Street Life

As much as I’ve come to dislike the noise, hassle and creeping throat infections endemic to Kathmandu, I always like the taxi journeys here.

Maybe it’s because of our first taxi ride from the airport, when I was fresh with excitement for our trip and flooded with the sheer relief at no longer being on a long haul flight, but just looking out of the window is endlessly entertaining. Scene after scene flashes by, almost too briefly to take in. Even as my mind tries to process what I’ve seen, I’m confronted with something new to surprise me. And it’s all made even more exhilarating by the constant shriek of car horns and the fact that right of way seems to go to whichever driver has the most guts and whichever vehicle has the most inertia.

A few of the vignettes I glimpsed on our last break-neck journey through Kathmandu:

A forlorn-looking man sits at a metal table, a single joint of meat and a cleaver upon it. Will he sell it before it goes bad?

A grubby girl in torn clothes crouches on the curb. On a blanket before her she has arranged beautiful piles of chillis and garlic.

A man welding in flip-flops. Sparks scatter over passing traffic.

Two small children wearing fluffy pyjamas, no more than three years old, walk along hand-in-hand beside the traffic.

A crowd clamours around a tea stall. The stall next door remains ignored.

A man disassembling a motor on the pavement.

A sign for an English Boarding School with the word academy misspelled.

Confectionary-coloured buildings: pink, turquoise, lime green, yellow.

Cows crowding at an intersection cause three main roads to slow to a crawl as drivers inch past them.

A woman with five children clustered around her legs makes a dash across the traffic to a chorus of beeping horns and screeching brakes.

An open door reveals a room no larger than our kitchen back home, filled almost entirely with one bed for the whole family.

A woman washes at a public pump, deftly juggling wet hair, toiletries and a sarong to conceal her modesty.

A row of lorries, more ornately painted than a gypsy caravans.

Little shops everywhere. In doorways. On railings. On pavements. Stalls, carts, trays round necks. The air of desperation and poverty increases as the size of premises diminishes.

Dogs everywhere; sleeping, loping, sunbathing, begging, stopping traffic. Some look relatively healthy. More are scabrous or mangy. One has an open wound on its head, what looks like brain showing through.

A gang of laughing teenagers playing on their phones. All the boys are holding hands.

Chickens scratch at the rubble of a collapsed building.

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