23 March 2024

First of all, there is only one.

Bhutan’s only National Highway

Bhutan represents the most mountainous country in the world with almost 99% of their land covered by an array of pine and deciduous forests. Switzerland runs a distant eighth with just 83%, Nepal is tenth with 81%. Bhutan also can claim that it is neighbors with five of the tallest mountains in the world, though those snow-capped peaks have been elusive.

All these mountains result in lots of zig-zagging mountain roads. Forest and mountains line on one side, steep precipices drop off the other. Mountain vistas fade as the distance grows. However, there are far fewer cars and trucks and the roads are wider. Lanes appear drawn and, better yet, observed. I hear no horns beeping their constant voices to mar the peaceful countryside.

Shockingly, we follow another vehicle.

Bhutanese drivers do not fear their manhood if they fail to pass on a curve. Indian drivers follow no one. How confused Indian tourists must be to drive these roads. Generally. Bhutanese drivers stay in their own lane when going uphill and around a blind curve, something that would never stop an Indian driver from passing the car ahead.

But don’t misunderstand. Bhutanese drivers do pass and they might pass on a hill. They do pass on a curve. But, they are polite about it.

There is still a cow or three grazing the roadsides. But here in Bhutan, people not only use their milk but eat their beef. In higher elevations, and there are plenty of 10,000 to 12,000 foot passes, herds of yaks wander about.

An occasional group of Langur monkeys populate the trees. Stupas, monasteries, and tall banners of white and red dot the mountainsides.

Because of our proximity to China, there are occasional police stops while close to the border. Passports checked, we quickly drive on. The military presence grows the further east we drive as we come closer the shared border. These border crossings remain closed.

Road signs continue to entertain.

“Beware of shooting stones.”

“No hurry no worry?”

“Live for your today drive for your tomorrow.”

“Mind your brakes or break your mine.”

“Safety inexpensive and life priceless.”

There are stop signs. Mostly, drivers ignore them. I hear there is only one stop light in all of Bhutan. As yet, I have not seen one. Here exists visible pedestrian crosswalks which people use and drivers stop for them.

Following the constant switchbacks as we weave our way up or down the mountains, the scenery is stunning. Views of the Himalayan peaks fade in the distance; mossy trees glisten in morning sunlight and small purple Primula denticulata flowers line the roadside. The white and red magnolias and peach trees are in full bloom. And, most importantly, there is an absence of trash!

Modi in Coming, Modi in Coming!

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has arrived in Bhutan for a two day visit. All one road is closed! This represents an additional problem for a one-highway country. When an important dignitary visits, there are no alternate routes. One sits out the inconvenience until the road reopens. We depart for Paro late for just this reason.


Bhutan is not at a loss for water. In fact, a main export to India is hydropower. Waterfalls big and small tumble down the rocks and canyons. Clean mountain streams rush along the road and down the mountain.

The building of highway infrastructure can be spotted. Restaurant and General Stores are available. All are designed in the Tibetan tradition; few derelict shacks but many modern constructions of homes and businesses appear.

Electrical lines exist mostly atop poles rather than exposed running and dangling along the hillsides. Building in Bhutan is a Plan, not an accident.

All is not perfect in Bhutan.

The horizon can be marred by pollution, mainly smoke. As long as wood is used for cooking and heating there will be smoke. However, with only 778,000 people in the country, this is not a critical problem.

The roadside’s white concrete teeth are a different story. These concrete blocks periodically edge the roadsides. Occasionally, there the white pointy cement posts like incisor teeth lining the edge. There is never enough of these safeguards to prevent the mindless driver from plunging off the road to the valley some 2000-3000 feet below. As the sigh states: “Mind your brakes or break your mine.”

One Road + Snow = Closed Passes

At Pele La Pass

Rain fills rivers, waters plants and creates hydroelectric power. Snow closes passes. If the white stuff falls, let it melt. There is sand and salt to help the melt, but the situation is: if it snows in the high passes the roads connecting east and west close. there are no alternative routes to PNH-1. In our case, 5” of snow delayed our departure but did not sul, our adventure.

There and Back Again

As the saying goes – What goes up must come down. You do that a lot in this mountainous country. Also, he who drives east retraces his drive west upon return. There is only this one National Highway in Bhutan. This is it. It’s not like home where if a road closes, I can drive an alternate route. In Bhutan, One highway = One route.

As we arise this cold Thursday morning, our breath mimics the low clouds drifting over the mountains, and the puddles indicate light rain continued overnight. We are told there is snow in the passes. Our return trip to Trongsa should prove an interesting adventure.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *