The roads in Bhutan have something less than a stellar reputation. I am here to confirm that as truth. I have now driven from Thimphu to Jakar, the main city in a region known as Bumthang. Actually, I did none of the driving. This was left up to my driver, Hamraj who is employed by the tour company which arranged this trip for me. We are accompanied by Pema who is my guide. He makes all the arrangements and makes sure I don't do anything too stupid.
So back to the roads. I told the tour company that I had little interest in just sitting in the van for endless hours just to reach another town and look at the local sights. We agreed that a bicycle would be brought along and I could get out whenever I wanted and ride for as long as I wanted and then be picked up again. The itinerary would be viewed as only a guideline and could be altered as mutually agreed upon by me and Pema. In any event, we drove for 5 hours one afternoon, covering a whopping 110 kilometers. For those of you math whizzes, that is an average speed of 22 km/hr, or 13.2 miles per hour.
Now you might ask how that can be when we spent the entire time on a road known as the main east to west highway in Bhutan. Well, the word highway is a bit of an exaggeration. Actually it is a complete misuse of the word to apply it to what we drove on. The slight cutout made into the side of the mountains resembled more of what a civil engineer might create in order to indicate their intent to some day construct a road there. It varied in width from 1/2 to 3/4 lane and had intermittent sections of pavement. It followed every curve of the terrain and I maintain a few extra's were thrown in there by the construction crews just for fun and to add to the challenge. The interesting part wasn't even the road itself or the rain or mud. It was the fact that this is a two lane road and an estimated 50% of the vehicles are full sized dump trucks carrying rock, dirt, cement, rebar and other construction materials. So how do cars pass each other?
I should mention here that horn use in Bhutan is quite different than in the U.S. They are not used out of anger or frustration but rather as a communication tool and their use is encouraged. One relays a message to a slower moving vehicle in front of you that you would like to pass and they will then pull over at the next convenient place and allow you to drive by. Horns are routinely blown when entering a blind curve on the road to warn oncoming traffic of your presence. They are also used as a courtesy warning to pedestrians, livestock (commonly grazing alongside the road and for some reason lying in the middle of the road), and bicyclists. Somehow, vehicles get by each other, sometimes by no more than inches though.
So we got one flat tire on the way, changed it without any problem to the spare but have discovered that the damaged tire cannot be repaired. So we are driving with no spare until we return to the capital city in a couple days over the same road that caused a flat in the first place. Oh well, at least I have the bike to bail out onto if we get stuck. The spare bicycle tube I brought is still unused. I told Pema I would call for help when I reached the next town. Anyhow, we finally arrived in a town called Gangte, located in a wonderfully, beautiful valley in which several hundred of the endangered black neck cranes spend their Winters. I don't know that I have ever been so glad to pull into a hotel parking lot. The next day I rode the bike the 80 or so kilometers to the next town.