A Glimpse of Thamel – a short account of finding myself again

 

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.  

Jasto Manchey Tyestai Bike

Recently I bought an old Hero Honda model, tyo pani guess what, saat lot! Since then a lot of people have asked me,  ‘Why?’.

The bike was manufactured  20 -22 years back and I would like to think that I was not even born back then. I find it funny that I ride something that was there before I was born, although not in a top notch condition.  But I guess, it works fine for me just to get around. 

I love my bike.  I don’t know why but as of now, I don’t want to get the new one. In all honesty, I’d prefer to use it even later on. The money I have spent on maintenance and reconditioning has already exceed to my expectation. My friends tell me,  ‘yeti ma ta naya bike nai aucha k waiyat kharcha garira yo budo ko lagi’

I got the bike from one of my school mates. It was his dad’s bike just laying there in the garage, simply waiting to be used again by someone who was preferably from it’s generation. But I guess, to it’s disappointment, I am the one riding it around.

This is my first bike. I got it to learn motorcycling and get a licence.  But I think it can easily serve me beyond the purpose of getting licence. I feel, the bike knows me by now- the rough kicks in early morning is more than alarming for it to  get started and wheel me around, for my immature riding. However, sometimes it does strike  back,  ‘lau kha ta’. That’s pretty much when I get swollen legs for my kicks. 

To be fairly honest, I have had thoughts of getting the new bike whenever this old piece of crooked and cranky machine gets me into trouble. Sometimes riding through the crowded traffic of Kathmandu, the old man has trouble picking up top gear. Sometimes, it plainly ceases to kick start and begins to make a grumpy sound, coughing out huge black smokes. I know people look at me and think, ‘What the fuck’.  During many of  such embarrassing moments, I curse  and spit,  throwing  disgusting looks at it. But most times, I pity it. Old buddy needs time to rest, maybe retire. 

Sometimes I guess it also gets angry at me and it’s like, ‘Come on, you bony piece of shit, just give me a break. Get easy on me. Can’t you see I’ve done my time riding fast and smooth. I can’t do it anymore. You are stuck with me” . Sometimes, it just throws a lot of tantrums at me, reciprocating my own behavior.

I collected so many stories and humors  with this bike over these last six months of wheeling around: 

A workplace college once told me ‘tapaiko bike le ta petrol sungcha matra hola hai khadaina hola’

Another time, a few local boys and girls hooted and whistled me when they saw my slender figure ride the most slender bike. 

One time when I about to drop my brother off to his college, he said, ‘tero bike le malai dhan cha ta. Yedi ukalo ma orlinu paryo vane van hai’. He does insist on getting a new bike, and tells me time and again, ‘yesto bike chadis vane ta ko KT pachadi bascha yar’.

One of my friend told me that even traffic police would salute your bike for it’s age and let you pass by even without checking.

Surprisingly (maybe not), quite a few people  have offered to buy this bike at quite a fair price as soon as I give a thought of selling it,  I just feel the old man looking at me, all dejected and pleading through its headlights and old side lights, saying, ‘Let me stay with you. I can take no more of strangers ass’. And then I simply desert the idea of selling it. 

In all these times, among all these bumpy rides, hustles and bustles, guess what I find so much pride in ? The lightness and visibility as the old man coughs and pants around in the streets of Kathmandu. I know that I stand out as an old school dude, with my old school bike.  And I just know, most of them simply compliment, ‘Jasto manche testai bike’.