Friday, March 29, 2013

The Streets of Kathmandu

Image 94/ 365: This street normally redefines "busy" and "chaotic,"
 but this picture was taken during the holiday in Kathmandu. 
Image 93/ 365:  View from the side of the road
(no sidewalks here) in Kathmandu.

Image 92/ 365: Normal street scene. Different sense of alignment
and sense of space on these roads. 

Image 94/ 365: Cows are sacred here, so they have
freedom to roam where they wish. 
When traveling in Nepal, it’s nice to know there’s no extra charge for entertainment on public transportation. That includes people watching, counting family members on a single scooter (5 is the top count so far), or watching traffic dodge cows lying in the middle of the road. It includes the sheer joy of the occasional off-road ride: I thought painted lines on the road were mere suggestions. Now I realize that even the asphalt strip called a "road" is a step above bread crumbs serving as a travel guide. It's also evident that Nepali automakers need not include turn signals in the cars, but need to beef up the horns for continued blaring and blasting. And, "the more dust, the better” ought to be the national driving motto.

Speaking of mottos, there are several catchy ones painted on the traffic cop/ director's kiosk in the center of intersections:
"Caution and care make crashes rare"
"Accidents make tears. Safety makes cheer."
"Road safety is no accident."
Wonder if they help; I have yet to see any accident!

Entertainment also includes that which I have (obviously) provided to the locals. I have talked—ok, tried to talk—to people with my oh-so-rudimentary Nepali---which just makes everyone laugh, but it eases their shyness and their stares dissolve into smiles. Today, the toddler in front of me on the bus took my finger and kissed it; as we unloaded at the same stop, she put her tiny little hands together for a farewell Namaste. Talk about unforgettably precious—but telling her mom (using my handy Nepali phrase book) that her baby was cute definitely broke the ice, and she continued to smile at me on the bus. In Nepal, people don’t say you’re welcome or thank you. Instead “they smile at you and you know it’s from their heart.”  

Image 93/365: My new little source of namaste.
If you want to take public transportation anywhere, you can ride a “bus”, microbus (white van), or tuk tuk (think motorized rickshaw). I’d highly recommend the microbus for the pure sake of entertainment. Young boys or teens hang out the side door yelling the name of stops (I have yet to see a sign for a bus stop), encouraging folks to ride, and are then responsible for remembering who is going where and later taking their money as they disembark . Constant pounding and tapping on the side of the van alerts the driver to stop for pickup or drop off, and no one seems to mind that it sounds like the van is under attack. They also don’t seem to mind that the microbus teams are in the midst of training for what must be the Nepali championship of Microbus Stuffing—when there’s no room left, let alone seats, they still keep persuading people to get on.

And then, once the journey continues, anything can happen, like today, when the door fell off the side of the van. (Thankfully, no cows were harmed.) The driver calmly pulled over, and the "door man" jumped out to fix it. With a wrench. Apparently a magical one. No one said a word, no one offered to help, and there was not a peep of discontent. There were even new passengers who paused for a minute to look at the door on the ground, and decided with a shrug that, "hey, it looks ok", and into the van they hopped. And waited while it was fixed somehow. Still no one said a single word. "Relax!", they always say--they definitely practice what they preach! 

And that, my friends, is a glimpse into life on the roads of Kathmandu. 

Image  92 / 365: Door fell off!
Nepali expletives here. _________
Image   91/ 365: The Door Man fixes the door and
saves the day!

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