If you have ever traveled internationally, you know there are certain aspects of life you will observe time and time again. You’ll notice the way Europeans dress differently than Americans even though they all tend to wear pants and tops of similar brands. You’ll certainly notice how Hindu and Buddhist populated countries dress more conservatively and almost always cover their shoulders and knees. You’ll probably eat out while abroad and you’ll admire the way Vietnamese people can sit on furniture made for preschoolers and still look comfortable or how Indians eat with their right hands only. You’ll also walk around abroad and you’ll notice how easy it is to shop and walk in countries with pedestrian zones. You’ll wish America (or your home country) adopted a few more car-free areas in your city too. You’ll also notice how hard it is to cross the street safely in some countries, especially if the traffic moves in the opposite direction than what you’re used to.
To say crossing the street in Kathmandu, Nepal is difficult, is an understatement. First off, there are no traffic lights or at least none that I have observed in the city center so you won’t see any flashing walk symbols. The main streets are very wide too and there are certainly no lines painted on them. If there are crosswalks painted, it’s almost irrelevant because of the lack of traffic lights. It’s almost impossible to interpret which lane has the right away, when cars will be turning into the intersection, and at what point will the wall of traffic lurch forward.
The streets of Kathmandu are hive of activity and a fast paced and unruly one at that. Drivers use their horns for every possible signal, not just to signify a near crash or a passing friend. At any one time there can be three lanes of cars or twelve lanes of motorbikes coming your way. It’s truly an amazing experience and I can only admire the driving methodology while wandering around trying not to get run over. My procedure for crossing the street? Wait until a Nepalese person is about to cross and walk with them and not a step behind, right beside them, because it just takes one misstep to get hit by a bike, moped, taxi or bus and if that were the case, I have a feeling the traffic would just keep on moving.
In my opinion, one of the easiest places to wander around in Kathmandu is thamel. It may seem counterintuitive because the streets are extremely skinny, line with shops, and there are no sidewalks, but at least you only have to cross two lanes of traffic at any one time. Thamel is a little overwhelming because there are so many shops and with that comes shop owners who are trying their best to lure you inside. There are also Nepalese trying to cater to tourists by offering hashish and other illegal drugs. Every once in awhile there are thieves trying to snatch a bag or camera, but for the most part I feel pretty safe inside the crowded winding streets of thamel that is until I’m startled from a daydream by a taxi honking it’s horn right on my heels.