Traffic Jam in Kathmandu

I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss Nepali traffic jams.

When I’m sitting motionless on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, I occasionally flash back to my experiences in Nepal.  And I think, “driving would be so much more exciting if I were back in Kathmandu!”

I never expected to travel to South Asia until my good friends at Hope Partnership Nepal started telling me thrilling stories about life in Kathmandu.  And then in 2009, I had an incredible opportunity to create the Kathmandu Music for Peace Festival, funded by Davis Projects for Peace and hosted by the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory. I felt so privileged to visit that beautiful country and meet such wonderful people. It was the experience of a lifetime.

But my first taxi ride in Kathmandu left me feeling a little shell-shocked! Suddenly, I was at the mercy of my taxi driver; I felt like I was trapped in a video game, with all kinds of vehicles whizzing past (and honking) as we careened around tight corners.  I winced whenever I saw five people hanging off the back of a bus, or a baby strapped onto the back of a motorcycle. I instinctively held my breath whenever I thought we were going to smash into a van, a building, or a cow.

Now, I first learned to drive in the concrete jungles of Los Angeles when I was 16 years old — and that was stressful enough! — but nothing could have prepared me for Nepali traffic.

And yet, at the end of my first week in Kathmandu, the traffic started to feel normal. In fact, I developed huge admiration for Nepali drivers! Driving is an art form, and they have mastered it.  We always got where we were going, and we never hit anyone else (well… we didn’t hit them very hard). Best of all, I never saw anyone get angry; there was no “road rage.”

Driving in Kathmandu can be terrifying, but it is never boring. So just occasionally, when I’m stuck on the freeway in L.A., staring at the same old license plate for ten minutes, I get a little nostalgic for scenes like this: