Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

On the road

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Whenever I travel by car, I find myself smiling.  The nepali road trip is speed-limited by poor roads, and road rules which gives fault always to the person behind.  This means that everyone travels a bit more slowly, and although it doesn’t seem more careful, obstacles can float across the road relatively safely.  It’s an excellent way to view the day to day life of Nepal.

I should note that while I live in the mid-hills, where there are very few bicycles, this trip I was traveling in the Terai (the flat plain in the south of Nepal) so bicycle traffic was ubiquitous.

On this trip, I saw typical activities that I always see on the roadside, and some things I have never seen before.

  • people washing their dishes in a tap on the side of the road
  • alcohol for sale alongside salty chips
  • people washing themselves in the roadside spring, the one on the high side of the road, where the spring pours out at chest height, like a shower.  They wear only underwear or a lungi (fabric wrapped sari style around waist or chest)
  • A man walking with three lengths of thick 3m long bamboo on his shoulder.  I am not sure why.
  • A hay truck overloaded, but with one person asleep right on the top.
  • A group of goats being herded along the highway by a man with a stick.
  • A man climbing up the side of a bus as it drove in front of us, probably to adjust some luggage on the roof racks.  It is traditional, but recently illegal to ride on the top of buses in Nepal.  It is widely practiced, however, at times of transportation shortage.
  • An obvious landslide that had jumped the retaining wall to land on the side of the road.  The traffic detoured around the obstruction.
  • Multiple people waiting for a bus with a medium Winnie the Pooh shopping bag serving as luggage.
  • Three school age children, pushing a bicycle cart loaded with rubbish.
  • Multiple decorated trucks with messages painted across the tailgate – anything from “Stay back, please!” to “Push your horn!” “Limit Speed, Long Live!”, “See you” and “Buddha was born in Nepal”.  There are also various pictures of Hindu gods, playboy bunnies, pictures of the sun, Nike swoosh, Facebook icons and hands making peace signs.
  • A man pushing a market cart with festival bracelets in bright colours displayed on multiple horizontal rails.
  • An old man dressed all in white with a bright orange turban and no shoes, with two baskets on a wooden pole balanced across one shoulder.
  • Two elderly ladies with grey hair wearing saris, holding hands as they walked down the side of the road.
  • A man peeking over the edge of the roadside, presumably to see how steep the cliff was.  Or maybe he dropped something.
  • Multiple men on multiple occasions peeing off the side of the road.  It makes me wonder – is this illegal in Australia? Or do people just prefer to find an enclosed toilet?
  • A boy on a bicycle, being passed by a family on a motorbike, being passed by a truck.
  • A woman with a towel wrapped around her head like a hat, which makes me think Douglas Adams visited Nepal.
  • A man holding three heavy looking metal doors sideways between himself and the driver of his motorbike.
  • Two women washing their clothes at the side of the river.
  • A small car, which had been driven down the bank of a river, into the shallows and was being hand washed.
  • Multiple white sheets laid flat on the ground next to a river, clearly freshly washed.  I see this one often and I wonder how white the underside of the sheet is. Maybe they lay that side against the mattress.
  • About three million Nepali men under the age of 35 wearing checked shirts. It’s endemic. 
  • Four bicycles in a row with a huge bag of rice (about up to my waist) wedged in the rail of the bike.  One of the cyclists was actually managing to ride the bike despite the bag of rice.
  • Statues to hindu gods in cages on traffic islands. I assume this is to protect them from cars jumping the traffic island, as everyone is very respectful of religious statues here.
  • Multiple small children running freely on the side of the highway in front of their houses, no cage or fence in sight.  (Reaching adulthood is a privilege, not a right).
  • Three solders in camouflage uniforms riding bicycles with rifles slung over their shoulders.
  • A truck completely on its side on the side of the road, with a single person transferring the contents by hand into a second truck.
  • Another truck, this one sitting up on a jack with a man under the left front wheel, fixing something.  A small boy was sitting by the right front wheel (the same side as the traffic) so that people would know to go around.
  • A pushbike with six chickens hanging upside down from the handlebars.  I assumed at the time they were dead.
  • A monk riding a bicycle with a second bicycle strapped crossways to the luggage rack behind him.

Nepal, you are an amazing, beautiful, wondrous place, and you keep on surprising and delighting me.

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