Getting around Kathmandu
With notorious traffic and crowded streets, Kathmandu can be a tricky place to navigate. The easiest way to get around the historic centre is on foot, though cycle rickshaws provide a fascinating vantage point for viewing the old city. If you take a rickshaw, always agree a fare before you depart; a tip is appreciated for good service, usually around 10% of the fare.
For longer journeys, crowded public buses and electric tempos (shared auto-rickshaws) connect the centre of Kathmandu to the suburbs, and to cities and villages around the Kathmandu Valley. However, buses stop frequently and with the dust and pollution, most travellers find it faster and more comfortable to travel by taxi.
Most bus routes start at the Ratna Park bus stand on the eastern side of the Tundikhel Parade Ground, but destinations and route numbers are generally marked in Nepali characters, so you may need to ask around for the right bus. Also, having 5 and 10 rupee notes can be very helpful.
Local buses operate from approximately 0530 to 2100, but there are no fixed timetable. Note that some routes may be disrupted because of damage from the 2015 earthquake.
Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful in Kathmandu, but few drivers are willing to use the meter so you’ll need to agree a fare before you set off. Note that most taxis are small hatchback cars and it can be a squeeze to fit in more than two people and luggage.
Taxis are easy to recognise as they have a taxi sign and black number plates. You are more likely to pay a reasonable fare if you flag down a moving taxi; the taxis that loiter around tourist sights almost always ask for elevated fares. To book a taxi, call +977 1 442 0987 in the daytime or +977 1 422 4374 at night.
The price is fixed for a pre-paid taxi from either the international airport or the domestic airport to the centre of Kathmandu – book at the desk at Arrivals. Tipping is not expected, particularly if the driver doesn't want to use the metre.
Driving in Kathmandu is a chaotic experience; few people obey traffic rules and most drivers prefer to use the horn rather than the brakes. If you rent a motorcycle, follow the example of locals when it comes to parking. In areas with designated motorcycle parking, attendants will collect a small fee. Do not leave your motorcycle on the street at night – most hotels will bring your bike into the lobby when they close the shutters for the night.
Do not drive in Kathmandu during a bandh (strike) – roads are blocked and moving vehicles are often targeted for vandalism. Be sure to bring your rental motorcycle inside during a strike.
Another serious problem for drivers is fuel shortages, which reached crisis levels in 2015 when India blocked fuel supplies to Nepal as part of a political dispute over Nepal’s new constitution. During shortages, fuel may be rationed, or completely unavailable for long periods.
Self-drive car hire is non-existent in Nepal, but it is easy to hire a taxi for the day for sightseeing. Local travel agencies can arrange a car and driver for longer trips, including to other parts of Nepal. Try Four Season Travel & Tours (tel: +977 1 552 6894; www.go-nepal.com) or Blue Sky Tours & Travel (tel: +977 9856 011611; http://www.blueskytoursnepal.com/).
Many travellers rent motorcycles with informal rental agencies dotted around Thamel, particularly close to Thahity Tol. Rental companies generally ask for a significant cash deposit or a passport as security. Most places rent out small motorcycles that are fine for exploring the Kathmandu Valley, but lack the power for longer trips. For more ambitious journeys, most people make arrangements with a specialist motorcycle tour company before travelling to Nepal.
Officially, an International Driving Permit is required to hire a motorcycle in Nepal, but rental agencies often ignore this requirement. The police will not, so make sure you have the correct paperwork unless you want to face the risk of costly fines. If you are in Nepal for more than 15 days, you’ll need to apply for a local license.
Numerous companies offer mountain bike tours around the Kathmandu Valley and most also rent out well-maintained, foreign-made bikes by the day. Dawn Till Dusk (Gairidhara; tel +977 1 470 0286; www.nepalbiking.com) is a well-established operator.
Note that drivers in Kathmandu pay little attention to cyclists, though driving conditions become easier once you get beyond the ring road. Most villages have roadside cycle-repair shops that can fix a puncture. It may be possible to cycle out of the city during a bandh (strike), but the best advice is to stay off the roads and hole up in a café until things blow over.