Friday, February 02, 2007

Driving Mr. Richard

Driving in Kathmandu requires one of two approaches. Either you treat your trip as an engineer would - I have a car, it is this big, the gap I want to get into is this big, and in order to get my car into that gap I need to take the following route - or you take the alternative and more popular approach. This approach can be likened to a small child armed with a hammer trying to get a square peg into a round hole. The child also has a large, loud and creative sounding horn. If it helps, the child is also high.

When queueing in Nepal for anything (such as the departure tax at the airport - Kathamdu airport, like Auckland and unlike every other airport I've been to, requires that you pay your departure tax after you've bought the ticket but before you have checked in), the approach is simply to barge to the front and wave your money furiously. At the moment, due to problems on the terai (the low parts of Nepal), there is limited access to petrol in Kathmandu. As a consequence, drivers queue for up to five hours to get fuel. They use the same approach as is required in the departure tax payment queue, but do not leave their vehicles. It is possible to see scrums of motorcyles 100+ strong involved in this. It is believed that in order to conserve petrol it is essential for drivers to switch off their engines when waiting at traffic lights.

Driving to and from Kathamndu is precipitous and requires one or more of the following:
  • gigantic testicles
  • blind faith
  • the ability to see round corners
  • momentum
  • no fear
  • no brains (for to think about what you're about to means you will not do it).
  • A very loud horn
  • The ability to make trucks that are coming towards you either disappear or fit into very small places

I've been in overtaking maneouvers on roads with 500m+ drops past several heavily decorated and lumbering Tata trucks on blind corners while being a passenger in a less decorated but equally lumbering buck, which I've subesequently learnt is called a buck 'cos it's half bus and half... As I say, momentum is important. Astonishingly, we never met an oncoming vehicle, and I'm sure either my driver had radar or telekinesis. For the 18+ hours to date that I have spent being driven in Nepal, it somewhat amazes me that none of the vehicles I've been in have touched any other vehicle. And the only tipped over Tata truck I've seen was on the terai near Butwal. It was a very straight and flat road and it had spilt its load of steel. It appeared to have collected a tree on its way to resting on it's side, with the side of the road being some 20m plus away.

The best ride I've had was from the airport to Thamel, the tourist part of Kathmandu. Our driver was as high as a kite and giggled constantly as he played with is horn. At one stop, he started to attack his dashboard, kicking and punching it with all the energy of a rutting stag. After two minutes he held up in triumph an ejected cassette. Giggling he replaced it with a techno version of My heart will go on. Later, and in mid-traffic, he happily raised the the blood-drug concentrations in his body.

For the next five days, I'm on foot...

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