Tuk-tuk goose? No, tuk-tuk rooster.

21 09 2010
Kathmandu Bus Map

Bus Map for two of Kathmandu Valley's cities: Kathmandu proper and Patan

I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the transportation system here – not even close – but let’s just say I’m becoming more confident with it.  The first few weeks I was walking A LOT everyday. I love walking but now that I’ve settled in and life is busier, I can’t always spend 30 minutes walking to nearby destinations. The monsoon rains are lessening, but that 30 minutes meant my legs were covered in mud by the time I arrived anywhere. And it’s not like I can just throw my clothes into the washing machine when I get home. Taxis are fine too and it’s possible, even with “foreigner charges” to get from one end of town to the other for about 200 rupees ($2.75) but do that a few times everyday and it adds up quick. So, I started investigating public transportation, which is actually one of the best ways to get to know a culture. Plus, riding public transportation helps reinforce my knowledge of Devanagari script numerals.

I found a bus route map on another Nepal travel blog and decided to tackle the challenge. I’d been warned that women are sometimes sexually harassed on buses and that it was better to sit up front and/or near other women, so my first ventures were on smaller tuk-tuks instead of the bigger buses. Besides, the name ‘tuk-tuk’ is so fun to say, who wouldn’t want to ride one? They run on cooking gas and don’t travel very fast, so I figured in the worst case scenario I could always jump out the open back door and catch a taxi. Most shorter distance routes, whether tuk-tuk, tempo or bus, cost about 10 rupees (15 cents), which sure beats taxi fare.

Kathmandu tuk tuk

Kathmandu tuk-tuk

Next I tried the tempos. These are the equivalent of 12-15-passenger American vans, though they fit WAY more people in here. I rode a tempo during rush hour last week and counted at least 26 people. And it felt like 26 people, too. The advantage of the tempos and  buses is they’re faster and less bumpy than the tuk-tuks. Sometimes, they’re a little too fast and that can be a problem, too!

I’ve been riding public transportation as much as possible the last two weeks but still walking a fair amount because it’s rare for buses to arrive at your exact location. Tuk-tuks, tempos and buses stop running at night, so I reserve taxis for my evening excursions, when I’m in a hurry or when I need to be somewhere complicated requiring multiple bus transfers (though I’m getting the hang of transfers, too).

Even though it’s a large capital city, there just isn’t a late night scene here. Partly because Nepal is semi-feudal, it’s early to bed and early to rise. My neighborhood quiets by 11:00pm and the rooster (yes, there are chickens outside my apartment) starts crowing at 5:00am. People rise to bathe at neighborhood water taps at 4:30am or to worship, so there is a soft chanting of mantras every morning, sounds of people at their morning toilet, and the trusty rooster out back.

Kathmandu Bus

Friendly Kathmandu bus




14 responses

10 10 2010
Mallory Singbeil

Is this your first time experiencing monsoon rains? What are they like? Also i was wondering when you walked places is it on sidewalk or are they just a dirt pathway?

11 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Mallory,

The monsoons are over now but this wasn’t my first time experiencing them. In a way, they are like the huge spring/summer downpours we get in Iowa (minus the high winds and tornadoes). The monsoons are different depending on where you are in Asia west of the Himalayas. Kathmandu’s monsoons are less wet than, say, Bangladesh’s where the rains brings heavy flooding. Both times I’ve experienced Kathmandu’s monsoons, it rained pretty much every night for all or part of the night. When I was here 4 years ago, they had less rain during the day. On this trip, there was more rain during the day. When it rains during the day, it’s usually a moderate to heavy downpour (like Iowa, as I mentioned) that lasts for anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

There are a few sidewalks in Kathmandu but they are few and far between. Sometimes I’m walking on paved, asphalt roads, sometimes brick or stone paths, sometimes dirt, and often a combination of these). I was laughing at a recently arrived American tourist who said she just had foot surgery and is supposed to walk on even/flat surfaces. I asked, “Well then why on earth did you come to Nepal?”

6 10 2010


What is the most popular way of transportation in Nepal? Do most people have their own vehicles or is public transportation very common? Do you think a lot of the knowledge you gain about the culture is from using the transportation and seeing and meeting new people?

6 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Lindsey,

I can only write about what I’ve observed in Kathmandu and not Nepal-at-large. I would venture to say that most people don’t have their own vehicles. Cars and motorcycles are very expensive on the average Nepali salary. Many people do ride public transportation but walking and bicycling are also common.

I am learning something from nearly every experience, whether on public transportation or not. The same might be true of my life in Iowa, but traveling makes you more conscious of these experiences and their significance.

4 10 2010
Kayla Robson

I was wondering if the drivers of the busses did the paint decorating themselves or do they get other people around the area to help them paint ?

5 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Kayla,

The hand-painted sign profession is still alive in Nepal and other places around the world, though it is being quickly replaced by computer and technology-aided processes. The actual work is done by commercial sign painting artists, though it’s obvious when reading some of the messages on the busses that the actual phrases are sometimes personally significant to the bus owners. I read a message painted on the back of a bus the other day about how people shouldn’t fall in love because it only breaks your heart. I didn’t have my camera with me (darn) but clearly, someone was unlucky at love!

3 10 2010
william allen

I noticed the busses are painted. Is it a form of graffitti and have the local areas been “tagged” or is this a mostly American phenom?

4 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

The buses are painted by sign painters hired by bus owners, so it’s not graffiti. The images serve several purposes: to attract customers, to honor deities, and for practical purposes such as warning other drivers to honk when passing. There is graffiti in Nepal, but these messages are written so others can read them and not obscured through a special font or writing style as in the U.S. For an interesting take on Kathmandu graffiti, see this post by another Fulbright student: http://bhashabeguine.blogspot.com/2010/10/prem-baad.html .

27 09 2010
Ben Kromminga

I see that the tuk-tuk looks like it’s probably a commercial business. Is the public transportation realm open to anyone who owns a vehicle and wants to try and make money by providing taxi services?

28 09 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Ben,

I’ll need to do some research on your question because it’s not immediately apparent to me just how one gets into the transportation business here. I’ll get back to you on that one.


28 09 2010
Ben Kromminga

Okay, sounds good! Thanks for all the info! 🙂

21 09 2010
jane gilmor

Ah! Public transportation! I see the busses are still hand painted works of folk art! I’m so glad to see they aren’t plastered with McDonald’s Ads –but genuine grass roots sign painting!! Jane G

21 09 2010
Mom and Dad

Here a tuk, there a tuk, everywhere a tuk-tuk.

21 09 2010
yer sister

Time to get a servant to do the wash for you!

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