Typical of Bhutanese roads, long and arduous they are, characterised by gut-lifting sharp bends, steep descents and groaning ascents.
Add to that, along certain sections of the road, the eerily narrow stretches, unexpected potholes, butt-cringing sinks and sullen mists that cling to the windscreen.
They all make up the thrill of driving on Bhutanese roads.
Roadside signs, however, are a draw by themselves. Strategically spaced out along comfortable stretches of the highways, they warn, they humble, they inspire. Sometimes outright blunt, at other times contemplative, but they are all messages, well-meaning, “little nuggets of wisdom” as some foreign visitors to the country would put it.
“Life’s a journey, complete it” urges one at the beginning of the journey from Phuentsholing, the country’s commercial hub, towards Thimphu.
“Beep beep, don’t sleep”, warns another sign written in red on a rock just before a zig. “If you sleep, your family will weep,” goes one on a subtler note. Almost like an approaching vehicle with honks from the opposite direction, these cautions serve well for drivers, especially those zipping delivery pick ups, meat vans and cabs that frequent the almost 180km highway twice, or thrice a day.
Perhaps it has to do with some of us who have a thing with the bottle and considering the ease with which it is made available for tradition’s sake, one sign, unlike the rest, most common along Bhutanese highways and repeats itself a couple of times is the reminder to not “Drink and drive”, but to, “Either drink, or drive”. “After drinking whisky, driving is risky”, is another tipsy one.
One of the most common themes of the signs have to do with speeding, especially in the backdrop of the many bends that are typical of the Bhutanese highways, the designs of which are dictated by the country’s topography.
Along roads passing through precipitous hills and high passes are served some signs like, “If you’re married, divorce speed”. Bearing the same cautionary note, albeit rather desperately attempting a poetic rhyme reads: “If you drive faster, waiting will be disaster”.
Some wear a friendly note: “On the bend, go slow friend”. A few like, “If you like my curves, I have many” and “Go easy on my curves” are amusing finds for peeled eyes around turns shrouded in dense fogs.
Over the years, besides some of these signs that have been drummed into the minds of many Bhutanese motorists driving the various Bhutanese highways, are a few that favour the country’s natural wealth of forest against some of its uncouth inhabitant and visitors.
“Don’t litter, it’ll make your life bitter,” has been an attempt on that front so far, but one struggling to find its place among the already existing chiming ones.
Well who takes the pain, or rather gauging by the sound of the slogans, pleasure of writing them. Project Dantak of the Indian Border Roads Organisation that have played a crucial part in connecting Bhutan through the many road networks it created in the last half a century or so is responsible for it.
But there seems to be no one face behind these slogans according Dantak official along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing road. In an interview with one of the officials that appeared on an online travelogue, the sources of these slogans, although unknown were an outpour of innovativeness, ingenuity, initiative and mental caliber of those paving roads at that particular time on that particular stretch of road.