Activity on the Streets

I’ve continued making progress on research over the past 2 weeks and now have a better idea of what I’ll be working on over the 3 remaining months in Nepal. But, enough on research for the March posts. I also want to start sharing a bit more about my observations of life in Kathmandu.

One of the most interesting aspects of spending time in a developing city is the activity of the streets. The experience of what you feel and see while on the streets is an entirely different, and often far more adventurous, exciting, dirty, sad, experience than the systematic and boring streets of the western world.

Walking on Kathmandu’s streets and sidewalks you are likely to encounter a vibrant, unusual mix of people, smells, animals, vehicles, and things. There are small shops everywhere, and many people selling vegetables, fruits, juices, and other products from their bikes and push carts. The local markets are the best place to bargain for everyday goods, though quality varies. You see many ‘wild’ dogs and cows wandering, eating, or sleeping in the sun or shade on the streets. The dogs and cows pay little attention to people, and move around the city as they wish. The cow is a holy animal, and is actually the national animal of Nepal. Killing a cow in Nepal is even against the law. Of course, depending on where you are in the city, the experience and sights will be very different.

The traffic is often backed up on main roads during rush hour. There are no US standard highways here. There are just a handful of traffic lights in the city of 1 million inhabitants since electricity is so unreliable; instead you find a mix of roundabouts and traffic police at many big intersections. The main roads (there are only a few main roads as most are narrow alleys and roads set between 2-4 story buildings) are filled with many taxis, tempos (small electric vehicles with room for 8 passengers but operating capacity for more like 14), buses and micro-buses, trucks, bikes, motorcycles, construction equipment, people walking and pushing carts of their work, and some private cars. As one flowing mess, all of these maneuvering vehicles and bodies somehow manage to weave their way through the pothole filled roads with few accidents. Fortunately traffic can’t move very fast due to the congestion, and the lack of road law actually leads most drivers to be extremely cautious and sensitive to their surroundings. Taxis and motorcycles come extremely close to other vehicles and to people on the roads, within literally inches, but I’ve yet to see a collision.

As a result of the traffic chaos and jams, biking is by far the fastest mode of transport. Biking here takes some nerves and some smarts, and as you can imagine is an exhilarating experience (and yes I wear a helmet when biking!). Taking taxis is the luxurious but more expensive public transport option. Any lucrative taxi driver will attempt to charge up to twice the actual rate, especially to westerners, but once you know their tricks, it’s just a matter of haggling and standing your ground. Fixing a price before entering is nearly always better than using the meter, since the drivers are bright and can adjust the meter rates. The tempos and micro-buses are the cheapest and most interesting forms of urban public transport in Kathmandu, where you can observe many people and it’s not uncommon to get to know your neighbor on the bus or tempo. A micro-bus has 15 passengers or so (there is no true limit applied), one driver, and a young teenage boy to help bring in the passengers and take the payments.

Thursday April 8th I’ll head to Junbesi in the everest region for a short trek. Along with my supervisor, 4 of his friends, and my 2 research colleagues from Utrecht, we will trek for 2 days starting at 1700m, reaching 3500m over a pass, and returning to 2700 m, the elevation of Jenbesi. We’ll stay in the area for a few days before flying back to Kathmandu. I’m looking forward and will post more updates after I’m back to Kathmandu on April 15th.

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