Column: Driving to the ‘roof of the world’
Just got back from a whirlwind drive on the ‘roof of the world’, Tibet autonomous region of China. The Mahindra Adventure Summit Drive took 24 cars and 56 participants from Kathmandu to Lhasa, and then to the Everest base camp and back. Twenty mountain passes, with eight of them above 5000m, incredible vistas, exceptional mountain views, magical lakes and phenomenal driving roads meant that it was a dream self- driving expedition. So, if you have had your fill of Ladakh and Spiti, then it is time to give Tibet a good look. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. And do it fast, before the region loses its innocence as it is becoming more modern by the day.
As you know, Tibet has been under Chinese rule for a long time and China has been doing their bit to bring the local Tibetans to the mainstream by providing world class infrastructure, education and financial help to farmers. I wouldn’t want to talk politics here as it is an entirely different subject and you can always Google and find out more details. But what I would like to bring your attention to, are the steps taken by the authorities to enforce safety of the road users.
Confession time. I always thought China, beyond the Shanghai and Beijing that we know is pretty much neglected. Oh boy, was I wrong!
Tibet can easily be termed a remote part of China as it is a cold rain shadow plateau that is sparsely populated. But every bit of tarmac that we drove on was beautifully laid and marked. Speed cameras are every where and we encountered hundreds of them. Before intersections, before built up areas, they are watching and flashing at you. Speed camera zones are mostly marked at 30kph and every one seems to comply! Speed cameras also register entry and exist times at mountain passes and cars that came up at a higher average speed would stop well before the speed camera whiling away their time before crossing it!
Mock police men and unmanned police cars with flashing beacons are common too. Our local guide told us that simple offences like jumping a traffic signal or carrying too much speed through a restricted zone attracted up to three points in the driving license. More than six points means you won’t be able to be seen behind the wheel for up to six months.
It is mind boggling to note that processing all this data costs the exchequer loads of money, but hey, they seem to value life that little much more.
Another piece of information that I heard was big accidents involving too many people directly affected the governing official of the region. So, there was a bus accident that caused the death of 19 people and that cost the job of a senior official. The next man who took charge issued an order that allowed only 18 seats to be occupied even if the bus has more seats to offer. He just ensured that under his term there won't be any bigger accidents. Funny? Only in China? Got the desired result? Yes!
On a lighter note, the Chinese are still doing a wonderful job of copying everything successful in the automotive world. New on the road are Chinese variations of the Wrangler, the Land Cruiser and even the Mercedes-Benz Viano. But what I saw on the streets of Shigatse stunned me – a decent copy of the, hold your breath, the Lamborghini Urus! Apparently one Mr Cristiano Ronaldo is its brand ambassador. Attack of the clones? As long as they respect speed cameras, anything goes.