Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 1 July 2012





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Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourism showpiece

Vibrant, bustling with life, bursting with colour... This is how one would describe Thamel, the popular tourist and shopping destination of Kathmandu, Nepal. It is an area that anybody visiting the Himalayan kingdom’s capital in the Kathmandu valley would not want to miss.

Jewellery in a variety of colours

Thamel, located centrally in Kathmandu, has been the heart of the city’s tourist industry for over four decades, going right back to the time of the hippie movement when many artistes came to Nepal and spent weeks in Thamel. Though some consider the area as a ‘ghetto’, it is described as a tourist haven by most low-budget travellers.

The narrow streets of the town are lined with small colourful shops selling everything from food and provisions to clothes, walking gear, bakery products, music, DVDs, books and handicrafts; travel agents and budget hotels are aplenty.

Breathtaking array

Pride of place is given to mountaineering and trekking equipment; there is a wide range of shops selling clothes, shoes, thermal-wear, rafts, camping gear, sleeping bags and anything and everything that may be required by mountain climbers, especially Everest climbers. Thamel is considered by the majority of mountaineers as a pre-base camp and is visited by most tourists who plan mountain-climbing activities.

Walking along the roads of Thamel, we, a group of Sri Lankan journalists taking part in a World Bank and Reuter Foundation media workshop in Nepal, found ourselves dazzled by the breathtaking array of shawls, carpets, woolen items, handicrafts and silk paintings on offer. The amazing riot of colour displayed by the Pashmina and yak’s wool shawls left us wondering as to which one we should finally settle for.

Colourful shawls dazzle the eyes

Pashmina from Nepal, which is said to be thinner, softer and lighter than pashmina from other parts of the world, is combined with silk, which provides durability and lustre to the fabric. It is then hand-woven into shawls, stoles and scarves. Machine-made pashminas are less expensive, but relatively harsher and rougher to the touch. Hand-weaving makes the material more dense, but lightweight and more comfortable.

Thamel’s polite, helpful and friendly shopkeepers beckon visitors to inspect their wares and are ever ready to give a good bargain. They are a pleasant surprise compared to the aggressive vendors in some Asian capitals where potential customers face a barrage of expletives if they inquired about the prices and decided not to buy the goods after all.

In that sense, shopkeepers in Thamel are helpful, but courteous and non-intrusive.

They allow you time to look at the wares before deciding to make your purchase or not. Their manner doesn’t intimidate visitors and the fact that most of them could communicate in English also helps.

Full wi-fi zone

A cycle rickshaw park

Thamel is not restricted to shopping however. It caters to every need of tourists through the many foreign exchange booths, pubs, clubs, travel agents and guest houses. The area was declared a full wi-fi zone in September 2011.

The Thamel Tourism Development Council was established in 1989 with a group of tourism-related businessmen and local householders devoted to the institutional development of the industry in this area as well as the rest of the country, to better organise the tourism activities of the city and support the tourism industry of Nepal. Thamel generates substantial revenue for the kingdom as a leading tourism destination. Over 2,500 businesses operate in the area providing various tourism-related services.

It is also home to a variety of restaurants and coffee shops offering a diverse range of cuisine from around the world at reasonable rates. Despite facilities such as air-conditioning being unavailable due to the severe power cuts experienced in the country, the staff try to make up in every way possible in their friendly and courteous manner. The police are a constant presence in the area to maintain law and order.

Those who are weary after all the walking and shopping can hire a cycle rickshaw, found all over the town. They have their own parking area as well where one can see a variety of gaily-decorated rickshaws awaiting customers.

If one can brave the dusty streets of Kathmandu, Thamel is definitely a site of attraction for anybody visiting Nepal’s capital city in the valley.



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