Compared with the hustle and bustle of Indian roads, with all its incessant honking and utter chaos, Bhutan is definitely a driver’s paradise. People don’t blare their horns unnecessarily and they rarely get into a road rage or disobey traffic rules. Plus, the drive throughout the kingdom is not at all stressful, but very much picturesque.
You may find no traffic lights in the entire Kingdom – for there are none – but you will definitely find a new-sense of freedom on the road. Yet, before you hit the gas, here are a few pointers that might come in handy.
Most people behind the wheels in Bhutan are unhurried and relaxed. Perhaps it’s partly because the Bhutanese in general are laid back people and partly because there’s only so fast you can go on a long and winding road. So, there is no hurry, really!
On Road Vehicles
This may sound strange or awesome – depending on how you look at it – but you can find cars of various breeds in this tiny Himalayan nation. From Ferraris and Mercs to Hummers and Mini Coopers the country has it all. However, the most preferred by the upper middle-class seem to be the Japanese and Korean SUVs, the rest do just as fine in their Indian sedans and compact family cars. It’s only the trucks and taxi cabs one has to be weary of while on the road. Oh! The white meat vans, too.
Speed is measured in km/h in Bhutan. There are proper signages in English along the routes to anticipate what one might encounter. And the speed limits vary from 20km/h in the towns to 50km/h on highways. To exceed that would be an act of daredevilry, given our roads. Like we mentioned, speed doesn’t thrill in Bhutan, the scenery does.
There are no traffic lights in Bhutan and therefore no automated traffic signals either. What we do have are traffic cops on podiums who put on artistic displays of exceptional flair while manning traffic on busy streets. Trust us, when you’re here, you’ll definitely photograph one of them in action. After all, they are hard to miss.
Across the country, you will find several small roundabouts but only within the periphery of the towns. The rules and markings are conventional yet easy to navigate. To be honest, the Bhutanese don’t like going around in circles, guess we all know where we’re headed.
Most Bhutanese towns have zebra crossings in abundance all across busy intersections. But whether the driver will let you cross without breaking a sweat, it’s hard to say. While some drivers are kind, others will treat you to a brand new experience. It’s fun, actually!
Driving in the City
If you’re from England and you’re driving around Thimphu, you’ll probably feel like you’re driving around an English village – of course, minus the English countryside pubs and the English weather. There is absolutely no hurry. In short, if you can avoid the morning and evening rush hours – it’s easy. If you can’t, you won’t be stuck for more than 5-7 minutes. That’s not at all bad, is it, now?
The roads zigzagging through Bhutanese villages are usually farm roads, not paved and with a single track. Many roads are cut high along the sides of steep valleys, so have a vertical rock face along one side, and a vertical drop (sometimes into a river) on the other. Amazingly, most Bhutanese navigate through them just fine, and in whatever vehicle they have mounted. For guests, on the other hand, it would be wise to call on an expert and let him do the needful. We have an abundance of them.
Driving at Night
If your eyesight is good or you have night vision goggles, or there is no dense fog, or the rains haven’t caused a landslide, why not? A slight warning: if you’re alone – it could get spooky when you don’t spot the light-beam of another car for miles. So, suffice to say, most Bhutanese travel during the day and those who do travel at night, don’t spook easy.
Anywhere you spot a rectangular spot on the streets; you can park your car. It’s that easy. And for making it so easy, you are charged a small fee for the spot you occupy. Make sure you have some change on you; it’ll save you the embarrassment and a few stares.
Most importantly, remember – carry you driving license and car papers at all times. Our traffic cops don’t only put on artistic displays on podiums, they also levy fines if you’re found wanting during their routine checks. When and where the checks will happen – nobody can tell – not even the cops. Enjoy your drive!