The True Meaning of Bureaucracy

Now that I’ve had my scooter for a few days, the time came to get it registered. I said earlier that in Nepal, foreigners aren’t allowed to register a scooter under their own name; it must be under a Nepali name. Thankfully I have a friend who was willing to take me on as a personal liability and register my scooter under their name. The actual process of registration, however, is a nightmare for all — Foreigner or Nepali.


The Drive

First, we had to actually get to the place where registering happens. The government office is called Yatayat Karyalaya, which I’m pretty sure means Office of Transportation. All of the buses in Kathmandu are yatayats, like the Lalitpur Yatayat that I was taking prior to getting a scooter.

Anyway, I had assumed that this office was nearby. I figured it was like the neighborhood BMV in the US where we just go stand in line and fill out some paperwork. At the very least, I thought it’d be within the ring road.


We drove past the ring road and onto the unpaved mayhem that is the rest of the Kathmandu Valley. This was the first time I really experienced the dust that people always talk about. It’s not just dusty. It’s such a harmless word and it doesn’t do it justice. I couldn’t even see the bumps in the road ahead of us, much less oncoming traffic. I had showered that morning and my hair was clean and feathery. After the hour and a half we spent on that road, it was halfway to being a single dreadlock. When I slapped my leg, a cloud of dust erupted from the fabric of my jeans like I was shaking out an old, forgotten pillow. We didn’t talk much because if you open your mouth for a moment, then you feel like you’re crunching on sand the rest of the day.

Nonetheless, we made it. We turned off the road onto a small street that went straight up a hill with the mountains looming overhead. When we parked the scooter, we were immediately approached by a guy offering to sell us fake registration papers. My friend shook his head and walked away. “This way.”


The First Office

We went inside a building across from where we parked the scooter, then went upstairs. The building was old and had a musty smell, but was pretty clean and orderly. We entered an office on the second floor which was already full of people. My friend went to the official and they started talking in Nepali, so I sat on the couch and waited to be told to do something.

They went back and forth for a few minutes until my friend sat down. He sighed and checked his watch before looking at me. “Hour and a half. We need to go get the scooter inspected.”


The Scooter Inspection Line

I’m still not exactly sure what my scooter was being inspected for. We drove it further up the hill to a large lot with a tin-roofed shack in the middle. There was a line of scooters and motorcycles extending away and wrapping around the fence (pictured in the cover of this article). It would inch forward every few minutes, but didn’t end up actually taking that long.

think they were checking to make sure my temporary registration papers matched up with the actual scooter. I’m not sure. We stood in line for 30 minutes and the official looked at my scooter for maybe one minute.

After he decided my scooter was satisfactory, he gave us a new paper in exchange for what was already with the scooter. Then we left the lot and drove back down the hill to the first office.


The First Office (Again)

We went back upstairs to the same official and the Nepali conversation resumed. I sat back down on the couch and tried to decipher the Nepali calendar on the wall while my friend and the official went back and forth. It went on for close to 20 minutes. Eventually he turned to me and said, “OK, we need the 3,000 rupees now.”

I had set aside 3,000 NRS for this meeting. Normally, the process for registering a scooter requires talking to several different people and paying each of them. It’s a totally unnecessarily bureaucratic process that is in place to make sure certain people get paid. But if you bring along an extra 3,000 NRS to give to the official, he’ll go talk to those people for you. He just divvies up the 3,000 and gives some to each of the people on the list. I don’t know if he does anything other than that, but it fast-tracked the process considerably.

He signed some documents, added sheets of literal parchment to my registration folder, then sent us on our way to the next office, accompanied by another official.


The Second Office

This new official took us across the street to a new building. We went through a tin-roofed tunnel, climbed over an old collapsed wall, and eventually got to a more official-looking building. It was fairly dingy from the outside, and even from the inside. The stairs didn’t have handrails and any corner that didn’t see foot traffic was strewn with trash. Still though, the building had an element of past elegance to it. The ceilings were ornately decorated with gilded flowers and borders. Every door had a black sheen encircled by faded golden paint. It felt like a place that was at one time well-kept and beautiful, but had since been allowed to decay like an old estate off some country road.

We went into an office with three officials. It was a small space yet each of them had their own desk. Our accompanying official talked with all of them, but one was very quiet. My friend told me later that he wasn’t talking because he was nervous that I was inspecting them.

Our accompanying official took a thick book off the shelf, added a page to it, then sent us away. We spent only a few minutes here before we were pointed to another office on the same floor.


The Third Office

We went down the hall to a new office and gave the lone official our documents. Again, we only spent a few minutes here. He stamped a page, talked to my friend for a moment, frowned at the fact that was the one with the helmet, and waved us out. I’m not even sure what we accomplished in this building, actually. There was no English exchanged and my very limited Nepali only allowed me to catch when the first official was asking for 3,000 NRS.

We left the office. I smiled at the official on the way out. He didn’t smile back.


The First Office (Again)

This was the last stop in our Tour de Yatayat Karyalaya. My friend gave our new documents to a person behind an open-air desk on the ground floor who took them inside. We waited a few minutes. I spent the time looking around at the place. It was an interesting section of the metro that I would never have gone to if I didn’t need to. For all the bureaucracy we had to deal with here, it was still quite beautiful. The road went straight up to the mountains and the air was much cleaner than inside the city. It was the first time I’ve really noticed how good clean air is.

My quiet introspection was cut off when my friend tapped my shoulder. “Alright, time to go.”

We jumped on the scooter and plunged back into the dust bowl at the bottom of the hill. After close to an hour, we finally made it out of traffic and I dropped my friend off. Overall, the whole endeavor took almost five hours. We went to three separate offices (one of them three times), bribed one guy, and stood in another line for an inspection — all conveniently located miles outside the city.

I think I’ll have to go back there when I eventually sell my scooter, but it’s resolved for now. I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to work this out without the help of my friend.


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