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Bhutan: Roads
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Transportation and Communications > Roads


Until 1961, because of the lack of paved roads, travel in Bhutan was by foot or on muleback or horseback. The 205-kilometer trek from the Indian border to Thimphu took six days. Modern road construction began in earnest during the First Development, Plan (1961-66). The first paved road 175-kilometers-long was completed in 1962 (a branch road later linked Paro with the PhuntsholingThimphu road). Described as a jeep track, it linked Thimphu and Phuntsholing with Jaigaon, West Bengal. The travel time by motor vehicle from the border to Thimphu had shrunk to six hours. Some 30,000 Indian and Nepalese laborers were imported to build the road with Indian aid at a time when India was bolstering its strategic defense against a possible Chinese invasion. Bhutanese also were obliged to donate labor for the construction work. Another road connecting Tashigang with Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, also was built.

By the mid-1970s, about 1,500 kilometers of roads had been built, largely by manual labor. There was a linked network of 2,280 kilometers of roads in 1989; at least 1,761 kilometers of these were paved with asphalt, and 1,393 kilometers were classified as national highways. Despite the construction of surfaced roads linking the principal towns in the south, the mountainous terrain elsewhere makes travel even from one valley to the next quite difficult. Most roads run in river valleys. As part of the Sixth Development Plan, the Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the Indian Border Roads Organization, made plans to construct and upgrade 1,000 kilometers of roads and to extend the road network through the five major river valleys by 1992. Motorable roads were not the only important development. It was estimated as part of the Fifth Development Plan that Bhutan also needed some 2,500 kilometers of mule tracks to connect the nation's 4,500 settlements.

A mountainous country with numerous watersheds, Bhutan also had numerous bridges. Built as part of the road modernization program, most were of reinforced or prestressed concrete for motorable roads and of modular, prefabricated timber on secondary roads. Suspended footbridges joined paths across precipices and waterways.

Nationwide, some 6,910 vehicles were registered in 1988, including 1,235 private automobiles, 250 taxis, 118 buses, 1,105 four-wheel-drive vehicles, and 1,249 trucks. The most prevalent form of transportation was motorcycles and scooters, with some 2,882 registered in 1988. Diplomatic offices registered the balance of transportation vehicles. Most vehicles were of Indian, Japanese, and European manufacture. The Bhutan Government Transport Service operated a fleet of buses nationwide and provided minibus service twice a day between Thimphu and Phuntsholing. A subsidiary of the Royal Insurance Corporation, the Transport Corporation of Bhutan also ran bus service between Phuntsholing and Calcutta. In FY 1989, the government bus service carried 1.2 million passengers. Starting in 1985, private companies operated some bus routes. The greater availability of transportation increased opportunities for Bhutanese citizens to travel within their country and abroad. There was no railroad system.

Although Bhutan had no railroads, a small monorail trail was inaugurated in Paro in 1990. It was used to haul produce to market.

Data as of September 1991

Last Updated: September 1991

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bhutan was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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