My Mother once said I had lots of qualities of my Grandparents…. And the older I get the more this is true. Gramps (my Grandfather on Dad’s side who is sadly no longer with us) was a keen motorist (and incidentally ballroom dancer). He liked to be behind the wheel though and was not the best passenger! There was a joke in the Cole family that whenever anyone else was driving Gramps’ right foot would be on ‘his’ brake pedal in the well’ol (foot well) making a hole in the carpet. The older I get the more I seem to be trying to perfect this same skill – co-piloting from the passenger seat by braking for the driver!
Ever since Dean returned from Oz he has been on my car insurance although driving me around in my own car can be quite a stressful experience for him. It’s often met with back-seat driver comments and needless to say he enjoys driving my car, when I’m asleep in the passenger seat!
The reason I explain this is because we have been catching a few Nepali taxis to sort out our Myanmar visa and get to some out of town sites. Taxis in Kathmandu are small white ‘Maruti’ cars – some kind of Suzuki. So to say they are a car is probably bigging them up a bit. I’m just hoping we never have to catch one with our luggage as I doubt it will fit!
Well the other day we had stayed out at Bodhnath Stupa until sunset then walked a bit so it was well and truly dark before we started the process of getting a taxi. It is one of the few times we have struggled, but our driver saw us, swerved across three lanes and skidded to a halt at our feet. This sight of foreigners make their eyes twinkle in the hope of an inflated fare! We negotiated, agreed and jumped in before us and the Maruti were flattened by the passing traffic.
For the first time I jumped in the front and the ride was better / worse than the most scary roller coaster at DisneyLand! Now every taxi driver in Kathmandu has so far made it their mission to get you from a to b as quick as possible, almost as if your life depended on it. This driver was no different – in fact he probably wins the prize for doing that the best…. In the most unsafe way!
We wheel-spun out of the blocks, turned at right angles and cut across six lanes to make it down the first track we wanted. Once I’d opened my eyes we were doing the mandatory ‘duck ‘n dive’ between pedestrians, push bikes and motorbikes. All this was taking place with no street lights. It was at this point that I began to seriously worry about the health of the driver (and consequently us!). He began driving with his head out the window (no eyes on the road and we were now at an intersection with trucks and all of the above) making such noises that I could only conclude he was in a very bad way. This went on and on. In between his phone rang, he tried to answer to no avail so he rang them back (partial halt to the head out window at this point). Now I’m not sure if it was his wife reminding him in his condition to keep warm, or just his mistress arranging a date, but something made him decide his bobble hat was essential and it had to be clean. Next thing I know (we’ve still revving the guts out the car in 3rd gear and flying along) the glove box comes crashing down onto my knees. I managed to dodge his hand on my knee (I’m sure it was an accident as he was doing too many things at once for anything else) whilst he forridged around for his hat. He found it. Phew – slam of glove box. Somehow in the pitch black he knew it was dirty, so he began banging it on the outside of the car through the window to get the dust out. When satisfied it was clean enough, both hands came off the wheel in order to put said hat on. I meanwhile was applying my brake peddle more times the David Coulthard in his entire racing career only to result in a hole in the floor…. Oh no sorry that was already there and tends to be ‘standard issue rust bother’ on the taxis. Every taxi we have been in has had at least one hole in the car somewhere! Finally I knew where we were and with a couple of sharp intakes of breath we made it.
So from now on we have concluded that I barter, agree the price and climb in the back. Here I delve into my pockets and get out the correct money whilst we are flying through the streets. Dean meanwhile sits in the front and films on his Go Pro. I can still see the chaos… But after we have had a narrow escape and not before! Taxi journeys are part of the fun of travel, but show one of the many differences to life at home. I forgot to say that if you find one of the two necessary seatbelt straps you are doing well. You have more chance of spotting one of Chitwan National Park’s 125 wild tigers than finding both the necessary parts working!
I took this little day-time video to set the scene….two seconds and you’ll get the gist! It was taken driving the following day. The driver in this video was cool, fair and speedy. We loved how he worked the wheel!
May all your journeys be fast, furious and importantly safe!