Hunting the YETI in the Clouds


ŠKODA dispatched three YETIs on an adventure into the wilds of Bhutan, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mythical creature. Would the wild yeti be drawn out into the open by the appearance of its namesake?

9. 1. 2017

Does the yeti really exist? It’s a question that has engaged explorers for centuries – prompting countless expeditions into the wilds of Bhutan and spawning hundreds of unexplained sightings and stories. Enshrined in local folklore, the yeti continues to attract adventurers to the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan – all hoping for a glimpse of the mythical beast.

Such is the attraction of the area – which features some of the most challenging roads in the world – that ŠKODA launched an expedition of its own. Taking three specially prepared YETIs on an adventure into an area of Bhutan where many locals believe the yeti lives. Would the wild yeti be tempted out into the open by the appearance of its namesake?


             Bhutan itself is a small country

The expedition

Day 1

Samdrup Jongkhar (altitude 250 m) to Trashigang (altitude 1,100 m)

The adventure begins in Delhi, India where the adventure team pack their kit into the spacious boot of their YETIs and travel the short distance to the border with Bhutan. As befits a country with the official title of ‘The Kingdom of Bhutan’, the border takes the form of a large golden gate that separates the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar from India.

Once the team are in Bhutan, the true scale of the adventure starts to emerge. As the convoy leaves Samdrup Jongkhar, the roads quickly become more challenging as they snake up the mountain. Asphalt gives way to gravel while the safety barriers disappear completely to leave sheer drops at the side of the road.

After a brief stop in Wamrong, the cars are checked over and the drive to the overnight camp at Lingkhar in Tashigang commences. The road from Wamrong to Trashigang is one of the most challenging routes in the country and is locally known as the ‘road of death’ on account of the number of motorists who have lost their lives trying to negotiate its 40,000 bends and corners.

Predictably, the YETI takes it all in its stride. Although the Rough-Road package (see box for more details) is put to the test on numerous occasions, the sure-footed four-wheel-drive system ensures that traction is maintained at all times. Progress is, however, slow, thanks to the rough surface and the need to negotiate pedestrians and cattle. Third gear is the norm as the convoy edges its way closer to Trashigang.

Day one ends at Lingkhar Lodge – a stopover point in the busy town of Trashigang – some 1,110 m above sea level. It’s a chance to refuel the YETIs, refuel the team and get some sleep before the drive to Merak – the fabled home of the yeti.

Day 1

The Kingdom of Bhutan
 The large golden gate of Bhutan's border

The road from Wamrong to Trashigang is one of the most challenging routes in the country

Driving in BhutanTreacherous roads

 Driving in Bhutan

For the European driver, taking to the roads in Bhutan is a bit of an eye-opener. Like many Asian countries, Bhutan drives on the left and most cars are right-hand drive. Just 62 per cent of Bhutan’s roads are tarmacked, while the remaining 38 per cent vary from rough gravel tracks to extremely rough tracks only passable in four-wheel-drive vehicles with good ground clearance.

Although Bhutan itself is a small country, measuring around 300 km east to west and 150 km north to south, it is highly mountainous. This means that it can take hours to travel between two relatively close villages due to serpentine mountain roads and roads along river banks. Amazingly, 80 per cent of the Bhutanese population lives more than a two-hour walk from the nearest road.


Day 2

Trashigang (altitude 1,100 m) to Merak (altitude 3,530 m)

Day 2

Merak village

High altitude


Cars in Bhutan

Despite much of infrastructure being basic and rather rudimentary in places, the political ideals of the country’s leaders are extremely advanced. Bhutan is a country that boasts vast areas of spectacular and untouched territory – the existence of which is threatened by climate change. It has a unique and delicate eco-system that features a sub-tropical climate at lower levels and polar-like climate at higher levels. Bhutan is also the only nation on the planet to be classified as carbon positive.

As a result, the country’s leaders are committed to protecting the environment. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has put laws in place that will ensure that at least 60 per cent of Bhutan will be forested and sees the electric car as the way forward for the Bhutanese people. Extensive trials into the feasibility of wide-scale electrification have already started and government ministers – along with the King and Queen – all drive zero-emission vehicles.

