walking the streets in Kathmandu

a sabbatical rest, day 45

Monty Python liked traffic lights, and I’m beginning to see why. They are rare here in Nepal, where like in much of South Asia the traffic is an ever-flowing stream. (Fewer horns honking here than in India, however.) There are often lines painted on the road, but I’m not sure why. If there are four lanes, there are usually six lanes of cars, not counting the scooters and motorcycles which flow between them like water, and up onto the sidewalks when it suits them.

In two weeks I’ve been bumped by scooters three times, and once told to “watch where you’re going.” I thought I was watching where I was going, but apparently, I was not watching where he was going, turning into an alley behind me. When there is a break between the cars, the scooters swarm like bees. I think they are blocking for each other; some kind of group consciousness is clearly at work.

So, a traffic light would be nice when you are trying to cross a road, which is otherwise like crossing a river of moving metal. The current is strong and unrelenting. A car or even a scooter may occasionally slow for a pedestrian, but it’s not a safe bet. Any road can feel, at any given moment, like it’s a one-way road, but of course, it’s not.

There is a Nepali word for when there is a lull in traffic from both directions. It think it’s magic. When we plan our walks to a market, we try to map a route that requires crossing major roads as few times as possible and taking back lanes (still filled with scooters) when we can. And we hope there is a sidewalk.

Often there is not, but when there is a sidewalk, the quality of the experience is inconsistent. While we have encountered some wide, level sidewalks (often around government buildings or high-end stores), there are gaps, dips, loose stone, building materials, trash, and people. A few friendly dogs, too; we’ve only been barked at once.

Generally shops open around 10 am, so if we get out and walk between 8 and 10 it’s easier. We are starting to sense the ebb and flow of traffic a little better, at least on our street. But being in or waiting in a line is not a thing here, not even in a store. If you are “socially distancing,” 3 to 5 people will fill the space.

Traffic police at busy intersections are more prevalent than traffic lights, although I’ve seldom known them to even notice pedestrians since they are so busy managing the cars and scooters. I’ve seen two cross-walk lights, and one of them wasn’t working. But I do like traffic lights. Even more than Monty, although we’ve never really felt unsafe; just hyper-aware.

I did find a bakery that sells scooters. I told Katie I was going to buy one, and she asked why. “Death wish,” I said. I was only kidding. I’d like to live another 20 years or so, and driving in Nepal does not seem like a way to do it. Neither does walking, really. At least not after 10 am.

3 thoughts on “walking the streets in Kathmandu”

  1. […] An earlier post about traffic here in Kathmandu is mostly true, using the language of fact-checkers, but we’ve found more traffic lights and even crosswalks than I had indicated. Still, cars and scooters basically ignore them unless there is a traffic cop. There are even pedestrian bridges at very busy intersections if you want to walk far enough to find one. Also police mannequins at some intersections. Nobody is fooled. […]

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