Cows, hills, and citywide strikes. These are a few of the obstacles I have encountered making my way around the city I will be calling home for a year – the city of Kathmandu, Nepal.
I first came to this tiny Himalayan country in 2010, and quickly fell in love with it. The people are unbelievably friendly, the scenery is amazing, and the array of cultures and traditions is mesmerizing. It was a place I found very hard to leave. When the time to return home did come, I resolved I would soon go back to Nepal for as long as I could. I spent the next year working, saving, and living as cheaply as possible. The three best frugal living strategies I found were learning to cook, brewing my own alcohol, and, most of all, cycling.
Spending a year as a cyclist in Winnipeg was an interesting experience. Growing up I always had a bicycle, but I had never used one as my primary mode of transport. In conversations, I encountered a lot of different opinions on the matter. Some thought it was too much work; other people were afraid of traffic or viewed the weather as prohibitive.
Those who are enthusiastic about the activity, though, are quick to tout the benefits, and the benefits of bicycle transportation are many. Of course, it is good for you and good for the environment. I found it to be as quick and usually quicker than public transportation. Even winter was not nearly as arduous as I worried it would be. Sometimes it was inconvenient, but when driving simply wasn’t an option anymore it was something I ceased to think about. It felt good being able to get around using only my own power.
I had planned on buying a bicycle in Kathmandu long before I arrived, and not only because I enjoyed the activity. The city is all too frequently plagued by fuel shortages and crippling citywide strikes that can halt nearly all transportation. The price of gas here, like almost everywhere else, is on the rise.
Over the course of a few days I meandered through the crowded markets checking out all the bike shops I could find. There was everything from top-quality imported mountain bikes, to old Indian made single speed bikes – after much searching, I finally settled on an old Frankenstein monster of a mountain bike. Not pretty, but sturdy and in good condition. For 3,000 rupees (about $35) it was mine.
The next step was to learn the local rules of the road. I have heard many people claim that they simply do not exist here. Behind the apparent anarchy though, there is an understood code of conduct. Getting used to driving on the left hand side comes fairly quickly.
Traffic lanes are really just suggestions. When passing, you are obliged to let the vehicle know you are coming with a shrill honk, or in my case a series of whistles. Crossing the many uncontrolled intersections has been the most intimidating hurdle. The basic formula is to make your intentions clear and wander into traffic, letting it all flow around you. All this makes the daily task of getting around town quite an adventure.
The city itself is located in the beautiful Kathmandu valley, surrounded by mountains and villages with an extensive network of roads and paths. Aside from purely utilitarian transport purposes, cycling is also a great leisure activity.
Kathmandu boasts quite an impressive mountain biking scene. There is everything from competitive racing, to relaxed scenic tours. It is more comfortable than going around in the crowded (and I mean really crowded) public micro busses. Being able to start and stop when I want to, chat with the locals, or grab a cup of steaming Nepali milk tea make for wonderful excursions.
In my experience, no matter where in the world you happen to be living, a bicycle is a worthwhile thing to have. Wherever I end up living, I plan to keep one close by.