A Taste of Thamel Kathmandu

If a ski resort and a cow farm had a baby, it would look something like this.


Street art in Thamel

I kind of suck at traveling because I’m lazy. I don’t do enough research, or rather, the things I end up researching never end up being the things I see.

I like wandering around foreign cities and getting lost. As romantic as that sounds, I usually end up finding out about really cool shit after I’ve left a city, and regretting my complete lack of investigatory ambition.

I’ve been in Thamel Kathmandu for over 24 hours and have yet to explore the city at all. This is because in addition to the travel books I’m ghostwriting, I have a shit ton of other work that needs doing.

As glamorous as it sounds to be a digital nomad who’s location independent, at some point you have to, like, work.

After arriving in Kathmandu Sunday night, I have spent the better part of Monday and Tuesday holed up in my room at the Holy Lodge guesthouse, strapped to my laptop. The smell of incense wafts in through the screenless windows, and my thoughts drift from the article I’m writing on small business taxes to the wonders that await me in the streets below.

A dog digs through garbage just outside Thamel

A dog digs through garbage just outside Thamel

Harmonic motorbike horns and Western music serve as the baseline for the melodic clinking of hammers on asphalt. The exciting symphony tempts me outside – when my client set this deadline, he didn’t actually mean it was due today-today, did he?

Thamel Kathmandu is the winding, labyrinth-like neighborhood that’s one big eye roll for cooler expats living in less touristy areas of the city.

Last night’s saunter around my guest house revealed bustling streets filled with backpack-clad Nepalese students, backpack-clad backpackers, and a constantly changing mix of locals, cows, motorbikes, taxi cabs, and one mysterious, ginormous Western women adorned in a delicately woven head scarf, an Indian sari, and a menagerie of glittering jewels.

Delicious hygiene food!

Delicious hygiene food!

I’ve never been so struck by a stranger on the street. She was easily over 6 feet tall, built like a linebacker, with bright blues eyes and the confidence of a Greek goddess.

No one could have possibly stood out more amongst a city of Nepalese, who tend to be thin, chestnut-skinned, with willowy limbs and eyes that make you feel like you’re tumbling through dark chocolate.

The Goddess floated on top of the riveted gravel, her sari and veils clinging to her like she was born wearing them. I would’ve bet money she was from Cincinnati.

Thamel at night

Thamel at night

The temperature today is a balmy 65 F and I have to laugh at the images I had about Nepal before coming here – I had pictured myself leaning with all my might into icy, 90-mile an hour winds as I desperately attempted to navigate snow-capped mountains and shield myself from the blinding cold with a yak-hide Snuggie.

But it’s quite warm, the windows in my room are open, and the endless rooftops stretch out beneath the sun like lazy, belly-up cats on worn carpeting.

And yet there’s something about Thamel that feels like a mountain ski resort. If a black cloud of smog and a wild, meandering herd of cattle suddenly descended upon Vail, Colorado, it would be probably look and feel something like this.

After being in Thamel Kathmandu for 24 hours, here is what I’ve learned:

  • A “departmental store” is like a Nepalese Trader Joe’s, where you can find everything from peanut butter to face wash. The main one in Thamel is staffed with honest (if dreadfully bored) young women who are used to foreigners handling rupees like Monopoly money. The guy in line in front of me handed the cashier way too much, and I was impressed when she handed the correct change back without missing a beat. (What did I expect, that she’d pocket the rest? Perhaps.)
View from the Holy Lodge rooftop terrace in Kathmandu

View from the Holy Lodge rooftop terrace in Kathmandu

  • You don’t have to negotiate for most things. Prices are listed in convenience stores and on menus. If there is no price, you better ask before you buy or risk getting slammed after the fact.
  • A bottle of water should cost 20-25 rupees. Any more is a rip off.
  • Recent travel warnings having to do with violence in Nepal are complete BS. The people seem to be happy and peaceful, and I can’t imagine any sort of political demonstration impacting a foreigner negatively, except for some buses not running or shops being closed. The big red travel warning on Wikitravel has so far proved ridiculous.
  • You can easily eat for $1.50 in Kathmandu – probably less if  you’re more ambitious than me. I found a great little Indian restaurant called Sandesh Lumbini Tandoori Dhaba. It’s right in Thamel, about a 2-minute walk west of the Holy Lodge Guest House. I don’t quite know how to tell you what street it’s on, because hardly any of the streets in Thamel seem to be marked. Even if they were marked, they’d simply wind until they joined up with another street, and then there would be real confusion.
The best Indian food in Thamel

The best Indian food in Thamel

Thamel feels safe, even cozy, and while I’m not usually one to cower in the tourist part of town and surround myself with a bunch of other foreigners, being in Nepal for the first time is cause for major culture shock. When it feels like you’ve stepped off the plane onto another planet entirely, it’s nice to spend a few nights listening to bad Eagles cover bands and eating French fries.

Don’t be afraid to ease yourself in to another country – you don’t have to try all the crazy foods, become best friends with a local family, and volunteer to milk someone’s cow all on the first night.

Have you been to Thamel Kathmandu? What’d you think? Where do you go?

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, availableFebruary 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. A "departmental store" is for peanut butter and tampons, not for discounted work blouses.

2. Don't pay more than 25 rupees for bottled water!

3. If you're on a budget, grab a full (delicious) Indian meal at Sandesh Lumbini Tandoori Dhaba for $1.50.

4. Travel warning, schmavel warning. I traveled in Nepal during a time when WikiTravel said DO NOT TRAVEL TO NEPAL and had no problems (and saw no demonstrations, protests, or violence).

5. Don’t be afraid to ease yourself in to another country - you don’t have to try all the crazy foods, become best friends with a local family, and volunteer to milk someone’s cow all on the first night.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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