First-time riders in Nepal often feel overwhelmed due to its challenging traffic and topography. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, oscillating between anxiety and bliss accompanied by tears and resistance.
However, it's crucial not to get intimidated and instead focus on navigating these obstacles during your initial days of riding. Although the terrain and traffic can be challenging to manage initially, you can successfully ride through the madness and enjoy the breathtaking beauty with the right approach and mindset.
It's surprisingly simple.
What seems unruly is largely peaceful
No matter where you begin your journey in Nepal, you will encounter traffic—and lots of it.
Kathmandu is notorious for its constant congestion and unruly road behavior. Although it may seem chaotic, it is also known for its friendliness. You are unlikely to witness raised middle fingers or enraged faces. And this really helps to get the hang of riding here.
The key is to stay on your bike and in the flow. And to let go of what you think your fellow road users should be doing.
Don't preach, but set an example
Navigating through traffic in Nepal's urban centers is the most challenging part, as roads can get really cloaked up.
Nepalis tend to use any available space on the road, even if it means blocking each other's way. Engaging in arguments or assertive behavior to teach them road Western manners is pointless, as it's their way of moving around. The best approach is to keep a straight line, avoid sudden movements, and be prepared to slam the breaks at any time.
As you gain experience, you become more adept at controlling your bike at slow speeds, which is a blessing.
Overtaking is more than getting in front of a truck
Getting used to overtaking on Nepal's roads is a must. While you may initially worry and hesitate, you'll soon realize that you won't make much progress unless you take a chance.
It's common to see motorbikes, buses, and even trucks squeezing in at the last moment. And many drivers will cordially wave or signal for you to overtake when they think it's safe. However, always be ready to fall back again if needed and merge behind the vehicle you just tried to pass.
It’s fun and keeps the traffic somehow fluid.
Don't stick to your right of way
While riding in Nepal, it's common to witness people overtaking recklessly without any respect for obvious road rules. This can put you in a dangerous situation, particularly when you face an approaching vehicle speeding along on your side of the road.
Some drivers show no concern for others' safety, believing they are in a superior position. It’s essential to keep your wits about you in such situations and try to steer your bike off the road or move to the far left immediately.
It's advisable not to stick to your right of way by staying in your lane, as it can lead to a fatal accident.
If you don't toot, you loose
Nepalis use their horn the minute they start the engine. It's almost as if by default. While it can be irritating initially, it's life-saving once you understand why they're doing it. It's primarily a matter of precaution and not of disapproval. An indication that a vehicle is approaching so that you are aware. Try to be cool with the constant noise and understand its benefits.
And once you start using your horn like a local, too, you're part of this crazy roadshow.
You're part of it, so you have to deal with it
Apart from the traffic, pollution is the worst thing. You might find yourself stuck behind trucks emitting black clouds of fumes into your face. Or, you may have to ride through vast construction sites and off-road sections that are so dusty you can't see a damn thing in front of you. In such cases, you best stop your bike and wait for the dust to settle to regain visibility.
And respect the road workers tirelessly doing their part under excruciating conditions by slowing down while passing by.
There's no fear when you're having fun
Once you get through the initial few days of navigating through the traffic in Nepal, you might experience a change in emotion. You will begin to enjoy the ride because it's unlike anything you've ever experienced on a bike on the road before. Even though the traffic is slow and erratic, you will find your way through it.
And if you put a smile on your face, it will help you smooth your frowning forehead and get the most out of what riding in Nepal is all about.
In a nutshell
Motorcycling in Nepal through unfamiliar terrain and insane traffic can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a highly liberating experience. As long as you maintain a positive attitude and are prepared to overcome challenges along the road, this will be a game changer.
Because it will leave you happy, curious, daring, and humble for the experiences you encounter along the roadside. And for all the invaluable life lessons it teaches that come in handy when you return home.
Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon — Emily Dickinson
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PS: If you’re keen on exploring Nepal from the back of a bike with a group of like-minded women, this is for you.