies directly to the north of Kathmandu .
According to Sitaula, the earthquake has caused only one landslide on the Kathmandu -Rasuwagadhi road, and it can be used as an alternative to some extent. The Rasuwagadhi route is not as busy as the Tatopani route due to lack of infrastructure on either side of the border.
Lately, customs, immigration and other facilities have been built on both sides.