Getting Around Kathmandu in Local Transport

Sajha Bus Kathmandu“Welcome to Nepal, Land of Adventure.” This is probably one of the slogans that attracted you to go on a Nepal travel. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of adventurous things you can do around the country and many adventure trips you can take. Things like bungy jumping, paragliding, canyoning, trekking, mountain climbing, et cetera, et cetera. Of course, for all such activities, you got to make special arrangements and shell out a fair amount of moolah. However, know that there are other things that are no less adventurous, but which won’t cost you much. One such activity is going on a Kathmandu tour in what goes for public transportation around here. That is, three-wheelers (tempos), micro-buses (small vans), mini-buses (larger vans), and buses, and, oh yes, taxis.

First, taxis and their place in your Kathmandu travel. Your adventure begins the moment you land at Tribhuvan International Airport. Let’s say that you are here on your own; that is, no pre-bookings with travel agents or hotels. Well, many do arrive this way, and we daresay, they are the lucky ones (not to mention, the more adventurous ones), since the less adventurous ‘others’ will be missing out on something pretty interesting. You make your way outside the airport gates, and in the blink of an eye, you’ll be approached by a couple of taxi drivers. Of course you can always take a pre-paid taxi, but that’s not much fun. So, one driver now has one of your bags, and another has the second. Sometimes, it so happens that you’ll be witness to a minor scuffle between the two, each of whom believes that you are his rightful fare. Don’t worry, it won’t be anything that serious, and you’ll eventually be inside one of the taxis, and rolling. That’s when you realize that you are not just any other fare; you are prime fare.

So, what’s the fare to Thamel? you want to know, since you don’t see any meter running, if there’s a meter. The driver won’t divulge that straight away; first he’ll apologize for that bit of fracas some moments earlier, then he’ll explain that he’ been waiting for a fare at the airport for the better part of the day. Not a good day, he says ruefully. You’ll naturally sympathize with him, and this is when he states a figure. It must be mentioned here that it won’t be as outlandish as you would expect given the circumstances, because taxi drivers here aren’t all that greedy. But, they do have lots of problems, such as waiting in line for hours to fill up their tanks (petrol shortage is chronic), and stiff competition (particularly at the airport, and, more so, for international passengers). So what to do other than spike up the fare somewhat? Anyway, you should have fixed the fare before getting in, and you probably have if you are a seasoned traveler. By and by, you’ll arrive at your destination, and it will be a cool ride, most times, with the driver effusing friendliness and goodwill. If you are communicative, you’ll also get a sort of welcome Kathmandu tour, with your driver pointing out places of interest on the way. At the end of it all, you’ll probably want to give him a tip. Thus begins your Nepal travel; on a good note, wouldn’t you say?

Now you have been in the capital for a few days, and you have a hang of the things to do in Kathmandu, you might wish to venture on a Kathmandu tour in some other mode of public transportation. Well, first let’s see how you do traveling on a tempo. These are snappy little vehicles with sitting arrangements for ten or so. They travel fixed routes around the city and will stop wherever you want to get down, stops and so forth be damned. Actually, this is the case with the micro- and mini-buses as well. All of them go out of their way to ensure passenger convenience by picking them up wherever they can be found, and dropping them off wherever they desire on the route. Okay, you’re flagging down a tempo and you notice that there seems to be no place or you. You are wrong. It only looks full; see, there are only four people on one side, so, yes, get in, you’ll squeeze in. You do so. Nobody minds, since that’s the norm, and facing the five passengers opposite your bench, you are off on a tempo ride. Thankfully, with recent improvements in the roads, you won’t be feeling all that uncomfortable. Only, the closeness of your co-passengers might be a bit of a bother. But, that’s something you should take in your stride, as it will perhaps be a new experience for you. In this cyber world, it’s good to be close to other humans, don’t you think?  Well, that’s your tempo tour, a humanizing experience of your Nepal travel and a good way to take a Kathmandu tour.

Next, want to try out the micro-and mini-buses?  Well, they are both very popular modes of public transport round Kathmandu, but if you are a Caucasian, it wouldn’t be really advisable to board a micro. Reason is, you’ll probably be around the six feet mark in height, and you probably have legs that are considerably longer than what’s usual round here. Meaning, the micro has a really low roof, and seating arrangements within its narrow confines have been designed with fiscal viability in mind. Meaning, they are crammed much too close for comfort, and what’s more, there’s even a bench to sit five more alongside the seats facing in front. So, don’t ride a micro if you are a Caucasian; you’ll not only be putting yourself through a torturous ride, you’ll also be making others more uncomfortable than they already are.

Take a mini instead; these are much more spacious, but, still, financial viability comes before all else, and you’ll discover local ingenuity in the way the seating capacity has been expanded. Comfort, actually, is really not the priority, doesn’t even figure in the list, as far as they are concerned. Well, till the bigger buses increase in number and schedules, depending on how soon the ongoing expansion of the roads is completed, the tempos, the micros, and the minis will continue to play a crucial role in providing economical transportation for the locals. Which, one must admit, they have been doing for quite some time now. Without them, life would be impossible in the capital, so perhaps we can begrudge them some of their faults, the major one being their complete disregard for seating capacity and number of passengers; the other one being their enthusiasm to outrace each other so as to pick up the most passengers. It must be mentioned here that there are a couple of minibus companies that are really comfortable, and in which seating capacity matches passenger pick-ups most of the time, and they run on schedule. One such example is the Lalitpur minibus system. These start from Patan Dhoka and go around the capital on different routes, covering most of the important places. Look out for these white-colored angels of mercy, they’re doing a good job, and wherever you can, hop in. So, enjoy your Kathmandu tour, enjoy the closeness of your species, live the local life for at least some time, good or bad.

Finally, there are the buses. Now, don’t expect bus transport as you are used to back home. Once upon a time, there was a Sajha bus system running around the capital. Blue in color, the buses were donated by the Chinese government, and were pretty good to ride around in. Somehow or the other, they became defunct for reasons known and unknown, and big buses became a rarity for Kathmandu travel. Not that there weren’t other buses, but more often than not, they weren’t up to standards set by Sajha. That’s why tempos, micros, and minis took over the roads. However, in recent times, big green buses have again been introduced to Kathmandu roads, and by all accounts, they are pretty well run (managed). Locals are looking forward to more of them, and that looks like a good possibility, what with lots of work being done on the roads today.  Meaning, bigger/better roads invites bigger/better buses to run. For the moment, you take a ride on one of these big green buses and you should have a pleasant Kathmandu tour. Only thing is, sometimes you might feel apologetic yourself (as an involved rider) for hogging most of the road at some places! Don’t be, it’s part and parcel of the expected here. In conclusion, whether you travel in a taxi, tempo, a micro, a mini, or a bus, have a nice adventure that will be a memorable part of your Nepal travel. Did we say micro? No, don’t, if you’re near or about six feet tall.

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