My notes to traffic opponents

My dad refers to drivers coming from the opposite direction as his opponents. I always found it funny, but nowadays that word explains perfectly how I feel not only about the drivers from the opposite direction, but just about anyone else in traffic in Nepal. Driving here is like a large-scale video game and you are trying to beat everyone else, while keeping yourself alive. Most of the time I am seconds away from rolling down my window and yelling at my opponents. I usually keep it together and instead talk to myself in the car trying to figure out what in the world they are doing out there. I’m afraid I am slowly becoming passive-agressive.

If I was brave enough to actually roll down my window, and if I spoke enough Nepali to communicate, this is what I would be saying to my traffic opponents:

1. Why? Please tell me, why?

2. Easy there, tiger. What’s the rush? I am sure you don’t actually need to be anywhere.

3. Why are you honking? Can you see a huge line of cars in front of me? Yup, that’s traffic jam, and your honking will not make it move. If you wanna go in the front, buy yourself a helicopter.

4. You do realize you just made things a million times worse by cutting in front of me on your tractor, don’t you?

5. If I stop for you at the zebra crossing, dear pedestrian opponent, I better see some hustle there. You’re not in a park, so pick up your pace. The guy in the bus behind me is about to run me over.

6. No, there is not enough room for your motorcycle to squeeze through, so just stay in line, like all normal people do.

7. That white line in the middle of the road divides two lanes. You are supposed to choose a lane, not drive in the middle. The line is not your guide, and the road is not a runway.

8. Overtaking me on your motorbike, coming right in front of me and then slowing down to turtle speed is plain dangerous. Please understand it.

9. Would you please stop pushing me off the road?

10. Oh, you’re making a turn right there? OK. If only there was a way for you to show me your intention beforehand…oh wait…

What in the world is going on here? The question I most often ask myself in traffic...

What in the world is going on here? The question I most often ask myself in traffic…

“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!

Ina, are we going to die?

I love driving. I adore it. Anyone of my friends can easily vouch for that. For years I have been a designated driver wherever we went. I drove around US, Europe, and all without complaining. One summer I drove 10 hours straight in one direction with my cousin to spend 5 days with a friend in Monte Negro. I am lucky because most of the people were willing to let me drive and were happy being passengers and navigators. Mr.B. is one of them. He despises driving. Before he met me he thought road trips were punishments sent straight from hell. I proved him wrong and showed him that life on the road can be lots of fun, and most of the time he gladly agreed on me taking over the wheel.

I had a hard time saying goodbye to my lovely car when leaving Croatia. My red bolt served me so well for so many years, so I was sad to be leaving it. I knew that once I come to Kathmandu I will not be driving for a while. For two very obvious reasons: 1. the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car; 2. traffic in Kathmandu is insane. Slowly, with time, I adjusted to cars driving on the opposite side of the road than the one I am used to, but I still have issues with my left hand being too uncoordinated for changing gears. I have already, so many times, on this blog mentioned that traffic here is crazy that I think this blog’s name should be changed to “The Traffic of Kathmandu”, but you have no idea how insane things are here. Everyone drives however they want to, and wherever they want to. One lane can easily turn into five and in 100 meters narrow down to two and without any obvious reasons. Dogs and people appear out of nowhere completely oblivious to the buzzing traffic. There’s trash and potholes, and sometimes discarded clothes lying in the middle of the road, and at night you never know what it might be. People jump over concrete divider blocks on the highway and buses change lanes without giving signal. Taxis swerve left and right, and most of the time drive in the middle of the road so you cannot go around them. Motorbikes come from all directions milling around the car like a bunch of ants. To drive in Kathmandu is an overload for all the senses.

Look, this car has a defect! Its stirring wheel is on the wrong side!

Look, this car has a defect! Its steering wheel is on the wrong side!

I have been determined to practice my driving here. First time I sat in the car and drove was a bit problematic. I was scared and couldn’t really change gears easily. I kept driving too close to the side of the road and many a time got stuck behind a slow driving vehicle because I was too scared to overtake. Mr.B. was scared like nothing. He was so tensed I was just waiting for the famous line once told by an old friend while in a go-kart: Ina, are we going to die?

Last night after spending an evening with friends, Mr.B. and I decided I should drive home. It was unexpectedly pleasant and successful. I drove with ease! It probably had something to do with the fact no one was out in the street. I was so confident that at one point I was driving in fourth gear! OK, so that doesn’t sound like much, but let me assure you that driving in fourth gear in Kathmandu is a big deal for me. Now if I could only get out during the day and actually experience driving in Kathmandu traffic, I’d be golden. But that will have to hold off until we cover the car in bubble wrap.