Finding Calm Amidst Chaos



We came barreling into the runway, touching down at high speed and taking an unusually long time to slow down. Once rolling at a comfortable crawl and headed towards our gate, the Indian man sitting next to me told me that Kathmandu airport is the most dangerous place in the world to land a plane. I was glad he waited until then to disclose that bit of information. He was a shampoo salesman from India.

Walking into the international arrivals terminal in Kathmandu airport, it was immediately apparent that we were no longer in Japan. Picture a musty, 1970s Reno hotel lobby—fully carpeted, dark wood wall paneling, odd mirrors hanging crookedly on columns and wafts of strange odors that certainly don’t live in Japan. We easily passed through customs which consisted of a few people at small desks with note pads and pens scribing our information into paperback booklets, complete with hand drawn grid lines. Heading down the escalator, odd smells continued to fill our nostrils as the escalator stopped and started, adding to the confusion. Should we just use it as a staircase and walk down? Be careful, it may start moving again. Oh well, must be broken.

Baggage claim was a chaotic free-for-all of people crowded around a few carousels, some functioning, others ‘out of order’. To our relief, the bags eventually showed up and we heaved them onto our backs. It was time to leave the airport and find our taxi — a task that came with multiple disclaimers from every Nepal travel blog and guidebook we had read. With a collective deep breath and an unspoken ‘here we go’ we headed for the exit. We were now in Nepal.

Rules for driving in Nepal:

Rule #1: Drive on the left side of the road.

Rule #2: You can drive on the right side of the road.

Rule #3: Pedestrians always have the right of way.

Rule #4: Fruits carts always have the right of way.

Rule #5: Motorcycles always have the right of way.

Rule #6: Cars always have the right of way.

Rule #7: Buses always have the right of way.

Rule #8: If someone else is assuming the right of way, take the right of way back and deploy horn aggressively.

Rule #9: Always pass another vehicle on the right.

Rule #10: You can pass on the left.

Rule #11: If the road narrows to a single lane and another vehicle is approaching in the opposite direction, continue forward until you are bumper to bumper with a maximum of 2 feet between vehicles. Engage in a face off. Use horn more than what feels necessary and wait for opposing driver to surrender and reverse.

Rule #12: If you are attempting to pass into a lane of oncoming traffic and approaching vehicle appears to be too close to effectively pass, proceed with the pass anyway. (Remember, you have the right of way.)

Rule #13: Stop lights do not exist in Nepal. Maintain your velocity at all times and assume the right of way.

Rule #14: If animals are in the road and appear to be in your way, continue on your path at your current velocity and expect animals to move. Do not brake; you have the right of way.

Rule #15: If a sudden stop is required for any reason, bring vehicle to a complete stop immediately; do not pull to shoulder (although there will not be a shoulder). (Remember, you have the right of way.)

Rule #16: Horn may be used for:

  • alerting others of presence and/or speed on road
  • greetings to friends and/or strangers
  • alerting town that a new day has begun
  • when you are arriving at your current destination or leaving current stop
  • to accompany music that may be playing (honk on beat)
  • moving elderly people, small children, animals, and/or women carrying babies or heavy loads out of your way
  • just for the hell of it

Rule #17: Live goats are acceptable passengers on motorcycles.



A typical crosswalk in Kathmandu.


Dust and exhaust fill the dry air of the crowded streets.


All smiles behind the mask.


People making a living.


Men at work.


A steady murmur of conversation fills the streets as people barter for their daily produce.


Men and their fruit carts, a common sight around the city.


An empty produce cart signifies the end of the work day.


Almost every child you pass in Nepal will clasp their hands and extend a softly spoken “namaste”.


Packs of motorcycles bob and weave through the dusty streets.


See rule #17.


People, cows and monkeys share an open field as the sun sets and the day comes to a close.


3 responses to “Finding Calm Amidst Chaos

  1. I suppose your years of training on South Jersey streets prepared you well for the 17 rules of Katmandu driving!!


  2. interesting … the contrast between the widely-used, softly spoken “namaste” and the “I have the right of way” theme on the roads. I would love to hear your analysis sometime.


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