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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Traffic

 

At any moment of the day, it would appear that all 1.9 million people living in Kathmandu were on the streets at the same time given the level of bicycle, motorcycle, rickshaw, cart and bus traffic careening along the lane-less roads. Honking seemed to be the national pastime, engaged in freely while passing other vehicles, being passed by other vehicles, and swerving to avoid the mass of pedestrians and even cows crossing the roads. And to make matters even more unnerving, vehicles in Nepal are driven on the left side of the road  (a remnant of British rule) at break neck speed. Surprisingly and blessedly, there was no evidence of any road rage even in the frequent and massive traffic jams caused by Maoist street demonstrations or the general strikes called by political coalition groups. The residents of Kathmandu seemed to take this chaotic life in stride with grace and humor. 

Group in doorway

 

Chapati

Because of the warm weather, crowding (an average of 42,000 people per square mile) and cultural traditions, the Nepalese lead a more “public” and outdoor life than in the West.  We witnessed open-air barbershops under shade trees by the side of the road, public laundry and bathing in town squares, and people taking noonday naps sprawled in the sun on grassy highway medians. The only concession the residents seemed to make as they went about their daily business clad in brightly colored saris and other traditional clothing was to wear facemasks against the heavily polluted air.  According to our guide, the pollution is a result of the valley’s natural air inversion effect but also, because of the lack of strict emission controls, many people add cheap kerosene to the higher-priced gas they burn in their vehicles. 

So, as happy as we were to have spent time in the vibrant valley of Kathmandu, it was almost quite literally a breath of fresh air to finally be heading to the wide-open skies at the roof of the world—Tibet.


 
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