For now though, Bhutan’s car pool largely consists of older vehicles – many of which have been brought across the border from India or imported from Japan (both right-hand-drive markets). In 1971 there were just 47 vehicles in the entire country – now there are 50,000 on the road. And while newer vehicles are commonplace in Bhutan’s bigger cities, most of the country’s 760,000 people rely on old vehicles handed down through the generations.


The second leg of the expedition gets off to a spectacular start with the roads climbing steeply and becoming even more treacherous. The drops at the side of the road are more terrifying than ever, with large rocks and sudden changes of camber constantly threatening to throw the convoy towards the edge.

As the YETIs climb higher, another challenge appears for the drivers. At nearly 3 km above sea level, all but the most seasoned adventurers in the team are starting to suffer with the altitude. Catching breath is proving harder as the drive goes on and even talking proves an  effort. Fortunately, the YETIs are unperturbed with their turbocharged engines perfectly at ease with the thin air.

At this altitude, frequent stops are needed for the drivers to acclimatise. Although the locals in the numerous villages are perfectly adapted to living in the conditions, those used to living at sea level need to take it steady to avoid the crippling effects of altitude sickness.

Finally, after nearly two days of driving, the convoy reaches its destination – Merak village on the outskirts of the Satkeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Until 2014, Merak was a three-day walk from the nearest town. Thanks to a new road that was finished two years ago, the drive takes just an hour. However, while the road is one of the newest in the country, it’s still no more than a rutted gravel track.

At Merak, the yeti-spotting begins in earnest. With local guides joining the team to show them the best places to observe, the pressure is on to join the ranks of people who claim to have seen the mythical beast. In the village, residents tell tales of sightings – some suggesting that a sighting can lead to bad luck, others suggesting the opposite. Despite this, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the stories and the passion for this most mysterious of creatures.

Sadly, though, after hours of gazing into the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, the yeti fails to make an appearance. The locals aren’t surprised. Among villagers, the myth is more powerful than the reality and although there is a genuine belief that a mysterious creature does roam the mountain forests, very few claim to have seen it with their own eyes.

With heavy hearts, the ŠKODA team enjoy one last night of Bhutanese hospitality before embarking on the journey back to base camp at Samdrup Jongkhar. The yeti may have proved elusive, but the ŠKODA YETI has once again proved itself to be a remarkably reliable and dependable animal.

The cars on the expedition

The ŠKODA expedition to find the yeti took three YETI Outdoor models – all built at ŠKODA’s assembly plant in Aurangabad in central western India. All were standard production models but had the optional Rough-Road package fitted. The package – which is available to all YETI Outdoor buyers, not just mountain adventurers – consists of a thermoplastic cover for the engine and transmission, a plastic cover for the fuel and brake lines, the reinforced brake fluid distribution system and the hand-brake cable. All models were also equipped with a space-saver spare wheel, although no punctures were suffered during the 680-km journey.




The yeti

Known to locals around Merak as Migoi, the yeti has been a part of Bhutanese, Nepalese and Tibetan folklore for more than three centuries. Although the early Himalayan people are believed to have worshipped a ‘glacier being’, the first documented reports of a mountain-dwelling bipedal creature in Western culture didn’t appear until the early 19th century.

As Western mountaineers embarked on Himalayan climbs in the 1920s, reported sightings became more frequent, with a number of respected explorers claiming to have seen a mysterious mountain beast. By the 1950s, debate surrounding the yeti’s existence reached new heights with Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reporting large, unexplained footprints in the snow. National newspapers across Europe funded large-scale yeti-finding expeditions as the story became headline news. In the 21st century, the emphasis moved towards scientific exploration, with various examples of older evidence tested for authenticity and a host of new explanations coming forward. The most recent research has been carried out by the universities of Oxford and Lausanne and concluded that although the existence of the yeti couldn’t be completely ruled out, the evidence suggested that the creature is likely to be a species of bear.


The early Himalayan people are believed to have worshipped a ‘glacier being’

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