This is among the few first pictures I took while I leisurely strolled on the streets of Thamel that overflowed with vibrance of food and music. I came back home briefly in the summer of 2018 to pursue a research study and visit my family. Back in the U.S, old sub-urban towns and mini eatery lanes never fail to remind me of the bustling streets of Thamel; it’s imageries, grittiness and ensuing serenity that comes from much familiarity and yearning for home.
Thamel is unadulterated and so are its colorful gullies. I normally tend to not compare and contrast places but Thamel, my neighborhood is ubiquitous to the world and almost synonymous to Kathmandu for foreigners. It’s where they start their journey into the heart of Nepal. For me, it’s not exclusively a touristy spot or a quick escape into to laze of Kathmandu, but a mandala of belongingness. It is my neighborhood to say the least and it is where my mother and my uncles in particular resided and spent their childhood in their maternal home circa mid-1970s right around the corners of Thamel, where fancy hotels stand still in the present time.
Along these busy streets, I once used to come on festive visits dancing to deusi-bahili in Tihar festival who bestow blessings during night of worship for Goddess Laxmi; my friends running amok and bewildered with happiness at hard earned petty cash on their hands. Now I come here for a casual stroll, a cup of masala tea or for concerts as I want to find spiritual deliverance along alleyways stacked with old buildings, and store shutters seem glued to each other with its flamboyant garments, souvenirs and gaping visitors. These streets, these tiny spaces and lines of houses have turned overtime into local shops, pubs and buildings for trade and commerce, and roadsides have become a solace for young drunken souls at midnight.
Thamel (at its most) is probably a point of departure in my adult life; socializing, and close knit gatherings at the heart of it. I frequented Thamel for coffee/tea in the afternoon and a couple of drinks, chatting with friends in the evening. The bunch has spread across the globe now. A bitter sweet memory ensues as I can recall ourselves jolly in a myriad of joints while I miss them at the same time. Despite the sweet feeling revisiting Thamel, now one can feel a sense of void to it. The sad thing is, although infinite places have opened up, spaces have shrunk, and I see less people, or rather most faces are new.
I wonder how has Thamel changed since or if it has changed at all. Probably there’s a huge shift in the intensity of social lifestyle; a pinch of growing absurdity of modernity and shifts in culture. Nonetheless, I am to find more food options now that [I think] I have had a broader taste of cuisines. I still want to continue to listen to the local bands and artists that play, appreciate our artisans, and perhaps get to exchange conversations with diverse people that want to know what it’s like to be in Kathmandu, or of (Nepali diaspora). And of course having conversations with Nepalis topped with a little bit of local tone, and exaggeration over the meaning of life. [starting off with ‘how’s life?’, ‘kasto chalirako cha jindagi?’ and often ending with ‘estai ho jindagi!’.
~~~~~ To this day Thamel is its own belly of a culture that is a paradox of youthful and traditional lifestyles, cotton-hemp businesses, elated foreign faces, Nepali tea and Himalayan coffee, cozy pubs, Buddhist prayer flags, Hindu shrines, Muslim streets, Chinese cafés and a burgeoning momentum of Nepal’s version of its own peculiar modernity ~~~~~
There’s WORK, there’s HISTORY, there’s CULTURE, there’s IDENTITY, there’s TRANSACTION, there’s LOVE but there’s also LUST, there’s WARMTH, and there’s a lot of WALKING in the end.
[I wrote this before COVID-19. I did not know when I would be able to go back home, or be able to frequent Thamel as I had imagined amidst this global pandemic].
-Shrey Shrey is a contributing author to The Kathmandudes.