Commuting to work is an always “exciting” experience. Paraphrasing the great Forest Gump, it is exciting because you “never know what you are going to get.”
Every morning like in most cities, I suit up with my cycling gear – helmet, sunglasses, backpack, and for the first time a breathing mask or cowboy-style bandanna. As soon as I leave the compounds and chat with poppy, the adventure begins.
My bicycle bell rings non-stop, I’m constantly looking out for new potholes, wandering lethargic street dogs (and street cows), holding my breath when crossing our polluted river, dodging the morning traffic of bustling Nepalese merchants – my senses are already heightened and I am only still in my neighbourhood. When I finally hit the main roads to work, I seamlessly blend in with the morning choas.
Survival of the fittest – or the insane
At first, I was scared out of my mind to cycle to work – most of my Nepali colleagues would agree. However, after a few commutes of riding on the left side and a couple of near-death experiences later, I finally began to understand the unique ecosystem of the Nepali roads and thus evolved/adapted in order to survive.
It’s not that bad once you get used to things – the pollution and the constant honking is the worst part. One thing I must say is that the drivers of Nepal (bus drivers, taxi drivers, motorcyclists, etc.) are the best drivers I have ever seen. They have lightning-fast reflexes, keen perception and awareness, and the utmost patience (all zen and no road-rage). As well, being a fairly tall foreigner wearing a loud fake cycling helmet from China on a bike definitely does not go un-noticed on the roads.
Tip: if you look like (or fake the part) of a foreigner who is not biking well such as wobbling around and thrashing your front wheel left and right, drivers will definitely stay clear of you and give you more room on the road.
I often think that drivers here even have their own unwritten road rules and special language using their horns and turn-signals. Turn-signals especially because when in use they either mean the typical “oh, I am turning my vehicle in this direction now” or better yet, “you can overtake me on this side of the vehicle” or “oh hey you behind me, check out what is coming up on my left side”, or “I’m having a bad day, don’t even try to overtake me”.
Finally, I think the best drivers in the world are the 4×4 Tata drivers who do the trek everyday from the chaotic streets of Kathmandu to industrial Hetauda and back via the Tribhuvan Rajpath road. This road is probably Nepal’s most exciting–indeed, hair-raising–of the country’s mountain roads. These drivers have to be sharp and leave very little room for error as they, along with their sardine-packed passengers, endure very narrow, mountain-side-cliff dirt roads (usually made for one vehicle), and near head-on collisions on a daily basis.
…always an adventure.