Walking the streets of Kathmandu for the first time is an intimidating and baffling exercise. Intimidating for the sheer madness and pace of the city, and baffling for what seems to be a method in the chaos.
The morning taxi ride to my guesthouse from Kathmandu’s airport was my first and maybe most important lesson in the method: honk. As a driver, honk when swerving, honk when turning, honk when in a traffic jam, and honk when entering an intersection. Without a traffic light or stop sign to speak of in my southern Lalitpur neighbourhood, or lanes on the road, the car and motorbike’s horn becomes the director of traffic.
Back at the guest house in southern Lalitpur, ready for a nap after 35 hours of travel, and the first lesson of this city plays an annoying game: the honk is loud and piercing. The nap must wait.
On the streets, the honk now serves a dual lesson – act as a car and be confident, or else you’ll never cross the street. Families cross from one side to another with ease, cows roam the center lanes and sidewalks without a worry, munching on the street-lined garbage, and wild dogs snake through the traffic like veterans – looking both ways before crossing.
Taking a break from the chaos and catching my breath from the choking pollution, I stand a few steps up on a corner shop and just watch. Vivid purples, greens, reds, pinks – saris of every kind – pass below me. A scooter rolls by with three people squished on a tiny seat, with the back passenger somehow reading a newspaper while seated sideways. A tiny old man in sandals lumbers by, carrying a heavy cupboard bigger than himself jerry-rigged to a leather strap wrapped around his forehead. And a wedding procession marches on (see 2:00 of my earlier video), all dancing and celebrating in the streets to loud drums and horns (a custom adopted from India).
It seems that I stood on this one random street corner and saw more variety in life’s hustle and bustle in 20 minutes than I would have otherwise seen over the course of a day, week (month?) in Toronto. Life here is happening, on the streets, raw, in plain view without shame and apprehension.
Kathmandu’s madness is in its loudness, speed, smell, and lack of formal coordination. But somehow, synchronicity flourishes in its people, and all is taken in stride – epitomized by the Nepali saying “khe garne?”, or “what is there to do?” Like a Jackson Pollock painting, there is flow and beauty in the discord. It all works, and is wondrous.
Posted By Corey Black
Posted May 18th, 2011