I’m stuck in rush hour traffic, in the pouring rain, in Kathmandu. Soaked, we push through busses and taxis, packed like a parking garage. Occasionally we drive on the sidewalks, winding through equally soaked pedestrians, until Ankit tells me that the police will take our keys if we get caught.
Five hours earlier, I met Ankit in Lazimpat. He’s a tour guide for Vespa Valley, a day tour operator showing travellers Kathmandu’s flavours and hidden treasures, on two wheels. I met the Vespa Valley folk six months prior, during my first ever trip to Nepal. I was sold on the idea of exploring the Valley in a more agile way than in a car, yet covering more ground that I would on a bicycle or on foot.
If you’re used to traffic lights and having right of way, driving in Nepal will feel chaotic at first. Being able to make quick stops, or even to shoot from my seat, brought an exciting new dimension to capturing the city. There was a lot to take in - sounds, smells, though mostly just those pure moments you can’t fabricate - the fuel and essence of adventure.
Our first stop was a hole-in-the-wall shop, where we had “the best lassi in town”. I didn’t just take someone’s word for it - the queue was backed up the street. The corner was buzzing with locals, expats, and tourists, all waiting for their tasty tumbler of yogurt.
Ankit was a good guide, right from the start. We spoke about the history of the sites we visited, but also about current events and the creative initiatives in the city after the earthquakes that struck in April 2015 (this wasn’t long after). I learned that there is a growing community of passionate Vespa enthusiasts in Kathmandu, which I didn’t find surprising. Kathmandu has got cool. Tons of it.
From there we made our way through back roads and alley ways to Patan Durbar Square.
I remember sharing a side street with a goat and a rickshaw at one point .
A couple of blocks from the square we first noticed raindrops. We parked and Ankit suggested that we hang around and wait for the worst rain to pass (it was really coming down at this point).
I was happy with with his suggestion. We found shelter outside of a museum (well, it was technically a framed photo timeline of the square’s history), and sat on a ledge waiting to wheel off to our next stop, Monkey Temple. It was a dramatic yet whimsical scene; kids in uniform sharing an umbrella, two boys piggybacking under another. A lot of splashing and laughing.
It was at this moment that I felt connected to Kathmandu, and Nepal. I’ve heard and read about how the country has a specific effect on travellers, and how people tend to get attached to everything about it. I assumed that was mostly because of the Himalayas, which seemed fair enough. But here, in Kathmandu, in the pissing rain, I had my own encounter with Nepal.
By the time the rain stopped for long enough for us to get back on the road, we had to start plotting our way back to Lazimpat. We made a call to take a rain check on Monkey Temple, and rather try to avoid the worst traffic.
So here’s to the most exciting rush hour traffic jam I’ve ever sat through, to new friends (and the beers we shared at Jazz on the Roof two nights later), and to not needing more than 2 wheels to explore amazing cities.
Special thanks to Amanda and Claire from Vespa Valley.