Thimpu: city for bicycle lovers?
When you think about Bhutan with its many green and steep hills, cycling through the country is not the first thing that comes to mind. Because of the landscape cars are the number one transport. Even more so, a car is the dream of every Bhutanese, symbolising their status on the social ladder. The Bhutanese even sell their inheritance or pay off monthly expensive loans just to be able to have a car. Yet the Bhutanese government has plans for transforming Thimpu into a city for cyclist lovers.
But before bicycles are just as common to the Thimpu streetview as they are in China or Amsterdam, many steps have to be taken. First of all, Thimpu was build for cars and driving through town on two wheels is not the most safe and pleasant experience. Presently the local government implements a structure plan for the city. If they’re really dedicated, instead of appointing space for infrastructure and buildings, they could set aside space for developing bicycle lanes, thereby making the capital bicycle friendly.
And there’s more. A good bicycle nowadays still is too expensive for most Bhutanese. The national government taxes cycles and for good cycles it even charges duties. To encourage people to ride bicycles, the government could consider tax exemptions and subsidies for the purchase of bicycles and for bicycle-related business. That is, if they really want to nurture the bicycle culture and make Thimpu a cyclist’s heaven.
But the best way of changing the awareness and promoting a healthy lifestyle is by setting the right example. And for that you need good and popular role models with high esteem. Like government officials who take the bike instead of being driven around by a car-with-chauffeur. Like musicians, actors and sportsmen showing how much fun and healthy it is to use a bike. And like western tourists discovering the city, being seated on a biking saddle.
All in all the intention of the goverment might be a good one, but driving pleasantly through town on two wheels is still a vision for the future. It will probably take years to change the Bhutanese perception of a car as a sign of wealth to a bicycle as a sign of smartness and health. It will take clever government plans, a promotion of the bicycle industry, cheaper bikes ánd good role models. So if you plan a visit to Bhutan, consider discovering Thimpu by bike. You could show the Bhutanese that cycling has nothing to do with being poor, but instead is a smart way of choosing for a healthy life style. Wouldn’t it be great seeing many take the healthy travel through town in a few years?