Trisuli- A typical Nepali bus scene
Anyone who has taken a bus ride in Nepal has a story, they are always eventful and health and safety are not the top priority. Now Nepal isn't America, and it would be unfair to judge it as such. I understand Nepal has different approaches to transportation, limited resources, and apparently a lack of good engineers. All this said, the road to Dunche is far worse than any other road in Nepal that I have traveled. Going to the Tibet border the Arnico highway is pleasant by comparison, the "highway" to Pokhara is also quite normal for this region, and even the route to Jiri is acceptable for the most part. Even this road to Dunche as far as Kalikasthan isn't anything too insane. But that last ridge line traversed for about ten miles south of Dunche can hardly be recognized as a road and it is testament to the bus drivers skill that a bus can even get over this kind of "road".
Looking Down, roughly 1000' to the Trisuli River
So as the above photo shows it's a long way down, and the edge of the road is never too far away. With the upcoming photography it is important to keep in mind that the consequences of this horrible road are not a brief fall of ten feet or so, but instead a one thousand foot plummet to river far below. I bring this up because it's easy looking at some of the other pictures to forget that the drop is sheer and quite far down. This photo also shows how there is nothing at the edge of the road to prevent going off of it, no bollards, guard rails, and no shoring to keep the earth from simply giving way should it become saturated or loose for any number of reasons.
No this isn't a hiking trail; it's the road.
Where the road really tends to get bad is where it crosses large sections of land slides. In the above picture you can see the very narrow road snaking its way across a section of the mountain that has already given way. Nothing is done to make this section more solid, nor do they bother cut deeper into the earth in order to at least widen the road a bit so that the drivers do not have to hug the edge of an unreliable slope.
Crossing Landslides- Not Fun
The above photo does not do this section of the road justice for how horrible it is. Back in July when I went up to Dunche this part was completely washed out, and we walked the next seven miles to Dunche (we decided not to get on the bus that picks you up on the other side). Now this section is "fixed", as in you can drive over it. When we arrived on the way up a group of Nepal Army were at the site warning passing buses that a small chunk of the road had given way, so you had even less space then normal to inch past. We got out of the bus as it squeaked within a foot of the collapsed part of the road. At one point while talking as we walked to the far side a boulder the size of a melon came bouncing down the hill, forcing one of the Nepali REI expedition crew we were with to run for cover toward the bus. The assortment of rocks in this shot attests that this is probably not a rare incident. Also note the pooling water caused by a complete lack of any drainage.
Loose Gravel & Stones with no Support
Here we get a good look at what is under the road....nothing. It's not even on bedrock, just loose rock, dirt and gravel that has already given way as it tumbled down the mountain as part of a slide in the past. There is absolutely minimal engineering done here to ensure that this road will maintain its stability. Also notice the hard curves and minimal width. I don't want to be too condescending but you would need to have brain damage to design this road and think this was a good solution.
Loose rocks piled at the edge of the road do not inspire confidence.
Here we see a section of the road that has failed, and the solution seems to be to pile up rocks at the edge of the road. There is no under pinning, and no caging. This is most commonly done where water is flowing across the road, which surprisingly is quite common. Instead of using correctly sized culverts or reinforcing the material that makes up the road where the water crosses it, they have piled up some rocks.
My advice to anyone who travels up this way is to avoid this road if you can. The walk over the Gosainkund pass is well worth it, and if you don't mind carrying tents and supplies or brining porters also look into crossing the Ganja La. If you absolutely have to take this road up or back, I'd recommend looking into hiring a 4WD vehicle, which seems much more sensible than the large overcrowded and less maneuverable buses. Another option would to get out and walk the last section to Dunche if you do take the bus up. While plenty of buses make this trip every day, as someone who's worked on plenty of road design and engineering projects, I can tell you very bluntly that at some point a bus is going to go over the side of this road.
The worst part of it is that this doesn't need to be the case. Very minimal sensible things could be done to increase the roads integrity and reduce any chance of the earth slipping from underneath it. These solutions would be at least as cheap as the constant patching that has to be done due to its current state. A lesson could certainly be learned from the Chinese who have built some really amazing roads through their section of the Himalaya. Also the fact that this is a tourist route should justify spending some of the revenue that tourists generate in coming to Nepal. The government siphons off plenty of money from non-service fees such as TIMS cards and the hefty visa fees. Aside from the human cost of an inevitable accident is the damage it does to the regions reputation as a destination that is safe to visit, something that seems to be slipping one bad event at a time recently.