Surrounded by the majesty of the Himalayas and its awe-inspiring snow capped peaks or by the swelter of the rich fertile plains of the Terai lowlands where rhinos roam and tigers lie in wait, it’s easy to dismiss Thamel as a dusty budget-tourist trap. But Thamel has its charms and deserves love. In a way it’s like your first friend on your first day at school – friendly and uncomplicated.
You can’t form a first impression of a place from its airport. Nor can you from the drive into town from the airport. But our heads swivelled around in the back of the taxi anyway, as Khairul and I hungrily eyed up every street and store that we trundled passed, grins pasted on our faces as we excitedly pointed out things to each other.
In hiker speak, Thamel was the location of our first base camp when Khairul and I were there in December 2014. It was our introduction to Kathmandu and wider Nepal, even if it, like Kathmandu and most capitals to the rest of a country, is a complete misrepresentation of a nation. It was where we spent our first night in Nepal, the late night noise of revellers echoing up through the alley and in through our 5th floor window to disturb my sleep; where we ate our first momo and dhal bhat; where we first became part of Nepal and Nepal us.
Our travel agency, Mountain Guide Trek, through which we booked most of our 16 day trip to Nepal was located in Thamel, and so Thamel book-ended our hike to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and back and our exploration of Chitwan National Park.
After I read an unfavourable (and unfair I might add) description of Thamel as a “traveller’s ghetto”, I chose to make the beautiful and culturally rich Patan, located south of the Bagmati river, our base camp upon return, and I had no regrets, but we came back to Thamel on our own account anyway.
Click on any of the images in the gallery below to launch the slide show.
A dense configuration of architecture old and new, there was just no denying Thamel’s colour, the lively excitement of its maze of narrow dirt streets, its confusing mix of cafes and restaurants serving food local and international, its rows upon rows of outdoor gear stores, and myriad souvineers shops. In the day Thamel was dusty and hard working, at night it glowed with warmth.
I wished then that we had more time to spend there, soaking up the energy and the sense of anticipation and achievement countless hikers and gap year students on their journey of discovery (mountains or otherwise) must feel. Perhaps its was also that our last day there was cold and wet and hastily snatched between a visit to Swayambunath Stupa (also know as Monkey Temple) and a good nights sleep before our flight out the following day, that made me feel that I had more to do here….
As a tourist destination Thamel has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer but you have to love it. You have to embrace it as it does you. And I did. I do.