The Karmic Wheel
KATHMANDU – In Kathmandu, traffic consists of pedestrians on their way to their next life crossing paths with drivers anxious to send them to it.In America we drive on the right side of the road. In England they drive on the left side. In Kathmandu they drive on both sides, all the time.There is no car rental counter at the Kathmandu International Airport. That’s because if you’re not Asian, you’re not cosmically equipped to drive in Nepal.I don’t care if you’re the reincarnation of Dale Earnhardt, you cannot drive in Kathmandu. Your job is to hire a driver who knows the city and will make sure nothing horrible happens to you. Our guy was Deveraj, who is a genius.You can take taxis. Getting a taxi in Kathmandu is much easier than getting a taxi in New York City. They actually come looking for you – and you stand a much better chance of finding cab driver who speaks English.Or you can walk, and nothing worse than perspiration will happen to you. Nepalese drivers will not come close to you, although the distance between their front bumpers and Nepalese pedestrians is smaller than anything this side of a petri dish.
Pedestrian OlympicsWalking in Kathmandu should be an Olympic sport. It already comes with its own opening ceremony.Every Sunday morning the traffic police lead a parade through the city. Several hundred pedestrians follow them, carrying signs and banners imploring drivers to avoid running over pedestrians, especially tourists, at which Kathmandu drivers are remarkably adept.No pedestrians in the traffic police procession are ever run over. In fact, almost no pedestrians are ever run over. The only automotive altercation we saw was a bicyclist knocked off his bike by a car. It’s hard to tell whose fault it was.The bicyclist tumbled right at the feet of a traffic policeman, and he didn’t seem too sure whose fault it was, either. No one was hurt, and in a no-blood-no-foul kind of way that saved the policeman from filling out bunches of paperwork, they were told to go forth and collide no more.
If you’re an American, you’re a two-legged dollar sign, so they want you alive and spending. They’ll make room for you, as long as keep moving forward at a steady pace. That’s your job. If they’re selling something, their job is to get you moving in their direction.Urge to swerveThe only time the good pedestrians of Kathmandu get nervous is when they see an Anglo behind the wheel. Eye contact is made, the happy Anglo waves from inside as the Anglomobile lurches forward and almost nails the local pedestrian.It’s the pedestrian’s only close call that day.
You’ll pass all kinds of construction sites, where it’s tough to tell what’s going up, what’s coming down, and when it might be happening at the same time.Kids are used as pack animals, hauling bags strapped to their heads filled with sand and gravel to the tops of buildings – or they haul bricks down.Cattle wander aimlessly, monkeys chatter overhead.Riding around in Kathmandu is the perfect antidote for wives and/or significant others who tend to be bossy passengers. After surviving Kathmandu motorways, your driving will seem almost anal retentive in its adherence to U.S. roadway regs. One warning, though. When you return to the U.S., you will be overcome with an urge to swerve into oncoming traffic for no apparent reason.Staff writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado