“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!

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Anything is possible in Kathmandu

It’s common to many Asian countries. You see it on TV. You read about it on other people’s blogs. But when you witness it with your own eyes, only then you realize how ridiculously funny and dangerous it is. Of course, I’m talking about people transporting all kinds of crazy, odd and huge stuff on their motorbikes. They zoom by before I ever manage to say cheese and snap a photo of this exhibitionism. But believe me when I tell you – sometimes I spend days pondering how they get it on the bike and how, in the world, they manage to drive.

Most of these stunts include two guys: one driving and one sitting in the back struggling with the whatever odd object it is they are transporting. The front guy pretends as if absolutely nothing strange is going on behind his back and drives as usual. The guy in the back, however, tries very hard to display the same indifference, acting all cool, but in reality, he is scared, concerned and embarrassed at the same time. You can tell from panic glances he gives to passing vehicles.

So what have I seen so far, you wonder!? Let me list it out for you in less-to-more-crazy order:

12. A suitcase – now this is not your small take-on-the-plane suitcase. No sir, this is the real deal; at least 30kg monster which usually sits on the lap of the girl on the back of the bike. She struggles to hold the suitcase and herself, and I always imagine her legs going numb, and eventually blue from the lack of circulation.

11. Crutches – OK, so if the person is injured he carries his crutches. It’s not like he really needs his legs to function when he’s on a bike, right?

10. Dead chicken – most of the bikes in Kathmandu have metal rods in the front that protect driver’s legs from being hit or squished by something (at least that’s what I think). I have seen those metal rods sporting several dead chicken hung by their legs, just dangling casually as the wind ruffles their feathers (tmi?). Interesting sight. (edit 20 Oct, 2013: I have come to find out that the chicken in question are not actually dead. They are hung from the motorbike upside down upon which they faint. Oh boy.)

9. Mirror – it might not seem odd at first, but when you realize the guy in the back holding the mirror spends the whole ride looking at himself, it becomes darn hilarious.

8. Dog (or a goat) – or any live animal for that matter – it’s just plain odd and dangerous. Trust me, it’s nothing like the sight of ladies in Amsterdam who carry their small puppies in the baskets on the front of their bicycles, together with a bunch of freshly cut flowers. This is more like a semi-wild animal ready to jump off the moving bike at any given moment, and person struggling to keep the bike straight and hugging the animal real tight at the same time. Nothing cute or romantic there.

I have no good photos to illustrate this post. This one will have to do. Sorry.

I have no good photos to illustrate this post. This one will have to do. Sorry.

7. Blueprints and a variety of building material (insert whatever you fancy here – I’m sure anything and everything applies) – I have absolutely no comment here. Imagine the sight of someone transporting a bunch of bricks on a bike. ‘Nugh said.

6. Ladder – big, metal, real deal ladder. Front guy driving, back guy holding the ladder on his shoulder. No red flags or orange triangles in the front or in the back of the ladder that is twice the length of the motorbike. Those have been used earlier to decorate the trucks.

5. Satellite dish – it’s like carrying a plate, just bigger. Not. Definitely not. Hell no.

4. 20L jugs of water – one tied up in the back of the bike, the other one sitting freely in drivers lap. I have no idea how that guy maneuvers. It must be hell for him. Poor guy.

3. Mattress – imagine the problems with this one: if the bike is going to slow the mattress keeps on falling on the driver. If the bike is going to fast, the guy in the back flies off the bike together with the beloved mattress. Oh the struggle!

2. Gas cylinder – this one is self-explanatory – not only it’s heavy, dangerous and difficult to handle, imagine what would happen if it rolled off!

1. Grandma – see under gas cylinder.