I set out from Gorkha for Chitwan National Park on a rainy morning – only to realize jungle safaris may not be possible in such weather. I decided to turn towards Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a place I have been waiting 24 years to go back to. My previous trip was a family visit during school days.
And my destination was Thamel, the backpacker’s hub with its famed eateries, shopping and nightlife. It is/was known as the most ‘happening’ part of Nepal. Of course, I had been warned that things are no longer the same like they were in the 1990s. Here are some impressions I came back with:
* Not what I had heard, but the hub nonetheless: Thamel had all the markings of what must have a 24×7 bustling place, and could easily get that status back as soon as confidence amongst travellers is back. I was told the place would be rocking till late into the night in the 1990s. But most outlets would down shutters by 8 p.m. The power cuts add to the dark, dull look. But some outlets did put up a brave face and kept the music blaring till past midnight. My take? Thamel will be back.
* Real and fake adventure gear all over: Kathmandu is great for shopping for outdoor gear. Including sleeping bags, clothing, shoes, tents, accessories and more. You get the real stuff (North Face, Mountain Hard Wear and Sherpa) and even more counterfeit. All in the same market. Often it is difficult to distinguish between the real and otherwise till you start talking prices. Pokhara had all this stuff too, only counterfeit, not the real one. And it did offer better quality of counterfeits than that in Kathmandu.
* You can feast here: The best food and coffee in the country, only matched by Pokhara. I would not recommend Indian dishes here though. Go for Italian and coffees more than anything else. The best and cheap.
* Goes to sleep quite early: Like I mentioned above, the downturn means Thamel goes to bed early. And takes its time waking up. Business is slow.
* Parking is a pain, and expensive: I drove, so had to find a parking spot. Some hotels have space but I did not check into any of those. Day parking is still fine (even though expensive at Rs. 25 an hour) – and night I had to convince the guards at an office complex to let me park. They did – at Rs. 200 a night – with the condition I take the car out by 7 am daily before the bosses came in.
* Laundry: If your clothes are all dirty by the time you reach Kathmandu, have no worries. You can see signs all over offering to machine wash and dry your clothes for Rs. 50 a kg. That’s a lot of clothes. Doesn’t get cheaper and more efficient.
* A labyrinth of streets: Thamel can take anyone a while to figure out the way. And with most of the streets one way, you cannot retrace your steps if you are driving. Not tough to get lost.
* Hotels of every kind: Thamel has a hotel to suit every budget and taste. Take your time looking for one you like. Avoid the best known Kathmandu Guest House – rooms are bad and overpriced.
* Not as dirty as one thought: I was told Thamel – and Kathmandu – is the dirtiest city in the world. Wrong. By some standards it may not be clean, but the Indian subcontinent is full of towns that will make Kathmandu look like Four Seasons. In other words, have no fear.