As I’ve recollected story after story from our time in Nepal, I found that many consist of how we got from place to place while we were there, and God’s faithfulness in keeping us alive. From walking up steep trails literally carved into cliff-sides to taking a small two propeller plane over a clouded Mt. Everest, we quickly discovered that getting from A to B usually involved a heavy dose of adventure.
This is no more true than taking a taxi in Kathmandu. I’m honestly not sure where to even begin here. To explain the madness surrounding Nepali traffic would be to explain just how grand the Himalayas are. Alas, I’ll do my best… First off you need to understand the roads. They are narrow. Narrow, bumpy, and mostly cracked the roads in Kathmandu could give off-roaders everything they would want right there in the city. Now also consider normal roads are small side streets, little alleys and places you would consider only people could walk. I cant tell you how many times I was almost hit on a small “road” or how often our drivers almost hit pedestrians. The key word here is almost. We never saw anyone get hit. We never saw an accident. By all accounts it was a miracle, or rather in this part of the world people had to actually pay attention to what they were doing and were good at it. What a novel idea.
Now take these poorly constructed and managed roads and throw in as many motorcycles and mopeds as you can imagine. I’m talking three or four in a row in one lane kind of stuff here. They bob and weave through lanes of traffic, cars, and about any amount of space they can find. The cars in Kathmandu are almost all taxis and because of this they almost all look the same. There is a tax of something around 300% on cars so people generally dont own there own, which is intentional because the Nepali government wants people on smaller means of transportation to fight congestion in the busy streets.
As if the ant-swarm of taxis, motorcycles and mopeds wasn’t enough there are large trucks, buses and vans which drive around serving as a means of public transportation. They also cram as many people inside of them as possible to where all you see in side is a solid mass of people and one man hanging out a window shouting the destination and price of admission to the people walking about. Typically they dont stop either so if you want a ride you need to run along side and jump in. There are stains underneath all the windows of the buses and vans, which you quickly find out are a result of the bumping roads, constant swerving and Nepali food making many of the passengers a little sick to their stomachs. To round this all off, everyone is honking their horns constantly. Its strange if 30 seconds go by without a driver honking their horn. Its not because anyone is angry, its simply because this is how they let other vehicles, and people, know that they are there.
Kathmandu is a massive city. So as you can guess when we took taxis we had no idea where we were actually going. After driving to a certain area a few times you would recognize certain land marks, but every once and a while a driver would a go a brand new way to avoid some sort of traffic. One such time occurred during our second stint in Kathmandu, when we felt particularly comfortable with where we were headed. On the way home our driver decided to take a detour without telling us… into the jungle. Yes we turn onto a dirt road that leads into some literal jungle. Nothing to be seen other than a few monkeys, James and I start to get nervous as the realization that this man could potentially be leading us somewhere we didn’t want to go. I honestly was on the edge of my seat, waiting to make a move if he tried to pull something on us. Much to our relief we popped of the jungle near where we were staying and actually managed to shave off several minutes from the drive. Things like that are very common in Nepal, the people know their way around very well and are as a whole very accommodating to foreigners who arent used to the somewhat controlled chaos.
One of our M’s told us that a study was conducted by the Nepali government in which they polled drivers on what they thought the lines in the middle of the road mean. The overwhelming response was that they thought the lines symbolized the ideal place for your car to be on the road since it was in the middle. That should help give you a picture of the madness.
Mountain transportation is worse. Much worse. The “roads” we drove on were some of the most terrifying things I had ever seen. You would load up into this big ol jeep and head up and down roads literally hundreds of feet above a river with about 1.5 feet of wiggle room for your vehicle. All the while you are dodging goats, cows, falling rocks and oncoming jeeps. And people just hop in too. You could be driving along and see a guy who just looks over and jumps onto the side rail of the jeep. This happened once to us and when the driver tried to tell him to get off our new passenger just about socked him in the face. So our driver said sorry and our new friend held on for a while longer and then hopped off. Landslides are everywhere so thats scary, cause I mean what better to start one than this giant jeep rumbling up the trail? People also ride on top of the jeep which I heard is better than sitting inside a crowded one because there is air and if a jeep or bus goes over the people on top can just jump to safety… This isnt something you like to hear as you are in the cab…
One time we drove around a corner and happened upon an old man who was hearding two bulls. Our presence scared the bulls so they ran off down the trail. The elderly man came up to us yelling and he got in as we tried to follow the bulls in an effort to catch our old friend (get it) up.We eventually rounded a corner and found them so we dropped him off and continued on our way down a steep slope into the river valley below.
Ah and then there is the music. This is purely a cultural thing, but 6 hours on a slow and extremely bumpy jeep with foreign music doesnt make for a good first impression. I fully believe that a similar situation in the US with a foreigner being stuck with AC/DC for 6 hours may result in the same feelings but man it was rough.
Flying to our second trek we boarded a small two prop airplane that sat a max of 20 passengers inside. There is this joke running amongst Nepalis that one plane goes down every year, but not to worry because one has already crashed this year so you’re fine. I never felt unsafe on the aircraft and everything went off without a hitch, but the most surprising thing had to be the airport we flew into. It had laundry hanging from it and a little kid waving to us from the “tower” window. I mean this place made the Pullman airport look expansive and that’s saying something.
I want to be sure and give you a clear picture for our time up in the mountains as well.aside from two jeep rides on each trek it was all walking. And the only available option was to walk. There is no other way into these areas except maybe a helicopter. It wasnt like we could have taken the car farther and were cheap or lazy, we legitimately had to hike in to all of these villages and that was the only way to get things to all of the people we met. That’s why these people are unreached. Because its literally hard to reach them.
While transportation turned into quite the adventures, we are nothing but thankful for the opportunities we had and the way in which we were able to get there. Nepal and its people treated us very well…. except for that one time James got hit by a motorcycle but eh ya know, its Nepal.