Friday, October 19, 2007

Kathmandu. Getting from Point A to Point B.


On my first full day in Kathmandu, I hired a driver and car to chauffeur me around. It was a very comfortable way to move around and considering the distances that I had to travel, probably what made the most sense to do given my itinerary for the day.

On the second day, I had a more relaxed schedule and everything I wanted to see was relatively close by so I decided to hire a rickshaw driver, Ramachandra, for the day. It was quite an experience, tolling around Kathmandu in a rickshaw!!

On my return trip to Kathmandu, I spent most of my days sightseeing along with Margaret, Claire and Barry and we did all of our travel via taxi. By this time, it was the start of Dashain and many Nepalis had returned to their home villages and towns to celebrate the festivities with their families so the streets felt relatively "empty" - with fewer people and vehicles. Even so, most Americans would probably consider the vehicular traffic to be horrendous.

In the video below, I think this was a three lane road we were on but in Kathmandu, you basically make a lane if there's space to fit in whatever vehicle you're attempting to navigate! Neighboring vehicles are often whizzing by so close that you feel you can reach out and shake the hand of the driver!


To add to the Dashain traffic congestion, the Nepalese military was out in force which added more vehicles and police to the usual mix.


Last but not least, getting back to our hotel - always an adventure unto itself, especially if it involved riding in a taxi. Our hotel was in Chettrapati - a stone's throw away from the heart of Thamel which is the home away from home for most tourists to Kathmandu. Taxi rides always presented two challenges for the driver - one was finding the actual route back to the hotel and the other was avoiding hitting pedestrians along the way. Though most taxi drivers are familiar with the Thamel-Chettrapati area, there were times when even they had difficulty figuring out how to get us back to the hotel. The overwhelming mass of signs plastered on the facades of the buildings is visually dizzying - making it difficult to identify specific ones to be used as route markers. Every building started to look the same after a while :-( To complicate matters, the streets of Thamel are VERY narrow so much of the driver's focus is spent on dodging pedestrians. Honking the car horn helps to warn some pedestrians but not all react quickly enough to get out of the way. On one ride, we brushed so close to one person that we actually knocked the water bottle out of his hand. Fortunately, he was not hurt! Here's a video of what the experience was like for Barry, I and one taxi driver to negotiate amd navigate our way through the VERY narrow streets of Thamel to head back to our hotel. I myself had ridden down this stretch of road at least a handful of times - notice how confident I am about which way to turn when we got to the fork in the road :-)  


At the end of each and every ride, I was always relieved that I had made it to my destination in one piece and that we had not harmed anyone along the way!