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.