Back Alleys in Kathmandu: Part 1
I’m here in the low season. The very low season. I’m staying at one of Kathmandu’s largest hotels, but there are so few guests that, when I couldn’t remember my room number in the restaurant, the waiter told me what it was. Weird…
If you’re considering a visit, October and November are ideal. July, not so much. Unless you want no crowds and lots of rain, which I don’t mind.
After an amazing experience flying to Mount Everest (Thank you for all of the feedback on the video!!), I arranged for a tour guide and driver to take me around the city to see some of the sites. I booked a three hour tour…
We planned to start at a new site that was built last year. It’s called “Chandragiri Hills” and its centerpiece is a cable car that goes up to about 8,000 feet. It promised unbeatable views of the entire Kathmandu Valley. I was also planning to see a few religious sites on the way back.
This post is not so much about those stops, though.
I am really struggling to figure out the right word to describe driving around Kathmandu. Perhaps after reading this story, you can let me know the word you’d use in the comments?
The potholes here dwarf anything in Madagascar. While those craters could have swallowed a Smart Car, these things could take in a dump truck. We were in a Corolla, so the danger was real.
They’re currently rebuilding the city’s water system, which means *everything* is caked in mud. Deep pools flood entire intersections. The same is true on the sidewalks where pedestrians don’t so much walk as “slide” along confident that a fall (and I’ve seen plenty of them) will be cushioned either by the mud or a pool of water. Indeed, a young girl fell last week and was swept away into a river. Fortunately, rescuers saved her. It took them several hours to find her, though.
Add onto that wandering dogs, sheep, monkeys, and cattle and you’ve got a recipe for some intense driving.
Now, stories about cab rides are so ubiquitous in travel that asking a traveler for their worst cab ride story is a great way to start a conversation.
And this one, this one is mine. It so affected me that I’m telling it in two parts.
Kathmandu is known for many things: Beautiful scenery, important religious sites, and traffic. We were in a jam almost immediately after leaving the hotel! Nothing was moving and it didn’t look like anything would for a while. I noticed a man walking slowly past us carrying a bumper; I guess he’d given up, but was prepared since traffic jams in Kathmandu can break up at any second.
We finally started moving again after about forty-five minutes (I took a nap). The driver sprang into action and gunned it. He shifted into oncoming traffic and accelerated toward a truck that simultaneously accelerated toward us. We hit a pothole and struck bottom. Something cracked, but the Corolla kept going.
At the last possible second, we merged into a Corolla-sized break in the *correct* lane and returned to a standstill. Nobody said anything.
A few minutes later, he was at it again. We headed back out into oncoming traffic, rushing toward more trucks and motorcycles. We hit another pothole and went airborne this time. Freaking airborne! My head hit the roof of the car. It hurt. We landed again.
Again, at the last possible second, we merged into a Corolla-sized break in the *correct* lane and returned to a standstill. We all just sat there, staring ahead.
We did this a lot. No joke.
That driver has a death wish and this was his signature move.
Fortunately, he kept us all alive long enough to make it to the cable car. And the views were impressive. I’m not sure whether they were worth a two hour drive from hell, but they were impressive.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I saw some noteworthy driving from others, too. At one point, we were on a hill behind a bus when the bus driver decided he needed to back down the road. A passenger from the bus hopped out and helped guide him. As they reversed down a switchback, the fully loaded bus ended up balanced on two wheels. Two wheels! I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
But, I could tell something was wrong when the normally cheery guide suddenly grew solemn, stopped speaking in English, and directed his attention toward the driver.
Check back tomorrow for the rest of the story…