11 Jul 2012 Madness in Nepal
A local Sadhu welcomes visitors to old Kathmandu, Nepal
“Stop! Don’t go outside yet!” I shouted frantically, trying to get my family’s attention. I had to catch up with them to warn them about the insanity that was awaiting them outside the door twenty yards in front of them. I had not prepared them or given them any forewarning about what was lurking on the other side of the door.
“Wait! Don’t go out there yet!” I screamed while running out of the customs area of the Kathmandu airport. They didn’t hear me so I cried out again, “I need to tell you all something!”
My family had all cleared customs at the airport. They were going to hail a taxi when it struck me that I had not prepared them for what waited outside. Realizing this, I hurriedly heaved my big trekking backpack over my shoulders and clipped the back support straps together like a belt. After readying myself I grabbed my passport from the customs officer and began the quest to stop my family from exiting the door without me.
I was to act as their tour guide as I had been to Nepal before and had somewhat of a clue what I was doing. Our tentative plan was to stay a few days in Kathmandu before heading to the Himalayas to do some trekking in the Annapurna region in central Nepal.
Finally, after about 45 seconds of screaming and running, I caught up with them. They were about to walk through the automatic door. “Everybody, stop…” (Taking a second to take a breath), “Move away from the door, I need to tell you something!”
“Ok” they all said, moving to the side of the hallway, making a circle to hear what I had to say.
Waiting a few seconds to catch my breath, I calmly commanded, “I want all of you to close your eyes.”
“Ummm, ok…” they all apprehensively questioned, raising their eyebrows at me and looking around at each other in the circle. After a few moments passed, they in unison reluctantly closed their eyes and waited for my instructions.
“Take a deep breath in and hold it…”
“Now, breath out slowly.”
After we had all slowly expelled all the air in our lungs I continued with a mischievous smile, “Now, everybody remember this as the last moment of sanity for the next three days.” After waiting a few seconds to let what I had just said sink in, I chuckled and put a big smile on, “Just remember that and stay close to me!” At that, I gave a hug to everyone one by one, turned around and began to walk out the door, looking over my shoulder to see if they were following me.
All of them had the same blank perplexed look of, “What did he just say?” look on their faces. Waiving my right arm forward I exclaimed, “Come on everyone! Let’s go!” The motion sensor door slowly opened and the nice, cool air-conditioned building gave way to a thick brick wall of hot, humid air which hit me with the force of a bag of bricks. All the energy I had a few seconds ago was punched out of me.
A few seconds passed as I adjusted to my surroundings when a wave of taxi drivers starting to rush me like a mob would go after their favorite celebrity. Trying to look over the mass, it was impossible to see more than 10 feet in any direction as everyone was shouting, shoving and waiving their hands in the air, trying to get my attention. There must have been at least 20-30 taxi drivers, all vying and jockeying for position to get my attention.
“My friend! My friend! Where do you want to go?” They all seemed to shout out in unison as I was shoved in every way from the mob.
“My friend! Do you have a hotel to stay? Where do you want to go? My friend, my friend!” At this point, I forgot that I have more friends in Nepal than in any place in the world. What was more impressive was that I didn’t know they were my friends to begin with!
Remembering once again that my family had never been to this side of the world, I looked back and they were still just standing right outside the automatic door. Their mouths wide open, gawking at the chaos in front of them. Shoving and pushing my way back to them I exclaimed, “I told you to enjoy the last few moments of sanity! Lets get a hotel!” Taking their hands, we picked a taxi driver randomly.
The driver was in his mid twenties and had torn jeans, a pair of dilapidated flip-flops and an old beat up collared shirt. He proudly escorted us to his taxi, pushing us through the mob, making sure that we arrived at his cab safely. Once we arrived at the car, I waited until our luggage was in the trunk and the trunk was shut and locked before getting in.
“I’ll take the front seat…I don’t think any of you want to sit up here.” I said, winking and nodding my head before everyone got in.
With a crazed look in his eye, the taxi driver glanced over at me and smirked. Reaching under his seat, he took out a pocketknife. Concentrating on the ignition, he shoved it into where the key should go. Cranking it clockwise, the engine began spitting and sputtering to life. When the beast was alive, it let out a tremendous roar, letting everyone around know that it had awoken from its slumber. The car that we had decided on had to be at least a 20-year-old Toyota or Honda compact car with no muffler. As we left the airport, I looked down at my feet. I could see the ground underneath the car, as there was a gaping hole in the floor. There were no seatbelts to hold us back from braking, no air-conditioning to help cool us from the hot, muggy, dusty air. In a way, I kind of felt like I was transported back to pre-historic times, and I was Fred Flinstone.
