Gopal Magar: The genial rickshaw puller of Thamel

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

Gopal Magar: The genial rickshaw puller of Thamel

Gopal Magar’s life in Kathmandu did not turn out like the one he had imagined when he left his village, but he is proud of what he has achieved

Gopal Magar left his village in Dolakha with his wife and their three children and came to Kathmandu in 1990. He was in his thirties and wanted to give a good life to his children.

Magar had a tough childhood. He grew up poor in a large family, where the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings fell on his shoulders. When he moved to Kathmandu with his family, he was determined to make it big.

“There comes a time in one’s life when whatever your friends tell you seems right,” he says. “So I followed the advice of my friends and came to Kathmandu with my wife and three children.”

Magar landed a job at a hotel after arriving in Kathmandu. He worked there for a year before deciding to become a rickshaw driver.

Magar is 67 now and he continues to drive rickshaw to this day. Over the last three decades, he says, his daily routine is more or less the same. He arrives at Thamel at five in the morning with a rickshaw, spends the day driving people around and returns to his rented room at six in the evening.

A lot has also changed in Magar’s life in this period. His three children are all grown-up now and leading their own lives. His wife passed away in 2015. She was a life-long epilepsy patient, whom Magar cared for like a doting husband.

His life in Kathmandu did not turn out like the one he had imagined when he left his village, but he is proud of what he has achieved. With the earnings he made as a rickshaw driver, he raised his family, sent his children to school, looked after the medical needs of his wife until her last days and even married off his younger siblings.

Magar says he decided to become a rickshaw driver because he didn’t have any formal education to have other jobs. “But I have learned a bit of English after riding many foreigners around in my rickshaw,” he beams proudly.

Magar earns around Rs 300 daily and Rs 150 of his earnings he has to pay to the rickshaw owner. Not many people ride rickshaws these days, he says, so the business is not good.

“My earnings are just enough to pay for my rent and food.”

Magar says most of his customers are foreigners, who want to hop on his rickshaw and go on a city sightseeing tour. He says most of his customers are kind and generous while some are mean.

“They take a ride and then start bargaining for the fare,” he says. “These days, I have no energy to argue with them.”

Magar knows he cannot ride a rickshaw all his life, but he doesn’t know what he will do or where he will go after he leaves the work for good.

His health and strength is already failing and he knows he hasn’t got much years ahead or the strength in his body to be pedaling rickshaw all day.

He is deeply attached to his work; after all, his rickshaw helped him raise his family, though they are no longer around. Riding the rickshaw gives him purpose—perhaps, an excuse to get out of his rented room, where he lives all by himself.

Magar is a proud man. He says he does not want to depend on anybody, ever. Despite everything he has been through in his life, the struggles and the joys, he seems content and cheerful about life.

“I will go on with what I am doing right now,” he says. “After that, who knows what happens.”