Sunday, 25 May 2014

Driving Precariously, Nepal, April 2014

Driving, it's a precarious business...

For the casual Westerner an apparent lack of road rules and a terrible driving etiquette coupled with roads often unfit for purpose all conspire to make driving in some Asian countries a precarious business. Nepal is no exception to this, particularly Kathmandu! There, I wouldn't attempt to drive until I was well settled into the rhythm of that cities life - and finding insurance might be a challenge. Driving to Western standards around here will soon have your nerves in tatters as locals will Linley hound you off the road - just don't drive, plenty of public transport to get you pretty much anywhere.

So what exactly happens on the roads here in Nepal?

From personal experience and observations here's a rundown of Nepali driving etiquette.
Out of town driving is quite different from urban driving. Firstly the highways are much narrower being carved into mountainsides, plenty of hairpin corners to slow down proceedings - or so you'd think.  Well, yes they do slow down a little, but overtaking on corners seems to be routine around here. To be fair, most of the time its possible to see the entire stretch of highway looking across the ravines but not always and drivers do take risks. Overtaking on hills is pretty frequent on  the trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara. A calculated risk  since their isn't really a great deal of traffic in the opposite direction after about 11.30 am! Then there is the regular overtaking - the safe kind when the road is  a straight stretch approaching a town. It's when drivers try to make 3 lanes out of what is essentially a 1 1/2 lane highway by British standards, and most of the time it seems to work with most drivers willing to giveaway at the sound of a horn. All in all though, a first timer to Nepal on a bus trip probably shouldn't eat a hearty meal before travelling, shouldn't sit up at the front and should take some kind of container for possible contents of stomach! Oh, and ear plugs since the constant sound of the horn can grate after a few hours.

Well, in a nutshell that's a typical 6 hours on the bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a journey I have survived 3 times, and quite confident of surviving more trips like this. After all these drivers know their roads and calculate those risky overtakes pretty well. Alternatively, fly, but the planes are old the the Nepali air safety record isn't great.

It's No accident.... Next time I'll look at driving in town and how to avoid Camels, cows and buffalo


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