The day I went... Yeti hunting in Bhutan
In this article: Alex Goy goes looking for the Skoda Yeti’s fabled namesake in the forests of Bhutan
The premise was simple: fly to Bhutan, pick up a Skoda Yeti and search for the car’s mythical namesake. You see, the people of Bhutan firmly believe that the yeti exists in the kingdom’s forests, and they were more than happy for me to go and have a look for it. And as Bhutan is 71% forest, there was a lot of ground to cover. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have chance to see all of it. Instead, I was guided to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, created (in part) to protect yetis.
In the UK, the Skoda Yeti is the car of choice for families who occasionally have to drive on a field, kerb or muddy drive, which is just fine. However, few appreciate the true breadth of its abilities. With an all-wheel drive system and off-road buttons to press, it is actually more capable as an off-roader than most give it credit for. It’s something that would be of great importance later in the trip.
Driving into Bhutan from India means going through a giant set of Jurassic Park-style gates. It’s the kind of theatre that you just don’t get with Le Shuttle if you travel to mainland Europe, and it neatly sets you up for a truly magical place. Everywhere you look are smiling faces – perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that Bhutan prioritises Gross National Happiness over GDP.
The route took me through a few towns, sure, but bar the odd stretch of barely used tarmac, it was all rough, rocky, nasty roads. It’s the kind of stuff Bear Grylls rolls his eyes at before retreating to a bush to drink his own wee. The rocks were, at their smallest, as big as your fist. For most of the route, one side of the road was a sheer drop and the other was the foot of a cliff.
Oncoming traffic made the Yeti feel wide, and the unfinished nature of the track meant that bits could simply fall away beneath the car if you weren’t careful. The going was slow and cautious.
I dubbed one chunk of the route ‘the death road’ because half of the track had subsided. Put a wheel in the wrong place and a very different search for a Yeti would have to be mounted.
The road was harsh, but the car took the worst of it in its stride. Hour after hour in the hot seat didn’t lead to an achey back or a numb bum, and the Yeti handled it all incredibly given the circumstances. If only the rough going had allowed more time to appreciate the setting. Bhutan is a beautiful country, especially at sunset. Unburdened by large industry, pollution simply isn’t an issue, which makes for stunning views as far as the eye can see. Lush greens, stark greys, rich oranges… everything you could want from the glossiest of nature documentaries, just beyond your windscreen.
On the occasions when I stopped for a break, I was greeted by happy people. The language barrier was significant in a lot of places, but that didn’t matter. A smile is universal. I met holy men, rich men, dignitaries and people poorer than I thought possible. All of them would extend their hand, offer a smile and say hello.
The drive was challenging, in places genuinely scary due to the nature of the roads, but that was kind of the point. I went to find a mythical creature in a county-sized forest, but I ended up finding a joyful place where money isn’t a concern and where being truly content is king. I didn’t find a yeti, but I left with a head full of great memories and a newfound appreciation for what, elsewhere, is just a car for the school run.
This is an edited extract from IMI's new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership. Time to find out more about becoming a member of the most influential community in UK automotive…?