One of the frequently asked questions is it’s been a while since you were last here, what has changed?
Not an easy question to answer – take the roads for example.
They appear very much as before, narrow, windy, dusty and generally chaotic with cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles and people all contesting the same narrow space. The rules of the road are fairly easy to understand but not so easy to trust in – it is your responsibility to avoid everything in front of you. A result of which is that at roundabouts you give way to vehicles coming onto the roundabout (or circle). Whilst walking, contrary to the country code (DOE training!) you walk on the same side as the traffic i.e. the left hand side – after all it the car driver’s responsibility behind you to miss you – the trust thing! There is lots of horn tooting, just to let you know that they are there.
However Kathmandu is in the process of a road widening programme, particularly on major arteries and through roads. The process is fairly simple, two men with a tape and red spray can, measure the width of each road and then mark on any obstruction a number representing how much needs to be demolished.
This is a cafe on a road close to where we live, which leads to Phulchok. The boundary wall is marked and needs to be brought back by 2.6m. The picture also shows pedestrians and cars passing. There are differences of opinion, naturally the owners of the affected properties (both commercial and residential) are not very happy at having to demolish and then re-build, but the government has insisted that the buildings have encroached on land, which was always marked for road construction. It is interesting that in general people have accepted this and work proceeds.
The same cafe has already commenced their work!
The scene is repeated throughout the Kathmandu valley. There is a lot of hardship associated with this. Whilst it is relatively easy to move a boundary wall, some of the demolition works will affect homes and businesses. The bakery round the corner (a four storey building), fronts onto the road and it is marked that about 1/4 of the bulding will need to be taken down – it will be interesting to see how this is achieved. A lot of the smaller single storey shops have already been taken down.
It provides an interesting conversation topic. I’ve pointed out to a number of locals that a recent newspaper article reports that all work will be completed by next April, which seems to result in much laughter – whilst the road team are hard at work the moving of the service utilities is another matter. One can foresee wider roads and electric and telephone poles down the middle of them.
The last concern is that wider roads will allow more traffic and increase flow resulting in the vehicles travelling faster. The current narrow roads means that cars etc travel quite slowly and there are surprisingly few accidents. We will wait and see how these improvements affect life in Kathmandu.