The Transform the Nations Guest House is situated not far from the Bagmati River in Jorpati, Kathmandu. The way into the guest house is through skinny little lane ways that are the norm for the road network in Kathmandu. Most of the minor roads are dirt and if the road is sealed in some way, it is normally full of pot holes and has dirt or mud along both sides. This makes for very interesting driving, either in the wet or in the dry.
If it is dry season there is a constant dust haze over the Kathmandu valley and the car is forever covered in a layer of dust. A visitor is doing well to get a glimpse of the magnificent Himalayan mountains which can be seen from most vantage points in Kathmandu on a clear day, which normally follows some sort of rainfall and the wind direction.
On a wet day it can be a challenge to even get out of the roads near the guest house, and sometimes we have needed 4WD even in the city.
Then there is the crazy traffic, with the many motor bikes who are bent on slipping in front of you from the rear, right side or even left side. There are unwritten rules in Nepal which go like this: ‘If you find a space first it is yours’, and ‘You blow the horn to let the other drivers know that you are coming’. It is normal to have cows or dogs on the road, even sleeping right in the middle, and the traffic just goes around them.
We often do the airport pick-ups and drop-offs for our visitors coming to take part in the work here. The airport is only about 9 km away from the present guesthouse and should only take 15 minutes to drive, but during the day it can take up to one hour or more depending on the traffic jams that often happen. The Lord has blessed us with our 4WD Tata Sumo, and we have become the ‘taxi’ for helping many of our Nepali friends when they need some help with daily situations that often arise.
Doing any simple task, such as shopping, the banking or going to some government office, can take half a day or more to accomplish, due to the state of the roads and the traffic in Kathmandu. Even going out of Kathmandu is a challenge and is very time consuming due to the road conditions. Our house is in the town of Dolalghat, which is only 65 km from Kathmandu, but it takes at least two hours to get there.
Most visitors make the comment that they don’t know how I am able to drive in the apparent chaos, but I find it to be a bit of a challenge with the need to be constantly alert. For the first couple of months that we were in Kathmandu we used public transport, which mainly consisted of the little Suzuki taxis. I often tell people that I simply watched what the taxi drivers did and when I started driving I just imitated them. I am not sure whether that was the best thing to do, but it has been working!
Leann often says “Watch out for that bike or person.” I do acknowledge that it is a lot more nerve-wracking for the passenger because of the lack of space and the crazy driving habits here, but as the driver you have already made the decision to make a particular move and the passenger does not know what you are thinking. This certainly makes for interesting discussions in the car at times, and it also adds to the pressure of daily life here.
We have had some close calls in the two years that we have been in Nepal, such as being run into by a motorcyclist who was intoxicated with alcohol, and would you believe we had to pay to fix his motorbike simply because we had the bigger vehicle, which is another interesting law that they have in Nepal. We have had the privilege of doing many church planting trips that have taken us to many beautiful and remote locations. I remember one trip up into the town of Charikot, which took us over two hours going up and up a steep and winding road in second gear!
Winding roads are the norm in Nepal and it is rare to find a straight road, except near the Indian/Nepali border. If the narrow, winding roads are not enough to deal with, you also need to be ready to encounter an oncoming vehicle coming around the bend on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes another vehicle is overtaking while coming around a blind bend and this can be quite unnerving as you veer or brake to prevent a head on collision. One time while driving back from Dolalghat, a police vehicle was overtaking a slow truck on a blind bend, and I must have missed him by inches after I braked and veered as far to the left as possible.
A possible head-on collision can also happen in Kathmandu on the ring road, which does not even have any blind bends. We were travelling home from one of our church visitation trips in the country, and we had arrived back in Kathmandu and were driving along the ring road, being only about half an hour from home. The ring road was full of cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses as usual, and I passed on my right side a slow bus which was in front of me. As I came back in on my side of the road there was a large tip truck coming straight towards us, because he had decided to pass vehicles on our side of the road. I had nowhere to go and there was no way that I was going to play chicken with him, so I veered off the road, nearly hitting a pedestrian and a parked car, and then slammed on the brakes, coming to a halt in the dirt. The truck flew past just missing us by inches, and Sameer had Tahlia’s Gopro on the dash at the time, which recorded the whole thing.
To do the ministry that we have come to Nepal to do involves a whole lot of driving, and we thank the Lord and all our supporters who gave so generously for us to be able to buy our Tata Sumo. Our Tata costs about A$18,000 in India, but to bring it into Nepal it cost us a staggering A$37,000, which has now been fully paid for. I remember picking it up from the Tata show room and I noticed that the odometer read 3,200 km. I said to the guy that this is meant to be a new car, and he said that they had to drive it from India — I thought, ‘Say no more!’
The Tata is an Indian car and ours is a 4WD nine-seater, which has proved to be a great people mover. To go on our church picnic for New Year one time we had 16 people squeezed into it, which is also the norm in Nepal. The driver is the only one that needs to wear a seat belt — and even that is very rarely enforced. There have been some trips that I have thought that we might not make it through, but the Lord has been faithful every time to get us there and back again safely and without too much drama.
We have had some interesting times when the 4WD decided to play up, which was usually due to a loose wire or a bad contact somewhere. On one occasion we were bringing the bride and groom back from a village wedding because we were asked to provide the wedding vehicle. We were going up this very steep and winding road up to the groom’s home village and the Tata’s 2-litre diesel did not have the power to make it up while filled with people. Everyone except the bride had to get out and walk up the steep section, and I had to reverse down to get a bit of a run up and get the momentum happening so that I could make it up! Praise the Lord we got them back to the village.
With the church planting and teaching role that we are doing amongst the many rural villages, our Tata Sumo is an essential part of our ministry with the Nepalese people we have come to serve. We have already done nearly 30,000 km, and over the next few years we will be doing many more kilometres to continue doing the work to which the Lord has called us. There is a show on TV about the world’s most dangerous roads and Nepal is up there at the top of the list, yet to be able to teach and train God’s people here in this country requires travelling on these very roads. Please pray for us as we continue to use these roads for the sake of seeing the Lord’s church grow in their faith, love and understanding of Him. We thank the Lord for His faithfulness and protection during these past two years.
May God bless us all, as we work together for Jesus.
Leann & Ian Buckley