Nov 3 2010

Hitting the Road

See that guy on the right? With the ducks? They're alive.

The remainder of our stay in Nepal was a bit quieter, though much bloodier, than our first week – we were there during the Dasain festival, one of Nepal’s biggest celebrations. It involves two weeks of festivities devoted to the goddess Durga, the highlight (or lowlight) of which is the day when hundreds of thousands of animals across the country are sacrificed to the gods. I’m not exaggerating. Chickens, goats, even buffalos are slaughtered, usually by chopping off their heads. I spent a good part of our trip debating how killing another creature really counts as a “sacrifice” – it seems the only one giving anything up is the goat. But that didn’t seem to bother people. The worst sound of the trip, by far, was a buffalo being decapitated across the valley from the deck where we were eating breakfast. I’ll leave it to you to imagine that soundtrack.

How convenient that I happened to match my outfit to the blood. (That's not paint.)

Most families kill at least one animal, and it’s also common to give an animal to your preferred means of transportation. According to a woodcarving salesman we met in the city of Bhaktapur, motorbikes get a chicken, cars might get a goat, trucks a buffalo. Our guidebook claims that Nepal Airlines actually sacrifices a goat for each one of its planes. On the runway. Granted, they only have about seven planes – but still? Can you imagine something like that going on at JFK?

Given the number of head-on collisions we saw – not to mention trucks driving down the road with suspiciously head-shaped holes in their windshields, or overturned vehicles lying on valley floors, or overcrowded public buses with upwards of 20 people clinging to the luggage rack (I am not kidding – and sometimes they shared the space with a precariously perched goat) – I have some suggestions for road safety that I might propose implementing before, I don’t know, chopping off a chicken’s head and dribbling blood on your handlebars. Like, perhaps, helmets. Or seatbelts.

We saw minibuses with about twice this number of people on them.

Interestingly, no one denies that road safety is a concern – most public buses and trucks had signs painted across their front bumpers that said things like “SPEED CONTROL” and “SPEED LIMIT 40 KMPH” (and, in one distressing instance, simply “OH! GOD”). But having been on Nepal’s roads, I don’t think speeding is really the issue. The roads are too crowded and in too poor of a condition for anyone to go too quickly. And if/when trucks do adhere to a low speed, it actually makes things more dangerous – cars and motorbikes simply leapfrog past them on tortuous mountain roads, putting themselves at risk of head-on collisions. I thought it was funny that instead of wearing her seatbelt, our Tibetan guide made sure to sprinkle some barley on the dashboard as we left Lhasa, just to be safe. But in retrospect, maybe I should have been more appreciative. I’d much prefer an offering of grain to a dead rooster.

Good luck?

It seems that windshield decor often takes precedence over the driver's ability to see.