Monday, August 26, 2013

Walking around in Kathmandu – basic survival rules

The very first time I met a European in Nepal, her first sentence has been the following: « Welcome in the 4th dimension ». I found it cool at first. Then I understood why.
Therefore I think that any person interested in discovering Kathmandu should have some basic insights about how to walk in this fascinating city. If you ever wish to drive or cycle here, well you may have to take a dedicated private class. My skills are limited to pedestrian survival, as I developed myself a method to escape all the dangers.

First of all, you must know that in Nepal we drive on the left. At least in principle. In fact you drive wherever you want; everywhere it is possible to pass. It is a maze of buses from the 60s, cars of the 50s, 20s scooters, bicycles, plows, rickshaws, pedestrians. On the roadside, there are people sitting selling all kinds of stuff and in between you see dogs lazying in the sun and goats running around (I’ve also heard about monkeys and cows, but they were not visible yet).
The first time I got into a Nepalese car, it was with the colleague who picked me up at the airport. At one point of the ride, 3 cars came straight ahead towards us while my colleague said very peacefully: "you're lucky, today is Saturday, there's no cars! ". Then occurred a death defying curve to avoid the three cars all the while he was turned around towards me talking like everything was absolutely normal. I was definitely going to have some fun in here.

In most of the narrow streets, but especially in Thamel (the most touristy area), you can find another style of driving: the streets are 2-3meters wide, which is rather small, especially when the edges are filled with shops that steals heavily from the public roads to show off their goods (carpets, pashminas and all the rest). In this small space, there are always cars, bikes, scooters, rickshaws, pedestrians. To move forward, you must keep close to the walls, avoid walking on sleeping dogs and people sitting selling incredible stuff. The most important rule: keep watching your feet. Yes, but…

It took me 4 days to find and remember my way between my place and work. Weird, knowing that I usually have quite a good orientation sense. But here is the thing: everything is made so you lose all your geography. And since you keep the focus onto your holy feet, well, it’s a bit hard to watch directions at the same time.
My Italian friend would say that Kathmandu is a ”disorganized mess" (as opposed to Paris, which is according to her really well organized for such a messy city). I must agree with this view. Indeed, locating your position within this maze falls within superhuman abilities: not only doesn’t the building have numbers, but the streets only have a theoretical name (which means a name on Google Map, but not in real life). Most of them are not on Google Map anyway. Seems like the American giant just dropped the Nepali case.
Each street is slightly different but still the same. They are over-packed with stuff catching your eyes in order to make you buy them and each free space of wall/pole/window is filled with advertising. Of all the info’s I catch none, I still watch my feet to avoid stepping on something/someone. The cars, minibuses, rickshaws, motorbikes are driving past within millimeters and I can't fathom how I still haven't been hit. I must be blessed.

But do you want to truth? Once passed the slight stress of the situation, when you actually find out that you survived all those upcoming events, you start enjoying this mess. This is LIFE! This world is full of noise, colors, smells, smiles, music. And behind all that, it’s actually a hidden logic (still trying to sort it out, but I’m convinced of its existence).
This is what makes this city so crazy, fascinating, overwhelming, unique and beautiful. Just give it a try!
A last advice? Watch your feet, but also take the time to look up here and then to admire the life show around you! It’s possible if you walk slower. Nepal is not a place to run anyway. And if you don’t dare walking alone in the first days, just call me and I’ll be by your side J

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