Ride Rickshaw!
August 18, 2015, 5:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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No matter how many times I make it to Kathmandu, I’m always taken aback by the pollution.  It’s the array of pollution that can be overwhelming, something coming at you from all sides. Out on the streets I feel like I’m always dodging piles of shrapnel or holding my breath through clouds of diesel. Then I fall into those romanticized visions that my old school Kathmandu friends paint of the Kathmandu Valley as just a series of rice paddies and fields dotted with temples and villages. It wasn’t that long ago. Urbanization has been a huge trend in Nepal and Kathmandu is, of course, its epicenter. And just in the past decade it feels like personal car ownership has become so much more attainable. So that means that narrow walking paths are now shared with endless lines of cars and motorcycles. The city is daunting to navigate and the air is gaining new layers of junk.

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In terms of pollution one could argue that political instability has had its minor upsides in Kathmandu, particularly with the tradition of holding a bandha or strike. We had 2 consecutive days of bandha last week in which all businesses had to close and all cars had to stay off the roads. The call for this particular strike is a longer story related to the signing of Nepal’s constitution and issues of ethnic representation, but suffice to say that this was just one strike among many.  Strikes are common and create a whole new Kathmandu for a few days. During this bandha I borrowed a friend’s beautiful, old granny bike and rode miles around the city, kind of experiencing the old Kathmandu I have built up in my mind. After a good monsoon downpour (during which I huddled with my bike in the doorway of a shut shop), the air felt layers cleaner and lighter and the blue sky burst into focus.

Fighting car traffic in Kathmandu gets me thinking about bicycle rickshaws. It feels like there were so many more rickshaws during earlier visits in the 90’s. They have their pros and cons but as an urban livelihood I really like them. I have to say that I don’t love having a guy pulling me around like I’m a maharaja, it’s definitely awkward, but as a livelihood it’s pretty great when you think about it. But I feel like I see them idle far more than I see them in motion, so it’s only a viable livelihood as long as there are willing patrons to be had.

 

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So since I’m all about making things this journey, I decided to make the rickshaw drivers of Kathmandu a little present. I recently commissioned a small stack bumper stickers that may get people thinking a little bit when they have a choice between a taxi and a rickshaw. There are so many frigging taxis around and the rickshaws can’t compete, especially since there are so many roads now that are too busy for rickshaws. But when there is a choice, I hope people will choose rickshaw. The adventure of making these stickers is a whole other story; the guy below is the maker and it was a painstaking event with little to no shared language over the course of two days. But he loved the project and even offered a discount when he figured out the mission behind it. Anyway, I handed these out in a few areas in Kathmandu, joking around with rickshaw guys along the way. I hope next visit will allow me enough time to make a Nepali version. Keep a look out for these next time you’re in Kathmandu…

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