The roads of Nepal are nearly as famous and notorious as its mountains. The country’s traffic directorate confirms a few hundred major and over a thousand small accidents per day. One journalist made the cynical yet accurate comment that Nepali traffic claims almost as much lives as the civil war that ended in 2006. Still, this apparent controlled chaos seems to work for the average Nepali. But how does the average tourist feel about the traffic when he sets foot on Nepali land for the very first time?
The cliche wants the typical tourist in Nepal to be brave, adventurous and fearless. But even for the most experienced travelers it is impossible to hide the anxious looks on their faces when entering the narrow streets of Thamel, probably the most popular tourist destination in Kathmandu. Gianni Tamiozzo, an Italian who has been travelling to Nepal many times for the past 32 years, sees a downward evolution in Nepali traffic. “People used to be nice, but now they tend to be more aggressive because everything has to go quickly. What really annoys me is the fact that there is no such thing as systematic driving.” Tamiozzo aims at the criticism that there is no awareness of any traffic rules, but that there are only ‘suggestions’. There are too many cars, motorbikes and pedestrians going through the same narrow roads. There are no sidewalks nor is there parking space. Dogs, cows and monkeys are crossing roads without giving any warning. Local buses usually tend to be overcrowded and have people crawling on the roof as a result. Sometimes it is just too much for tourists to cope with.
But according to Subhash Gurung, a traffic policeman from Shorakhutte, visitors in Nepal should not worry too much. “Tourists rarely are involved in traffic accidents”, he states. He emphasizes that he feels no fear coming from the tourists at all and thinks they are rather positive about Nepali traffic. But his words are contradicted by Samyr Kumar Bomgan. This cab driver from Thamel meets tons of tourists who get stressed out by Nepali traffic. “Tourists don’t like too much traffic. But Thamel is always crowded, people come here for business. A lot of them complain to me, that it is too much for them to handle. But then I just say: ‘Well sir, this is Nepal’”, Gurung bursts out laughing.
This is Nepal indeed. As reported by a United Nations survey on economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific, road accidents in Nepal “had increased fourfold in the last decade”. This statement confirms what Gianni Tamiozzo already had anticipated on. Maybe he has some advice for future tourists in Nepal? “Yes. I always have my umbrella with me, even if it is not raining. I use it as a security stick. I want at least twenty centimeters between a vehicle and my body. So if a car is coming too close, I just hit it with my umbrella”, he laughs out loud.