Oh, the dreaded commute! Around the world, commute times can vary from none (for stay-at-home parents and freelancers who work virtually) to hours (for people who live in rural areas but work in the city or in cities with particularly bad traffic). Fortunately, my commute falls somewhere in the middle. I wanted to tell you about 4 different commutes (to and from 2 different workplaces) that I have experienced during my time here, so you can get a better sense of what the city is really like.
On the positive side, commuting to and from different parts of the city can give you a real feel for the people there and it is a great way to learn about getting around in a city. You might even pass a lot of interesting (and sometimes useful) shops along your way – window shopping anyone!? 🙂
- Chowk means intersection in Nepal, so most of the main places where you get on/off of public transport will be a large “chowk”.
- Most of the photos were taken using my Narrative Clip, a small, discrete, wearable camera that automatically takes a picture every 30 seconds. Therefore, some of the pictures are of lower quality, but I find them much less posed and more authentic!
- 1 rupee = approx. 1 cent US
Past Commute to Work
I used to work at the FTG office in Lalitpur (which is technically a different city to the south of Kathmandu). Even though it’s a bit far away, it’s very easy to get there from my house. Leaving my house, I walk 5 minutes to Baluwatar Chowk. Thankfully, that’s the first stop for the tempos, so you just hop into a tempo and wait for it to fill up before it leaves. After leaving, you hang out in the tempo for about 30 minutes until you go over the bridge. Afterwards, you get off at Hotel Himalaya and walk across the street (to work at Sana Hastakala), or get off at Pulchowk and walk 10 minutes (to work at the FTG office). The cost is 25 rupees and it takes about an hour total (door to door).
Past Commute Home from Work
Getting home from Pulchowk is definitely not as easy. At first we used to walk 10 minutes back to Pulchowk and wait. And wait, and wait… sometimes for up to 1.5 hours before giving up and taking a taxi. This is because the tempos don’t start at Pulchowk, meaning that most of them are heading to different destinations, and the ones heading to Baluwatar are already full. The micro-buses are headed towards our house but only go about half the way before turning around. After doing this for about a week, I changed tactics and ended up taking the green Shaja bus home. I was told it went right to my house, which is incorrect. It does go to Lazimpat, and then you have to walk through some back-alleys for 20 minutes to get to Baluwatar. I would only recommend this before dark (unless you have a good flashlight), and if you have GPS on your phone, otherwise you will get lost! Once I moved to a new office (Sana Hastakala is located in the same neighborhood), they told me about the number 26 bus, which was a lifesaver. I would walk 5 minutes to Kupondole and then wait 5-15 minutes for the bus, which dropped me off at the grocery store 10 minutes from my house (super convenient for after-work errands). Sometimes the bus would be a little packed, so instead I would walk about 10 minutes to the starting point, where I would definitely get a seat but had to wait for it to fill up before it left – totally worthwhile! Then I would walk 10 minutes to my house. Cost is 15 rupees, and takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get home total (not including errands).
Current Commute to Work (in pictures)
8:45 am – Leave my house and walk (less than 5 minutes) to Baluwatar Chowk.
Past the big garbage heap (which is being sorted – by hand), and is usually pretty exciting to stray dogs and birds!
8:50 am – Wait 0-5 minutes at Baluwatar Chowk for the gold bus (called Nepal Yati-Yat – sp?).
8:55 am – Get on gold bus (standing room only). Usually sit once someone offers me a seat (which happens often as a white lady, not so often if you’re anyone else). Get off 10 minutes later at Chakrapath (near US Embassy). Cost is 10-15 rupees.
9:05 am – Pass by some shops. Walk across the intersection. Wait 0-5 minutes.
9:10 am – Get on a micro-bus, trip is about 10 minutes. Usually standing room only but sometimes can sit. Cost is 15 rupees. Usually turn on the GPS on my phone, since it’s hard to see out the windows if you’re standing (especially when you’re backwards). People are squished and grumpy….
9:20 am – Get off at Special Chowk and walk down a big hill (with a turn in the middle). Try not to get hit by vehicles!
9:25 am – Walk through a small community with houses, shops, men chilling at their shops, women headed to the factory, and kids walking to school.
So my current commute is a bit complicated but not very long and all the transport comes really frequently, which is super convenient. Although my office is in the opposite direction of the “downtown” area, it’s still very easy for me to get there after work for events with friends:
Current Commute from Work to Downtown (in pictures)
5:20 pm – Pack up my computer and bags.
5:25 pm – Bell rings, factory workers leave the compound. Office staff put on their shoes, go to the bathroom, and head towards the main gate. Most of them have a motorcycle or scooter.
5:30 pm – Get in the car with my boss (or on the back of a motorcycle or scooter with one of my coworkers). Drive for about 10 minutes to where he drops me off at Chakrapath Chowk.
5:40 pm – Arrive at Chakrapath (usually around sunset – pretty!). Cross the intersection.
5:45 pm – Wait (0-10 minutes) for gold bus back to Baluwatar (if headed home), or wait for tempo/micro-bus/Shaja (green) bus (0-2 minutes) if headed to Lazimpat or Thamel (the more expat areas with restaurants, events, yoga class, etc.).
5:50 pm – Get on any vehicle headed west/south. The journey to Lazimpat/Thamel will take you between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on where you get off). The cost will be 10-15 rupees. Always remember to hold on if you’re in a tempo and you are tall (I use that word generously, any woman over about 5’2″ is considered tall in Nepal) – otherwise you will hit your head when going over bumps in the road!
5:55 to 6:10 pm – Walk to destination!
I hope that this gave you a bit of a taste for what it is really like to live and work in Kathmandu! The commute can easily be the most interesting or frustrating part of your entire day (every day), depending on what you have to deal with. My advice would be to ask many different people how to get to a place, perhaps they’ll have an easier way for you to get somewhere, and save you a lot of hassle!
This blog is one in a series about transportation in various countries. To read similar blogs, check out the links below:
- Ghana – Trotro Etiquette: Your Guide to Getting Around Ghana!
- Nepal – How to get around in Kathmandu – Transport in Nepal
- Bangladesh – The madness that never ends! – Traffic in Dhaka
- Nepal – Walking Past Paradise: My Commute to Work in Nepal
- Bangladesh – Getting Around in Dhaka – Rickshaws, Buses, Cars, and CNGs
- Nepal – Weaving between motorcycles – The art of crossing the street in Kathmandu