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…

Things you probably shouldn’t do when in Nepal

1. Eat from a roadside stand

This is a big no-no for me. I understand there are adventurous people who like to try everything, but for me adventure doesn’t really entail getting violently sick while touring Swayambhunath temple and desperately looking for a bathroom while monkeys eye me suspiciously. No matter how inviting those snacks might look, I strongly suggest to pass it up. (tip: don’t try to pet the monkeys while at Swayambhunath – it probably won’t end well, for you)

2. Ride on top of the public bus

When I went to Pokhara I saw this tourist ride on top of the bus heading the same way. The road to Pokhara is a winding 200 km road where trucks stop for no one and nothing. Buses as well. They drive like crazy and not rarely does a bus fly across the cliff and into the river. Riding those buses is a lottery, and riding on the roof of those buses is a suicide, at least for a tourist. Poor girl I saw on top of that bus to Pokhara looked so pale, holding onto her dear life probably thinking “what the hell did I get myself into!?”. I bet she kissed the ground when she finally got off 4 hours later. You don’t wanna do that to yourself.

3. Try to blend in

Let’s face it, unless you’re Indian, you’re probably never ever going to be able to blend in. You can learn Nepali, wear a saree, hop on the bike sitting sideways (if you’re a girl) in your flip-flops in the middle of December, but if you’re white, all your efforts are in vain. You will always stick out like a sore thumb, shining bright in the Nepali sun. And everyone will stare at you. Openly. And you’ll feel awkward. Until you decide to wave to people staring at you. Then they’ll feel awkward. Not that I’ve done that or anything.

4. Get frustrated with traffic

There is just no point. Traffic in Nepal is crazy and don’t try to understand it, or even worse correct it. I honestly think Nepalis enjoy the chaos of traffic in Kathmandu (minus Mr.B. who hates it beyond reason). Most of the time traffic gets so congested and people get so frustrated that only an army guy can settle problems. I found traffic police to be totally useless there. The most annoying thing is how people form gazillion lanes making the traffic even more congested.

Yup, traffic in K-city

Yup, traffic in K-city

5. Assume you’ll be able to eat toast in the morning

One of the great perks of living in Nepal, is having to deal with load shedding. Oh, the infamous load shedding. Be prepared for lots of quiet time sitting in the dark hoping you get sleepy soon. If there’s electricity do everything you possibly can that requires electricity at that time and don’t leave anything for later because the chances of you not being able to have toast for breakfast are high. You better be a fan of cereal with cold milk.

6. Force Nepalis to show up on time

It’s simply not happening. They all operate on Nepali time which is about 45 minutes behind the real time. So don’t expect your friends in Nepal to be there at the exact scheduled time. Well, actually, they are showing up on time, it’s you who’s early. Don’t fret over it because you might as well lose your mind soon. Grab a book and read or just do some good old people watching. Wave to everyone who stares at you. Help the army guy sort out the traffic jam. Or not.

Random facts about Nepal

1. People in Nepal like to squat. Everyone is squatting: kids squat in mud making pies; old men squat by the road watching passing traffic and smoking; women squat doing laundry, beating rice, cooking and sometimes just chit chatting with neighbors. I’m not gonna go that far to say that even stray dogs squat in Nepal, but I am pretty sure there might be a dog squatting right now somewhere in Kathmandu.

The whole squatting deal looks pretty comfortable so I tried it myself on a couple of occasions. I can claim with certainty it’s not as easy as it looks. My knees got sore pretty soon and I had to crawl to the nearest chair to manage to get myself up and standing again. I am impressed by the flexibility of Nepali people.

2. Nepalis congregate for no apparent reasons at most odd times. All it takes is for someone to stop in the middle of the road and with great interest look in any one direction. Pretty soon another person will stop, and another, and another… and they will all look in the same direction attentively. It won’t be long before cars start stopping and the traffic jam forms. Ladies coming back from the market will drop their bags and run to the crowd to see what is going on. Suddenly a traffic officer will come to deal with the traffic jam, but will instead join the crowd looking at … well, nothing really.

Old guys squatting by the road will make comments on the thing that everyone is looking at, shaking their heads in disbelief and blaming everything on politics. At this point everyone is looking in the same direction, pointing and wooing and wowing, when there’s really nothing there. The group disperses only when couple soldiers come to deal with the traffic jam situation.

3. It’s not a secret that public transportation in Kathmandu is beyond any foreigners’ comprehension. That system (if it even exists) is impossible for me to understand. There are buses, micro buses, rickshaws… and they all have one thing in common: they drive like maniacs with no apparent routes, stops, or schedules. However, even more than the systems itself, I am fascinated by the embellishments on the vehicles. Big buses are usually very colorful with a ton of knick-knacks hanging from every mirror, and a kid’s shoe (Yes, that’s right!) from the back of the bus.

These are only a tourist attraction at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. They cannot really be seen on the roads of the city

These are only a tourist attraction at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. They cannot really be seen on the roads of the city

Micro buses are the really interesting ones though. In essence those are simple white, I’d say 12-seater, vans. All of them bear a certain message on the back. Sometimes it’s a quote from an American movie or a song, or the name of a singer or a band from the 70s. Sometimes though, they have very educational messages on them, clearly intended for population control, such as the one I saw on my last trip to Nepal: I’m a virgin. One mistake, game over.