I used to believe that driving the Dan Ryan or FDR at rush hour would be the most stressful activities you could undertake. Fuggedaboutit! Nepalese drivers make New York cabbies look like models of decorum. The primary rule of road behavior in Kathmandu is “Blink and die!” Passing on curves and driving on the sidewalk don’t rate a second mention in the litany of traffic sins, while a cow sleeping in the road is not unusual. Turning, passing, stopping, and merging are indicated via honking so you can only imagine the cacophony ringing around you as you drive. As for traffic “infrastructure,” ha. Lane markers—you gotta be kidding me; stop signs—in your dreams; traffic lights—when the messiah comes. The most important infrastructure available to the Nepalese driver is a good bumper and firm seat belts.
While my wife and I were on a three month working vacation in Nepal I had to travel 30 km (18 miles) to work from our lovely home in Kathmandu (see the photo–and, yes, that was really our home) to the university campus in Dhulikhel high in the foothills of the Himalayas. I had a rental car at my disposal and thought it would be a quick trip since the two cities are connected by the Arneko Highway, the main East-West road link for the entire nation. Unfortunately, this lifeline of commerce and transportation is not quite as wide as the side street in front of my home and nowhere near as well maintained! The craziness I saw every morning and evening was made even worse by the range of vehicles using the road. The Arneko Highway contains an equal mix of cars, overloaded trucks straining to reach 10 mph, buses spewing coal black exhaust, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, and (yes) lawnmowers. This last one confused me, since I didn’t think lawn maintenance was a major concern of the Nepalese. It turns out used riding lawnmowers are less expensive than mopeds and, as long as you don’t mind the leisurely 4-5 mph, a cheap form of motorized transport!
Even worse, the local highway police assume that all foreign visitors are rich and able to pay the full cost of an accident. So, instead of a “No fault” model of auto insurance, they use a “Your fault” model. Even if a cow walks directly into your fender, you will be held liable. So far I have not had to test this theory but I cannot imagine, what with the carnage I see every day, that my turn is not just around the next bend. I am deeply committed to my Jewish heritage, but I am seriously thinking of placing a St. Francis on my dashboard as I need everyone on my side. For now, wish me well. Work is over and I am heading out on the road to go home …
(Note: About 3 days after writing this article, I gave my rental car back to the agency and relied on a local bus to get to work. I was far happier and a lot less stressed!)