Driving in Bhutan

Bhutan is a mountainous country, and the roads cling to the valley sides. From the moment you arrive in Bhutan, whether by air or road at Phuntsholing, the mountains occupy every landscape. Fast-flowing rivers criss-cross the land, and these form steep valleys before flowing out onto the Indian plains. The land rises from 200 meters in the southern foothills to 7000 metres in the High Himalayas.

Nearly all major towns are accessible by the road system. Despite the high mountains and the deepest of valleys, Bhutan has a relatively well developed road network. Bhutan is unique in its roads as you will rarely find a length of either straight or flat road. In some stretches there might be 6 or 7 bends per kilometre. In Thimpu itself a new dual carriageway is close to being completed, which causes all kinds of confusion to rural drivers.

Steep ascents and descents are common, which mean that average times for journeys are rather lower than expected when considering the distances involved. However, one is rewarded by the spectacular views of the towering mountains, shaded valleys, ancient villages and majestic monasteries.

entrance-to-thimpu-highwayApart from the main highway that runs from Thimpu down to the Indian border (which is undergoing widening, causing some delays during rock blasting), most roads are single lane. Bhutanese drivers know their land well and are cautious and careful drivers. A regular comment from visitors is that ‘our driver was excellent’, making them all proud of their driving skills.Traffic density is low, though rising, especially in Thimpu, but still drivers exercise caution when approaching sharp bends, when the mountain rises on one side and the valley falls steeply on the other. The drivers of tourist vehicles know the best places to stop for photos, or special places of interest. They understand what particular tourists are showing interest in and know the most convenient stopping place for each attraction.

There is no rail service, neither a domestic air service. Work is going ahead for an airfield suitable for short take-off and landing aircraft. This is in the east of Bhutan and could be ready by 2016. That will ease the travel problems for east-west tourism, since the current journeys could take up an entire day.

The vehicles provided for tourists are all carefully monitored, and are usually of the Toyota Land Cruiser type. These are good for two or four tourists, whilst mini coaches, adapted for more legroom, carry larger parties.

It is not recommended for tourists to self-drive in these parts of the world, but as a tourist you can be sure that the worry of negotiating the road system is in the hands of an expert. Tourist vehicle drivers play a great part in your satisfaction on arriving back at your departure point safe and sound.