30 Seconds: Bandh

Bandhs are general strikes. They have plagued this country in recent years: closing businesses, banning public transportation, and generally inconveniencing everyone for days at a time.  After a relatively bandh-free year, they are back and the Maoists who instigate them called for a three-day ban, starting today.  They seem to be having a harder and harder time making them stick…but still managed to take the chaos of Kathmandu down to a very strange kind of crawl today. Motorized vehicles vanished, schools closed, people walked to work or didn’t go at all.  The only vehicles allowed were essential deliveries, emergency services, tourist buses and diplomatic vehicles.  Those who disobeyed faced the possibility of confrontation or violence, so police were at every street corner.  Yet, despite the threat,  pedestrians filled the streets and the roads were quiet and more than a bit spooky.

So, in complete contrast to my earlier video of Kathmandu traffic, here’s a look at what happened today:

30 Seconds: Kathmandu from the Back Seat

We have drivers here in Kathmandu. I’ve a personal driver who takes us back and forth to work and motor pool drivers that take me to work events. Its a necessity really, not a luxury. I don’t think I could ever stand to drive here myself amid all the traffic mayhem or take the crowded, tiny micro buses that serve as public transportation. So I spend a lot of time in the back of a car, watching flashing images of people, places and things fly by the window. The surprising, the colourful, and the sometimes downright scary, make up for the monotony of traffic and the blare of omnipresent horns. Sometimes, I try to capture all of the craziness with my camera, but often soon as something interesting appears, it is gone. But, occasionally, I succeed and a little bit of the city is captured with my lens. Here’s a set of some of the better images, presented as close to realism as I can manage. Plug your ears!

Sign Language: Don’t Toot Your Own Horn (Pleeeeease!)


Why is this sign in English? Its Nepali drivers that have the horn habit.  A foreigner on a bike is a rare thing. Perhaps they have dozens of other signs in Nepali and I just can’t read them yet, but it was kind of a mystery….and clearly wasn’t working!

Buried in a motorcycle parking lot, I risked bodily injury taking this photo. The lot was a chaotic sea of parked bikes and aggressive cyclists trying to park or leave…and the horns were blasting. People blast their exceptionally loud horns here at the slightest provocation or for no apparent reason at all – take your pick.

Sometimes when I’m walking down a narrow sidewalk and a semi-stationary bike starts to hit on his horn in some insane random way — its everything I can do not to go over, confiscate his keys, and clip him around the ear. It deafening and annoying.  It can make you jump out of your skin if you don’t see it coming.  And when I am crossing the street at a pedestrian crossing with adequate warning, and they speed up and blast me as though I stepped out in front on them…well that just makes me mad.

Horns here go full on all the time…reaching a crisis level during the rush hour.  They blast so often as to be totally meaningless.  And then at night something strange happens….they stop.   The power goes out and the city goes to sleep and all you can hear is barking dogs.