Traffic looks chaotic in Nepal and the roads are crowded all the time. In this article you find rules, tips and our experiences while living and travelling in Nepal.
In Nepal traffic drives on the left side of the road. There are official rules and police is checking on them occasionally. In practice the official rules are more like a guideline. Keep in mind that according to the users of the road the rule is that the heaviest vehicle goes first.
Walking across the road can be dangerous. Look carefully for a save opportunity to cross and be predictable while crossing. That means that you walk in a straight line and with a constant speed, so the vehicles approaching can anticipate going in front or behind you, as they will hardly ever stop for pedestrians.
The order from low to high “rights on the road”, in practice but not according to official rules, is pedestrian, bicycle, motorbike, rikshaw, car, taxi, vans and small trucks and as king of the road the busses and trucks. It’s not clear the bus or truck wins, resulting in accidents once in a while.
As a foreigner you cannot rent a car without driver. If you want to drive yourself, you can rent a motorbike. Never take priority, because that will put you in danger. Be aware that Nepal has a zero-tolerance on alcohol, so after taking any alcohol. Traffic police checks very strictly on alcohol.
When you rent a car with driver, the car should be registered to be allowed to take foreigners. On the highway the police is checking, but no worries, the fine of 500 npr will be for the driver, not for the foreigner.
Roadblocks and Bandha
People might be unhappy with some law or some other issue. They will announce a “bandha”, a demonstration or strike to underscore their issue. They tell the shops to close and they block the main roads in town. Driving through a roadblock will result in a damaged car and probably a fight. Only taxis bringing foreigners from or to the airport are let through, most of the times.
When an accident happens on the highway and somebody died, the local people block the road until the culprit is caught and a financial settlement (compensation) is arranged. All that time the locals block the road. Police will come, but only to negotiate in the matter, not to unblock the road. When somebody tries to pass, even a tourist on a motorbike, the locals get very aggressive. Your motorbike might end up burned or thrown off the cliff. Be patient, ask nicely if you are allowed to pass, if not, just wait.
Officially you need an international drivers licence. Most of the time police will also accept the licence from your home country. If you are in Nepal on a non-tourist visa, you can go for a Nepali driver’s licence. Go to your embassy or consulate in Nepal with your driver’s licence. They will make a “translation” with an official stamp. Go to the office for licence registration, bring your “translation”, a couple of passport size photos and some cash. Outside the office there are people that help you to fill in the forms and advise you where to go. That service costs some money but saves you a lot of hassle and time.
It’s also a possibility to drive without license. In case you get stopped for a check, you either might be lucky they let you go because you’re a foreigner, or you get a fine of between 200 and 1000 rupees (less than $10 max). Your vehicle won’t be taken by police as in some (western) countries happens.
Most of the time police goes easy on foreigners, except for alcohol. They tell you what you did wrong and let you go without a penalty most of the times. If something is wrong with the motorbike, they will give a penalty because it is the bike owner’s responsibility. In that case they take the “blue book”, which are the ownership papers of the vehicle, and give you the penalty on paper. The process for the bike owner (you can also do that) is to go to a specific bank, fill in a form, pay the penalty and get a payment confirmation. With this paper you go to the police office mentioned on the penalty, show the payment confirmation and the police gives back the “blue book”.
As a foreigner you cannot own a car or motorbike. If you want to buy one, you can register it on the name of a Nepali friend. Beware that you are not the official owner. If you have a company in Nepal, then your company can own vehicles, real estate and so on. In that case you register the car or motorbike on the name of your company, so indirect you are the owner.
Keep certain things always in consideration. In cities vehicles coming out of side roads usually never stop and therefore just turn on the main road without waiting for the upcoming traffic on that road. Overtaking will be done from any side where is space. Traffic lights are often not available or not working because of lack of electricity. On highways the buses and trucks are overtaking just before or in a sharp curve without taking opposite traffic into consideration. Between 4 and 12 buses skip off the highway in the ravine each year because of drivers that fall asleep, are drunk, or reckless driving.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of Nepal’s roads look more like a war zone than a road. Often not paved roads or full with potholes and therefore traffic making strange moves to get around that. One more thing is the ever increasing level of pollution. The dust makes visibility low and so do the buses and trucks with the black smoke coming out of their vehicles. Safety checks for (old) vehicles is not a law in Nepal. There is hardly electricity and therefore no street lights working or available. It’s pit black in dark and many don’t use indicators to make a turn or by overtaking.
It’s wonderful driving in Nepal, especially in the mountain districts, but take good care of your safety on the road.