A world away

| November 30, 2006

Veteran truck driver Ed Main becomes a rookie again in the mountain country of Nepal.

Never in his wildest dreams did Ed Main think he would hear the words, “Welcome to Kathmandu.”

Main, a driver for Marten Transport based in Knoxville, Tenn., has spent the better part of his life on U.S. highways, hauling freight and talking to his wife over the CB. His daughter Crystal, on the other hand, is a globe-trotting linguist who has lived in Nepal for nearly two years, conducting research on a Tibetan dialect found in the mountains of Nepal. Crystal has traveled all over Asia, sending hundreds of pictures to her parents of the people, the country landscape and the bustling city of Kathmandu.

Main and his wife Linda treasured these strange and beautiful photos from another world until finally, in June 2006, they left all the comforts of home for a two-and-a-half-week trip to see Crystal’s new digs in the capital city of Nepal.

After an 18-hour flight, Main glanced out the window and realized, “This isn’t good old Rocky Top,” he says. “I looked down and saw monkeys on the tarmac. I turned to my wife and said, ‘Uh oh, Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.’”

Nepal is a small country bordered by China and India. In the midst of the Himalayas, Nepal claims 10 of the world’s highest mountains, including part of Mt. Everest. The region’s breathtaking scenery of rolling hills, snowy mountain peaks and colorful Hindu festivals is a stark contrast to the severe political unrest that has left Nepal one of the poorest countries in the world. Half of the population lives below the poverty line, and agriculture sustains nearly 76 percent of the people.

Main, who had only traveled outside the country to Tijuana, Mexico, prior to his trip to Nepal, was amazed by the conditions of the roads.

“As a driver, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a taxi ride here,” Main says. “No street lines, no traffic lights, tiny roads and big potholes. And all the while you have to keep your eyes open for any wandering cow on the roadway, because cows are considered sacred.”

Holy cows often lie in the road or on the sidewalk, an obstacle that increased Main’s respect for the Nepali truck drivers. In Kathmandu, Main decided to meet up with fellow truckers to see what it’s like driving a rig on the winding mountain paths.

The young Nepali truck drivers greeted him warmly, Main says, and they were eager to show off their trucks, which are similar to old farm trucks – five gears, no air-conditioning, no windows, tattered interior and floorboards – except for one thing: the trucks are painted up “like a pimp’s car,” Main says.

Vibrant blues, yellows, greens and reds display paintings and English and Nepali words on the back, front and sides of the trucks. No two are alike.

“Every driver there was proud of his truck,” Main says.

The Nepali trucks are straight six-wheelers, made by Tata Motors company in India, two front seats and a bench backseat. The drivers pack each truck with lumpers who start work when the driver arrives at his destination.

Nepali truck drivers make a salary of 4,500 rupees per month, which equals $60.54 U.S. dollars. Long-haul drivers who drive outside Kathmandu also get a daily meal expense, about $1.45 U.S. dollars.

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