Want to go for a walk in the city? Choose your day, time and place carefully, to avoid the worst of Kathmandu’s air pollution. Out in Pokhara (by comparison) there’s far less pollution, so any day, any time, and almost any street or lane there is good.
The best time to go walking in Kathmandu is after a heavy rain, or while it’s raining if you don’t mind the wet. Rain clears the air, so mornings after it often dawn clear, rewarding you with snow peaks. Years ago, before Kathmandu became so highly populated, overrun with exhaust fumes and pollution from other sources, the high peaks were our daily sentinels, always there to be admired. Nowadays, it is sometimes hard to know if they still exist beyond the brown cloud that smothers us.
Advising the best time of day to go walking is complicated. When I asked a local air pollution expert, “Are early mornings a good time to walk?” he said “No. Too much pollution.”
“Evenings?” I asked. “Again, no. Mid-day is best,” he said. He explained that around noon those microscopic particles that we inhale with every breath will have risen up into the atmosphere. By late afternoon they’re down again and they stay low through to next morning. Walking when they’re highest is best.
“Well, then,” I went on, “should I wear a face mask and, if so, which is best?”
His reply was discouraging. He pointed out that the particles most harmful to our lungs are so small that it takes an electron microscope to see them. Most face masks simply don’t block anything that small, though it’s better to wear one than not.
That almost put me off walking altogether, though I know that if I go out of valley I can both walk and breathe more safely.
When we decide to take the risk and walk in the city, common sense tells us to choose the least used streets and alleyways without speeding vehicles. And try to avoid tangling with bicyclists ? although not many bikes are seen these days on the city’s chaotic streets. Biking the Ring Road used to be popular; but that was then. Too much pollution is now.
Now consider the following; it may urge you to become a walker anyway. Social researchers have found a positive correlation between the IQs of urban walkers vs. urban drivers. Those who walk more and drive less appear to be more intelligent, that is. It’s a correlation, not causation, so walking won’t necessarily make you smart. But being smart might encourage you to walk more. The research is mostly from Western urbs and suburbs, where city planners are creating more, larger and safer environments. It’s called walkability, and walkability attracts a better educated class of urban settlers, mostly Millennials.
You may know them as Generation-Y or the Net Generation, those youthful city-dwellers, your neighbors perhaps, who became adults round about the Millennial Year 2000. They tend to be better educated and more upward aspiring than previous generations. They also tend to seek (demand) urban environments that are walkable and bikeable, and that have quality health care facilities and good schools. City planners around the globe are seriously addressing their demands by creating urban green belts, parks, sport fields, bike lanes, and walking-dedicated streets.
In Nepal, Pokhara heads up my list of walkable places to live. Not only can you amble the streets and by-ways in relative ease and safety, but you can be out trekking in the green hills under those magnificent snow peaks within minutes from Kalimati, Mahendra Pul or Lakeside.
So, how does walkability happen? There’s an old proverb that say “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” It means that simply wishing for something nice, like pollution-free walkable environments is not enough to make it happen. Action is required. Citizen action. So, promote walkability, get with it, get smart, go walking.