Thamel – Chaos and Beauty in Kathmandu, Nepal

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feature The Chubby Orangutan

The district of Thamel in Kathmandu has been a traveler’s hub for many years. Here you can find plenty of cheap accommodations, Internet cafes, currency exchange, laundry and courier services, trekking equipment stores, restaurants that serve burgers, pizza or Japanese bento boxes, you name it they have it. Many travelers heading to India, South East Asia, China or within Nepal would stop here to rest and replenish their supplies. This is also the meeting point of many mountain climbing and trekking expeditions to the Himalayan range such as Mt. Everest. In fact a few travel mates I met in Kathmandu were helicoptered out from Mt. Everest Base Camp with two bodies of climbers who died while climbing the highest mountain in the world. There was also a man staying in the same hotel as me with very visible injuries to his face, a result of frostbite from another climbing expedition.

A few streets from Thamel is an area called Old Thamel. I wandered into the narrow and winding streets of Old Thamel on a hot and humid day in May. The streets were tangled with pedestrians, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, street hawkers and shops, and the air was filled with the honking sounds of vehicles and the smell of spices, dust and gasoline fumes.

As people and vehicles came towards us from different directions, I tried to keep a close pace with my friends while captivating all that was evolving around me. While gazing upon the spider web of wires and telephone lines that hovered over my head, I didn’t even notice the tuk-tuk that had almost hit me until my friend pushed me to the side.

Old Thamel is indeed old. The poorly maintained yet still occupied historic architecture seem to be in dire need of repair. But even with its weathered round dormers, exposed brick walls and battered carved wood windows, one can still grasp the charm in its heydays with a tad of imagination.

The population of Nepal consists of approximately 70% Hindus, 20% Buddhists, 5% Muslims and 5% Christians. Within a short walk in Old Thamel, there is no short of Hindu temples and Buddhist Stupas with prayer flags flailing in the air.

The Thamel area is considered safe for foreigners, although my roommate did witness a crime right in front of our hotel around 6 pm on May 25th, 2012. A few men attacked another Nepali man with a machete. On that date, I was trekking in the nearby mountains of Kathmandu Valley and luckily avoided this horrific scene. Below is the urgent message she sent me that day:

“I’m so sorry this has to be my first email to you but I’m very worried
about you!!
I was leaving the hotel today on the way to the airport, we had just
pulled away when the driver and I heard horrible screams from a man.
The driver backed up the car to the little “alley” just beside the
hotel (the one before). We saw a man being held down by 2 – 3 other
men and there was another man with a machete cutting off his leg. I
won’t give you any details to what I actually saw as you don’t need
I am sick with worry for you !!! please keep in touch so I know you’re safe!!!”

There were rumors from the staff of my hotel about who was attacked and why. They assured me that it was a gang fight, and those gangsters would never touch foreigners. In fact I never felt in danger while in Thamel. Of course a traveler needs to exercise his/her own common sense regarding safety, because there are dubious characters everywhere. But I feel that it is safe to travel and stay in Thamel and I am heading back there in 2 weeks!

I hope you will enjoy the photos below. Feel free to drop me a line about traveling and staying in Thamel, Kathmandu.

Among the many food products that are being sold in Old Thamel, there are locally grown green vegetables and potatoes, imported spices from India and fruits from China.

Dal Bhat is a staple Nepali dish. It consists of vegetable curry, lentil soup and rice. You can also have Dal Bhat with chicken, fish or other types of meat. The way to eat it is to take a spoon full of each item including the lentil soup, mix them well with rice before devouring it. Make sure to ask for more if you are still hungry after emptying your plate. It is ok to ask for seconds at no extra cost!

Dal Bhat is also a healthy dish. The widely used turmeric powder in the cooking process is a natural antibacterial, anti-inflammatory agent that decreases the growth of cancer cells. Some people also use it to disinfect cut wounds and to treat common colds. One Nepali man claimed that along with other spices, it can be used to prevent Malaria and to serve as a natural mosquito repellent.

The picture below is Dal Bhat with chicken. On the right are vegetable curry, chicken with tomatoes and salad; on the left are rice and a piece of poppadom. The lentil soup is on the far right corner.

A less extravagant vegetable Dal Bhat I had in the countryside. The lentil soup is prepared with local greens and served with cauliflowers and homemade pickled vegetables. It was surprisingly appetizing after mixing it all with rice. I could not resist, I had to ask for seconds.


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