09 February 2007

Nepal and Bangladesh

I have spent the better part of the last two weeks in Nepal (Kathmandu) and Bangladesh (Dhaka and Chittagong) - a work trip. Both countries, while very different in many ways, share some characteristics - their reliance on pedal power for transport being one of them!
In Kathmandu, where most roads are narrow, among the cars with horns blown and the motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic in near-suicidal manouvres, bicycles quietly reign with rickshaws common in the more central areas. The overwhelming majority of cycles are basic [fixed gear], even if in design about half of them resemble mountain bikes - the others appear to be 1950s designs. I am very impressed by the punishment these bikes take, especially for the way they are loaded with all sorts of things. Many carry a contraption that beats any UK panier bag - a set of twin 'cages' which attach to either side of the rear rack and can fit big gas or water cylinders. The bicycles with gears around are ridden by seemingly better off individuals - they have a tendency to ride on low gears, perhaps to show off how effortlessly they take to slopes as they ride uphill towards the outer parts of the city. Nobody except a handful of tourists and expats wears any helmets or protective gear, or lights. POllution masks, though, are common - as is a padded 'chest protector' - popular with motorbikers and cyclists alike, it is alleged it protects your chest... from the chill.

Things are a little bit different in Bangladesh. A flat lowland and one of the world's poorest countries, here the rickshaw reigns supreme. From what I saw, it is the most common form of urban public transport. I tried one today. For all their colourfullness and the richness of their decoration, their design is extremely uniform. They are in essence reinforced tricycles. Pedals are often wooden. They have big metal bells, often on both sides. And not one that I saw had any lights. Some had bright red triangles painted on the back. Some had metal 'reflectors'. And one had ingenuously bolted an array of old CDs which shone under the lights of passing cars. Riding the rickshaws looks like hard work, especially on a full load - two adults and a child, with shopping. Not big adults, mind you: I could barely fit on the seat - in terms of depth, that is. Width-wise, two leand adults can sit comfortably - sadly, when I tried it with my collegue it became clear we would need two rickshaws.

I have a short clip of a rickshaw ride: part 1 and part 2. There are plenty more by other people in YouTube - better quality and longer. But this is my humble contribution. Watch out for the main road crossing and the overtaking rickshaw.

Photos taken by J. Ugonna (thank you!)

No comments: