Kathmandu is a chaotic city – a metropolis by number (with a population of 975,000 within city limits, and 2.5 million in the surrounding area) it is absolutely bustling, seeming like it grew out organically from the center. With densely crowded streets mostly lacking pedestrian sidewalks, navigating the streets and alleys in the Thamel district is initially harrowing.
The average tourist is initially completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds on the street – mostly because you are right there in the middle of it, and has likely never experienced such sensory overload. Just trying to walk to the nearest restaurant or shop will entail squeezing by street vendors and their wares, veering around other pedestrians and tourists, and having to quickly get out of the way of honking cars, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks. You scramble over trash piles and potholes in the street as there are no sidewalks. Wave after wave of food, animal, sewage, and mysterious smells wash over you. There is a constant, grating onslaught of honking as cars and motorbikes veer around pedestrians in the narrow streets. You come to realize that the honking is not meant in the aggressive American language of “Get out of the way!” but more of a kind of constant “I’m here…Here I am…Coming by!” which means no offense but actually is a safety precaution, given the complete lack of strict traffic laws. And in all the time that we spent in and around Kathmandu, we saw only one accident (where someone had, inebriated, driven off a bridge and into a drainage ditch). Granted, there are less busy, more peaceful areas of the city, most of which tourists never venture out to see.