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10 February 2011

Nepal #14: How to cross the street in Kathmandu, and other scary things.

If I told you it was like Frogger, I'd be lying. Crossing the street in Kathmandu is much scarier than crossing the street in Frogger. What we learned was to gather in as large a group as possible and cross together as soon as there was any semblance of a gap in traffic. Once you start walking, keep your head down and keep a constant pace. If you stop suddenly or speed up you might confuse the oncoming traffic. Don't make eye contact with the drivers - this tells them that you're going to let them pass. This is a fairly simple process when there are only a couple lanes... it's a different story when there are 6!

Driving is also terrifying. There are no lanes, stop lights, or police to enforce the laws (which may or may not exist). Hypothetically, one should drive on the left side of the road, but this is somewhat optional. There are less than 5 stop lights in the entire city, so the most complicated (4+ lane) intersections are sometimes manned by a policeman standing on a concrete pedestal (specifically for this purpose) in the middle of the intersection, wildly waving his hands.

The system almost works, in a strange, terrifying way. Rather than blindly following laws while talking on their cell phones like we do in the U.S., they pay very close attention to the roads and use their horns liberally. Rather than using it to angrily complain when someone is driving too slowly, they use it as a means of communication. When passing another vehicle the driver always honks as they drive by. As you can imagine, this makes for some very loud streets. 

Single 'lane' mountain roads are also great places for horn usage. Every time our bus was approaching a turn at a terrifying speed the driver would honk the horn (which was usually some ridiculous ring-tone sounding song) to notify anyone coming around the corner to slow down.

Most of the buses we drove on had a neat system where one helper would hang off the back of the bus and tap it loudly to send messages to the bus driver. Another helper would take people's money and tap on the side of the bus to tell the driver when to stop and pick people up.

Speaking of buses, they certainly pack them efficiently. There were a number of times when we were all piled on top of each other. Here's a picture I took after I managed to get out of this bus (there were still a few of us trying to get out while all these people wanted to get in!):

Private cars are a rarity. When you do see them, they're usually pretty fancy/un-dented, and are driving very cautiously. Finally, when walking on the street in Kathmandu, the best way to avoid getting clipped by a motorcycle - I'm pretty sure we all got bumped at least once - is to stick as close to the side of the road as possible!


Tammela said...

Your traffic descriptions reminded me of Kenya -- Nairobi -- traffic. I was fascinated at how drivers efficiently used their horns as communication. Terrifing, yes, but it seemed to work most of the time!
And here in Ukraine there are also no rules for the amount of people who can fit on a bus. Sardines.

Rabindra Parajuli said...

Jivan Yestai Chha Nena!

Prabhav said...

Well, I believe that every society in this world from most developed to poorest has a darker side. I felt your title " How to cross the street in Kathmandu, and other scary things." was a satirical remark of what you have seen and understood. I am not sure if you have visited India, but you can see the same situation. Now one cannot tell that India is not developed as it is one of the blooming nation for economy and other sectors. It's not actually the way you have describe to cross street in Nepal. You could go just beyond some busy streets and local villages to see real beauty of Nepal which is known for it's culture, tradition, values and nature. If I am mistaken then around half a million tourist would not have visited Nepal every year just to see the scary things what you have described.