Traffic in Nepal is slow everywhere. Maybe 60 km/h is the maximum speed reached on most roads, and that is good thing because of the lack of observance of traffic rules and the pitiful state of road maintenance. As far as I know, only Kathmandu has something resembling a slow highway with four lanes in total, but because of the mountainous terrain many roads a small with a lot of turns, such as the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara for example.
I wrote about the lack of observance of traffic rules, even though I don’t know what the traffic rules are here exactly. But I do know that traffic is better characterised here as organised chaos rather than the observance of rules. For example, on Kathmandu’s ‘highway’ I have seen two motorbikes pass a car on both the left and the right side simultaneously. Yet, I haven’t seen any accident yet because everyone is driving carefully in the absence of traffic rules or the observance thereof.
Other strange things compared to the Dutch traffic is the very frequent use of the horn of the vehicle, apparently to let others know that you’re coming and they need to get out of the way, but it is also used in case traffic in front of you is driving very slowly just like we do sometimes in the Netherlands. I see how this is very useful on the small mountain roads with lots of corners, where you don’t see if there is traffic coming from around the corner. The horn is an effective method to warn oncoming traffic then. However, the overuse of it in almost every other traffic situation is quite annoying.
The constant use of the horn and the small sidewalks, which are barely wide enough for two persons to walk next to each other, make the Nepalese traffic a very stressful experience. The sidewalks are also not flat, for example here on streets in Pokhara the sidewalks have many pipes and cables running over them which are covered by cement to protect them, creating bumps on the sidewalks. Many times you also see parts which are badly maintained or have building materials on them because of the constant building going on here. This present and challenge during the day and especially the night, in Pokhara (Pepsi Cola had roads which were okay) I’m almost constantly tripping over loose stones and holes everywhere.
The roads are pretty much the same story, their maintenance is a big problem and there often many holes in the asphalt which need to be avoided or which need to be crossed very slowly. And in case the road is actually properly maintained, it has vicious speed bumps like in Pepsi Cola, as I had already shown on a photo in an earlier blog post. We are used to complaining about our Dutch speed bumps, but they’re nothing compared to the Nepali speed bumps.
Regarding the traffic participants, in general you see maybe slightly more motorbikes or scooters on the roads, after that come cars and then buses. Bicycles are used as well, but sporadically. There are no separate paths for bicycles, unlike in the Netherlands where we like to use bicycles a lot. By now I have travelled on a motorbike as a back passenger for a few times already. Back passengers on motorbikes and scooters never seem to carry a helmet, and I was never offered one either. This made me reluctant to ride on one, but the low speeds gave me enough confidence that no accidents would happen.
Even if I still don’t like the higher risk of accidents for using a motorbike compared to using a car, I’ve begun to appreciate the more direct contact with the road and the environment compared to being separated from those by the interior of a car. If I wouldn’t have to get a separate driver’s license to be able to drive the more powerful motorbikes as required in the Netherlands, I would be a bit more tempted to want to own a motorbike as well.
Concerning cars, you see a lot of Maruti Suzuki branded ones here, for example the taxis. Even though their exterior size of those hatchbacks is very small, the size of their interiors is surprisingly enough just adequate, even for tall people like me (my length is 1,93 meter). The Suzuki Swift can be seen here both as a sedan and a hatchback. This car is also sold in the Netherlands, but only as a hatchback because Europeans have a preference for those while other parts of the world like sedans more for some reason. After that brand come the Korean brands such as Kia and Hyundai, I often see a car which I identify as the Hyundai i10 which is sold in the Netherlands.
Local or city buses are a cheap way to travel, for example in Kathmandu getting from Pepsi Cola to Ratna Park in the center will cost you 15 NPR. Unfortunately they are a torture for me if I can’t get a place with sufficient leg room. In case I have stand I have to bend my neck ninety degrees forward because the roof is too low for me. I’ve heard a lot of positive experiences from other volunteers concerning Nepalese hospitality and experienced this myself in a way because I got invited to a wedding twice, but when the Nepali passengers see me standing in such a difficult position in a bus they smile a little bit, with a hint of schadenfreude, and don’t bother to trade their place with me.
I wrote ‘in case you have to stand’, but realize that the chance you have no seat and have to stand instead is a lot greater than in a Dutch bus. While in the West phonebooth stuffing was popular as a fad during the middle of the previous century as a challenge to make fun, here it’s done with the buses every day. It is really surprising how many people can fit in one bus, and the buses also have a handler besides the driver who encourages the passengers to make some room if he wants to cram even more passengers in the bus. Fortunately the long ride to Pokhara was made with a bus equipped for longer distances and guaranteed seats, which provided adequate leg room.
While I noticed cows roaming freely in Pepsi Cola, Pokhara has a lot more cows walking around. Often they’re eating grass at the side of the road, sometimes they’re chilling on the middle of the road. In that case the traffic just drives past them, I haven’t seen them cause a traffic jam so far. You also have to take care to avoid stepping in the cow dung, certainly during the night.