“When I drive that slow, you know it’s hard to steer; And I can’t get my car out of second gear…”

Boy, am I lazy! I have fallen in a rut over here in Kathmandu. Days are slipping by as I am spending my days working and taking care of chores. The usual life. Nothing too exciting. But, I do have to share: I put on my brave face, took a deep breath, sat in the car, and started driving myself around. Yup, I go to and from work all by myself every single day. In a car. And I drive. It still feels a bit surreal. You should’ve seen me the first day. I think the amount of sweat I expelled was equal to my usual annual perspiration. But it was good. No one died. And I felt detoxed afterwards. I also had that feeling of tremendous achievement where you get so overwhelmed by your own success that you walk around proudly saying things like: now that I’ve done this, I can do anything! I was even considering bungee jumping. Not really, but I was pretty high on adrenalin after that first day of self-drive around Kathmandu. As days go by I am becoming more confident. That goes hand-in-hand with more road-rude and fast on the horn. Seriously, horn is THE one thing you cannot survive without, here. Even though all cars, buses and bikes have rear-view mirrors, no one really uses them. It’s not rare to see mirrors pointing at the driver or up at the sky. Anyhow, no one uses mirrors which means they just stop, start, turn, overtake etc. without making sure that no one is behind them or trying to go around them. That’s where the horn comes in. As soon as you approach another vehicle, from whichever angle, you blow your horn. The idea  is to let them know you’re coming and for them to hopefully move aside. Most of the time it doesn’t work as they continue their reckless quest onto your lane. You have no choice but to break and wait for them. Which is probably a good idea especially when it comes to buses. On a positive note, the traffic moves pretty slowly so the worst that can happen are some dents and scratches.

My worst enemies are bikes. These people are so reckless; I am at loss of words. They seem unable to choose a lane so they just drive in the middle of the road. They overtake cars from all possible sides and angles, appearing quickly and without regards for anyone else. And if they scratch or hit your car – they simply run away. They scare me the most.

And then there are the pedestrians. They are something else. Usually you expect pedestrians to walk on a sidewalk (where there is one). Not in Kathmandu. Pedestrians mostly walk on the road, blocking the traffic and causing chaos. No clue why. It’s not like Nepali people are so large they cannot fit on a sidewalk. And the worst part is, they are not looking where they are going or whether there is an oncoming traffic when they are trying to cross the road. More than once I was inches away from a heart attack as a pedestrian unexpectedly jumped in front of my car. That’s what they do. One moment they are casually walking down the road, the next they jump in the middle of the road, looking the other way, trying to cross the street. Crazy, I tell you.

One thing I realized about traffic in Kathmandu is: expect the unexpected. If you think that bicycle that is going in the opposite direction three lanes away from you will suddenly make a u-turn and go right in front of you, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. If you think that the bus in front of you that’s missing its stop lights will suddenly go from 50kmh to a full stop, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. If you suspect that a pedestrian that you see ahead will suddenly start crossing the road right in front of you, you can rest assured that will happen. If you see a motorbike approaching from a side-street, driver looking in the opposite direction, be sure he will drive full-speed onto the main road, right in front of you causing you to slam on your breaks. Yes, all the crazy things you can only imagine happening in normal traffic are the rule in Kathmandu. The sooner you figure that out, the easier it gets to drive. I am still getting the hang of it, though I have to admit, I am very amused by the looks I get from other drivers. It’s fun to be white in Nepali traffic!

25 thoughts on ““When I drive that slow, you know it’s hard to steer; And I can’t get my car out of second gear…”

    • As a matter of fact, I did. I was terrified the first time I had to drive in Zagreb. I suppose driving in Zagreb and Kathmandu share one common thing – you need to be aggressive.

    • Thank you! It really is scary sometimes, but somehow it seems less scary when you feel like you have the control over the car, rather than just being the passenger.

  1. I love how you write. Fun enough to make my day!
    Now that I’ve seen foreign roads, I can’t get my head around why we don’t have simple white lines back home, and some rules, and some lights… They can’t be THAT expensive!
    Salute to you for driving a car in Kathmandu! Has fuel crisis greeted you already?

    • Thank you! I really appreciate your kind words. And to answer your question: there are, in fact, white lines and traffic lights in Kathmandu. However, traffic lights don’t work most of the time (load shedding maybe?), or people simply don’t even care. I’ve witnessed so many of them drive straight through red light. White lines are also there, but people treat them more as a guideline at the runway, rather than road divider. They drive in the middle of the road, with the dividing line right under the middle of their car. So odd.

  2. I have been driving for a year now but still have not amassed the courage to drive in Kathmandu. The closest I’ve been to kathmandu is bhaktapur.
    But i do ride a bike to Kathmandu 😀

    • Hehehe, driving here is a bit insane. I hope that you, as a bike driver, respect the rules and realize how much the bikes freak out car drivers 🙂

  3. good on you. before i went to nepal i told my hubbie ‘oh i can drive in nepal’ and then when i got there i was like ‘hmmm how do i drive in this chaos’. So do you follow the rules or you break the rules? what other tips do you have?

    • Rules? What rules? 😀
      Hehehe, I do try to respect the rules, but sometimes that would just keep me stuck behind buses and slow-moving vehicles. So then I just go by that old saying: when in Rome… 🙂
      One important thing, I suppose, is to be aggressive and fearless. Being polite and courteous in the roads of Kathmandu just doesn’t work.

  4. I really appreciate your blog! I am a Canadian student studying International Development and I will most likely be living in Kathmandu for 8 months starting this September to work at a development organization, I have enjoyed getting an insider’s perspective on daily life in Nepal, and love your humorous writing. Thanks again!

    • I’m so glad you are finding my blog enjoyable and useful! That makes me so happy!
      I think you’re going to love your time in Kathmandu. Most of the foreigners here have a blast!

  5. Hello! I understand you so very well! I live in India… the description of traffic in Kathmandu is just so similar to what we have here! I still don’t drive a car here, one of the reasons – I am simply scared to. People are so irresposible towards others, they overtake at any moment, never show turn lights, so you never know where they go! I am glad you faught with that fear and now can be independent in the city. Take care! Anna

    • Oh yes, I found traffic in India pretty similar to Nepal, with one difference: traffic in India is so much faster! Therefore so much scarier! I don’t blame you for not having the courage to drive. Traffic in Kathmandu is fairly slow-moving so, as much as it’s chaotic, it doesn’t seem to be as dangerous as the one in India.

  6. The best rule to drive in Kathmandu is to break the rule in such way that the traffic don’t see you and as you said expect the unexpected at any moment of time also we should be ready to be high on adrenalin in each drive around Kathmandu. But as days passes on it becomes habit.
    The front passages are well pictures and I kept on laughing reading the last paragraph. Well demonstrated the chaos traffic of Kathmandu.

      • Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, it is really hard to follow rules in Nepal since no one else does. Sometimes not even traffic police! But, as you said, at first it’s scary and stressful, but later on it becomes a routine and doesn’t seem as hard any more.

  7. Wow! my heart stopped a little when I read that you got in a car and drove! Actually… drove! Well done you. You are very brave! I think even crossing the road on my own will scare me enough. Let alone, getting in a car and driving myself. Nice to see you are settled in to Nepali life so well. 🙂 x

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