“My friend, where do you want to go?” The driver glanced over at me.
“Thamel! Take us to Thamel!” I screamed back, trying to have my voice heard over the engine. Thamel (Pronounced Ta-mel) is the main tourist hang out in Kathmandu and probably the best chance of finding accommodation in the city. I have never reserved accommodation in advance and did not do it on this trip.
To say that the driving in this part of the world is civilized would be absolutely ludicrous. There is a famous quote for driving in the Indian subcontinent and it goes something like this:
“No brakes, no problem. No horn, you’re dead”.
Our taxi driver was about to prove this point for the next 30 minutes or so. “We go now!” Our taxi driver exclaimed with glee! “You will be in Thamel in no time!”
Leaving the airport, the beaten up car was taken to its limits as the chauffer swerved and weaved in and out of traffic to get into the city. It was bad enough that he was doing it but to compound the excitement, just about every-other driver on that road was doing the exact same thing. Looking ahead, the traffic reminded me of ants scurrying along a dirt path, trying to make it back to their nest. To let people know that we were coming up behind them, our driver honked at them and cut them off, essentially shoving them out of the way. We zoomed by people pushing food carts along the dirt road, donkeys pulling engineless cars behind them, cow herds lying in the middle of the road, monkeys scurrying across the road playing tag and anything else that is imaginable! Looking back into the back seat, just about everyone’s eyes were out of their sockets with an absolute look of horror on their face. As we went around corners we were sacks of potatoes thrown around the back seat, almost switching seats at every corner. Then, out of nowhere, they all hollered and pointed in front of the car.
“Tyler! Sit down!”
I sat down and was shocked to see what was happening. Our driver had gotten it in his head that it would be a great idea to play chicken with what seemed like the largest truck I had ever seemed. He was so desperate to gain a few seconds by passing three or four cars. Passing them in front of an incoming semi-truck was the proper logic.
Time seemed to slow down as my life flashed before my eyes. Looking over at the driver, he had a crazed look of concentration and determination in his wide eyes and seemed as though he was smiling in the face of danger. Punching the gas to the floor, the driver approached 40 mph, 45mph and finally at about 50mph with the charging truck honking and no more than 20 yards ahead of us, he swerved back into our side of the road, nearly leaving us as roadside kill left to be scraped off the road. Time sped up to normal speed and at this point I turned around and joked if anyone wanted to switch me seats. All of them were frozen stiff, still trying to comprehend what just happened. All of them were pale as ghosts with a death grip to the seat, staring straight ahead. I don’t even think that anyone heard what I had just said.
Sitting back down into my seat and facing forward, our roller coaster adventure ended a few minutes later with our driver stopping in the middle of Thamel.
“Here is Thamel!” Our guide exclaimed.
Before getting into the taxi, I knew that something like this was going to happen and was prepared. Still shell shocked from their horrific ride, they slowly came out of it, loosening their grip from the seat and getting out of the car. The driver had pulled into a guesthouse and told us that it was a great place to stay. He got our luggage out of the trunk and set it on the ground. Our initial plan before leaving the airport was to walk around Thamel and try to find a nice place to stay. At this point, they didn’t care where we stayed. It only took about 2 seconds to agree on a room at the hotel that the driver had dropped us off at.
Reaching our room, everybody’s adrenalin had worn off and they collapsed on their beds. Laughing to myself I calmly said, “Remember at the airport when I said that was the last moment of sanity for the next three days? We still have a seven-hour drive to get to the mountains to start our hike! Does anybody want to call shotgun right now?”
They all rolled their eyes at me, thinking that I was crazy. At this point, all they could concentrate on was the back of their eyelids and their pillow. After they were asleep, I went outside to walk around, only to find our driver outside with a nice smile on his face. Approaching me, he shook my hand and proudly said, “My friend, do you need a driver for tomorrow?” With a small smirk on my face I inquired, “Do you have an appointment in a few days? We need a ride to the Himalayas!”