The Kingdom of Bhutan - Understated and high on contentment. It’s also one of the most picturesque places to drive around, with winding roads and a view on one side which stretches up to the Himalayas. There are no traffic signals, and literally, no one honks, imagine this scenario in any city in India, and we are talking chaos and perhaps traffic stalemate. It’s also a country that is carbon negative and, by its constitution, has reserved 70% of its beautiful landscape and has marked it with no construction zone. When we decided to drive into Bhutan, the choice of Car, the Mercedes-Benz EQB 300 4MATIC, was just perfect. First, the EQB has length/Width/height and a wheelbase very close to the GLC, and with the two seats folded, the boot capacity expands to 1620 litres. For a cross-country trip, a large boot size is the first thing to cross, and along with a large boot, the EQB, once fully charged, gives a real-world range of 400 km.
The closest airport is Bagdogra -Siliguri, and we drove straight from there to Phuentsholing, the first border town of Bhutan. It’s a three-hour drive with great tarmac stretching all the way. Here is something to note, you cannot drive any Bhutanese registered car on an Indian license, but you can bring your Car from India and pay a fee and drive everywhere in Bhutan. We had Bhutan tourism, thankfully sorting in advance all our paperwork early on or else it might have taken half a day to get all clearances. The moment you enter the kingdom, the winding roads to “Paro” are both breathtaking and smooth. The EQB’s Cabin kept the temperature inside warm even with zero degrees outside. The throw of the LED beam of the EQB lit up long stretches ahead since the street lights are visibly absent, and so is random honking.
Our first stop was Paro. Once we checked in at our hotel, we needed to juice up the EQB, and the closest DC charging station was around 10 Km away. Instead, we plugged into a closeby standard 11kw charging and left the EQB on the roadside to charge for the whole night. Bhutan is safe; the only thing was a lot of people were interested in the desirable looks of the Car since there aren’t many luxury cars on Bhutanese roads. And a luxury electric car - perhaps the first one to enter Bhutan. The following day we started our sojourn to the highest motorable road in Bhutan at 3988 feet - Chelela Pass. The temperature was sub-zero, with the breathtaking view and the Powerful and efficient motors of the EQB 300 making the climb effortless. The EQB 300 4MATIC has two motors, an asynchronous motor and a permanently excited synchronous motor in the rear axle and together they give a combined power output of 168Kw and 390 Nm of torque, enough to make it the first luxury electric SUV to climb the highest motorable road in Bhutan.
There was another climb that was awaiting us next. Tigers’ Nest - It is a temple/monastery and one of the most sacred places in Bhutan. It is located in the middle of the mountain where only the fittest can endure, and after an 11 km trek uphill and return to base, I did not want to leave the cocooned luxury of the EQB and spend one day doing that, and honestly zipping around the twisty roads of Bhutan in the silent cabin of the EQB 300 4-Matic in such peace & tranquillity was a beautiful feeling. The decibel levels in Bhutan are the lowest in the world; as much as you can hear your breath, so is this silent cruiser, which starts itself silently and pushes you to take the driver’s seat to explore more of Bhutan.
We drove to Thimphu - the capital of Bhutan, but the EQB’s battery charge had depleted with the climb and the lithium-ion battery of 66.5 kWh needed to be recharged. The EQB’s CCS Charging socket can handle 11KW with alternating current (AC) using the onboard charger to the faster 100 KW direct current (DC) at any fast charging station. Bhutan is fast laying its EV infrastructure, with a decent network. We nearly encountered a charger almost every 120 km interval range. The EQB can take a maximum power of up to 100 KW with DC Charging and goes up in about 30-40 minutes from 10 to 80%. We charged at 55kw, and a 30-minute tea break was enough to kill all the range anxiety. Interestingly charging an EV anywhere in Bhutan is Free, but you have to pay for the Bhutanese butter tea.
The next day we left for Dochula pass, from where 180 Km of the eastern Himalayas, along with the highest unscaled mountains in the world, can be seen on a clear day. A beautiful monastery with 108 stupas was built in gratitude to the Bhutanese army, who laid their life against ULFA militants who had infiltrated. It was freezing cold outside, but the EQB had a sophisticated thermal management system like the reuse of the waste heat from the electric drive system to give it more efficiency and driving range. The heating system from the Air Conditioner was geared up to absorb any cold chills and kept us all comfortable.
We reached out to the Honourable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr Lotay Tshering and interviewed him on sustainability, electrification, and a lot more. To our total surprise, he not only agreed to talk to us under the longest statue of a sitting Buddha in the world, but he arranged a lunch at an exclusive hilltop where we had to trek and go. After seeing the Mercedes EQB, he agreed to go on a short drive without any security and later, I learned that he drives an EV and asked me slyly to leave the keys of the EQB and that his army will arrange a helicopter for the crew and me to be sent back. He is pushing for EVs, and we did see most cabs with green number plates and how his government is incentivizing the taxis to convert into EV. The PM kept admiring the Electro Design Aesthetics of the EQB & the characteristics of the Mercedes EQ Black panel grille with a central star and the continuous light strip at the front and rear. Of course, he returned the keys, and I left spellbound by his humility and knowledge and how the Bhutan government chases the happiness quotient for its citizens and measures that instead of GDP income because material pursuits will remain endless. Bhutan exports Hydropower to India, and all its EV power comes from hydropower, making driving around in an EV like your small contribution towards global warming and sustainability. He emphasized that EV charging will remain free in Bhutan.
After indulging in the hospitality of the PM and, before that, the General Manager of DusitD2 yarkay, who was hosting us in Thimphu with the utmost care, I realized the soft and giving nature of Bhutanese people. For instance, in the public place where we went to charge and on request, someone already charging would unplug and offer you their spot smilingly. It’s the culture which makes a country. Just like knowing at the back of the mind the charging safety of the EQB that the charging process will automatically stop if any vehicle accidentally hits it or any impact is detected when the Car is charging at a DC charging station. Not only that, the high voltage system will automatically switch off in a crash. While driving back with all the wonderful memories in Bhutan and mostly its people, I pushed the EQB all-wheel drive system, which uses a torque shift and the torque distribution, which is adjusted 100 times per second as required on a continuously variable basis between the two electric units at the front and rear axles. Life is not such a complex mechanism; rather, smile, live and make it easier for people around to live happily.
It’s notable that BBC TopGear India and the Mercedes-Benz EQB became the first luxury electric car to drive to Bhutan, climbed the highest motorable road in Bhutan, and took the Prime Minister out for a drive. It’s the sum of all these, and learning the process of not honking and not being in a hurry will make the journey of life fantastic, and the destination will remain just a tick box. Mercedes-Benz EQB 300 4MATIC X Bhutan TICKED with green colour!!