Thamel, Kathmandu – Nepal
The central neighbourhood of Thamel has always been the heartbeat of Kathmandu. The cafes, shops, restaurants, and bars explode with colour, commerce, and community, drawing visitors in with their irrepressible bonhomie.
Noisy markets and myriad independent stores cater to the needs of travellers, trekkers, climbers, yogis, dreamers and entrepreneurs, providing a vibrant base for anyone looking to hole up prior to, or post, a Himalayan mountain experience.
It is also the perfect jump-off spot to explore the most significant historical and cultural attractions in Kathmandu. It’s a stone’s throw from Durbar Square, the Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple); UNESCO Boudhanath Stupa; Bagmati River Pashupatinath Temple; and Narayanhiti Palace Museum.
When I first visited in 1983, the Freak Street hippy vibe, dominated by a steady trickle of travellers searching for higher mountain experiences as well as an alternative lifestyle, meant that Thamel had some of the most famous cafes, cake stalls and chillout caverns anywhere on the road.
In those days, large numbers of travellers would constantly move between Goa and Kathmandu, which offered a relatively gentle welcome and peaceful Bhuddhist air. Thamel was the favourite home to many living an alternative 1960s inspired lifestyle, especially during the hotter Indian-subcontinent months and more agreeable clear mountain seasons.
The air was fresh, the hashish strong and legal, and the food amazing. I returned from a month’s trekking through the Annapurna range in the 1980s to discover that the Lunch Box Restaurant had the best spaghetti bolognaise on the planet. So good that I ate it every day for two weeks, only to discover later that their lasagne and curry sauce was even better.
Indeed, over the decades Thamel has been able to provide just about anything you wanted in life. In my case it has helped with the fast-tracking of the trekking permit system, giardia treatment, mountain clothing, hippy-trail paraphernalia, down time, outbound flight tickets, foreign exchange, cultural souvenirs, pastries, and many a crash course in the history of all things Kathmandu and Nepal.
I have always loved visiting. It remains a spiritual part of my travelling history, as well as an ever-returning memory of my Himalayan experience.
As my most recent photos show, the vibrancy of Thamel has only increased over the decades. The frantic, but ever-welcoming street life froths with all manner of activities and businesses.
Thamel remains the perfect pitstop into or out of the Himalayas, as well as when focusing on further flung Asian travel destinations.