The best places are always found accidentally.
I was sitting on the roof with my tripod and camera, practicing with manual focus and shutter speed. As time passed, I started wondering why I was practicing at home and not somewhere I wanted to see. I have a scooter now, so why don’t I use it? The next couple hours were spent in a mental back-and-forth — I can drive my scooter to anywhere; I’m not comfortable enough to drive that far; I’ve had it for only a couple days and already crashed.
The sun was getting lower in the sky. In an hour, the light would be perfect. Fuck it. I packed up my tripod and camera, stuffed them in my backpack with a rain jacket, grabbed my helmet, and jumped on my scooter. I decided my destination was Boudhanath Stupa, which was about 6km away via Kathmandu’s ring road. This is the part that scared me — take the busiest American highways, remove lanes and most driving laws and you have it. I studied my map ahead of time, but wanted the directions in my earbuds just in case.
As soon as I started driving through Patan to the ring road, I was basically off-roading. The roads aren’t paved in a lot of the city. As a result, the air was thick with dust and I couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of me. When I scratched my face, my nails came out black from the dirt underneath. Better yet, my directions weren’t working.
I followed what little of the route I remembered, but it eventually became obvious that I had overshot Boudhanath by a lot. The road continued to deteriorate, until I was weaving between foot-deep potholes along with hundreds of other motorcycles, cars, and buses. As I looked around, a thought occurred to me — I don’t think I’m actually in Kathmandu anymore.
The buildings were getting smaller and further between; the gaps between were windows to rolling hills and the beginnings of the mountains. Eventually, I came to a fork in the road — One path just snaked away into farmland, and the other went up the hill I was adjacent to. For the first time, I stopped to look behind me and saw the sun setting over the entirety of Kathmandu.
I had given up on finding Boudhanath so I shrugged and went up the road, which was the worst yet. But as I crested the top, Kathmandu was laid out sprawling below me, the sun setting the whole thing alight. I pulled off on the side of the road, took out my camera, and here’s what I saw.
I spent maybe 20 minutes leaned against my scooter, taking pictures and relaxing. By accident, I found the most serene and peaceful spot in Kathmandu while trying to find its busiest landmark. The occasional scooter or bus drove past on the road behind me. Cows were grazing in the grass nearby and three dogs chased each other through a pond hidden by reeds. The only sounds that could be heard were the soft breeze, faint honks from the city below, and children running in the nearby field down the hill.
As the sun got closer to the mountains, I glanced to my left and saw that the road forked again, this time leading even further up a second hill where a cluster of houses were. I jumped back on my scooter and drove further towards it. I left it parked at the bottom and walked up the hill. Before, I thought I was seeing as much of the city as I could. This time, it was an almost unobstructed view of the entire city. Like, literally the whole thing. Instead of trying to describe this, lemme just show you what I took before my SD card filled up (rookie mistake).
Once the sun set below the mountains and my SD card was full, I decided it was my cue to leave so I’d have at least a little sunlight for the drive back. Buuuut by the time I was on the main road, it was almost completely dark. This was also when I realized the headlights on my scooter don’t work.
Watching shadows in the road to find potholes, weaving between pedestrians who couldn’t see me, and sticking close to buses so police wouldn’t see my busted headlight made for a stressful drive back. Once I safely cleared the unpaved roads and got back onto the ring road, I was still on the highway with no lights.
I was also lost again.
As luck would have it, I was barely lost. Once I pulled over and checked my map, I realized my current route would take me right to the street I take back from the school. From there it was maybe 30 minutes to get home.
Now that I’m safely back, my checklist is as follows: 1) Replace headlights, 2) Actually get to Boudhanath, and 3) See how much further that road goes.