In the ‘60s and ‘70s, and sometime into the ‘80s, it was one of the most famous streets in the world. As well known as the Arc De Triomphe of Paris. It a less-than-one-kilometer-long street lined by old Newari houses, many of them having eateries (‘chai and pie’ shops), real restaurants, used bookshops and second hand stores, curio and souvenir shops, et al, to whet the tourist’s appetite, on their ground floors. Okay, but not much, is what you might be thinking.
But, wait, once upon a time, in the decades mentioned above, this particular street also had a distinctive aroma of hashish and marijuana wafting out of the chai and pie shops throughout the day. And, wait, this street would be teeming with flower children from all over the world. Besides many famous cultural figures of the time, the street also had a particularly infamous individual as a guest in one of its numerous guesthouses; the devil-incarnate himself, Charles ‘the Cobra’ Sobhraj. Yes, the very same poisonous villain who’s now spending the rest of his sinful life in the central jail for the murder and robbery of half a dozen or so young foreign girls in Nepal and India. Yes, in case you are wondering, his modus operandi was to poison unsuspecting girls lured by his Vietnamese-French-Indian mixed-blood charm.
On the other hand, Cat Stevens, too, spent quite some time living in a guesthouse in Freak Street. The famous singer, best known for the melodic song, “It’s a Wild, Wild World”, was a big fan of the Kathmandu of the time. He fell so much in love with its groovy culture that, one fine day, while having pie and chai, and obviously stoned out of his soulful mind with Jomsom hashish, began to scribble down some lines of tribute to this veritable Shangri La. This is what he wrote: “I sit beside the dark / Beneath the mire / Cold grey dusty day / The morning lake / Drinks up the sky / Katmandu I’ll soon be seeing you / And your strange bewildering time / Will hold me down.”
Titled, “Katmandu”, it went on to be one more of his many popular numbers, and perhaps was helpful in letting the world’s flower children, the hippies, know that Katmandu was where the action was. Of course, even before he sang this song, Kathmandu had already become an irresistible magnet that pulled youngsters of the time from all corners of the globe. Perhaps his song further validated the fact that there was no other place in the world that was as welcoming to hippies as Kathmandu of that time. And, invariably, the tide of hippies coming to Kathmandu along the Ankara-Kandahar-Istanbul-Kathmandu trail in search of hashish and nirvana were sure to make Freak Street their home for at least the next few months.
Another fantastic piece of promotional item of Kathmandu as a hippie paradise was a calendar that the most famous establishment in Freak Street, Eden Hashish Centre, published every year, and it can be assumed that it was one of the best souvenirs of for any tourist to take back. Mostly, the calendars would feature a colorful picture of some jovial looking god like Ganesha, or a wrathful looking one like Shiva, and the following words would be printed below them:
‘Late Us Take Higher’
Eden Hashish Centre
Oldest & Favourite Shop in Town serving you the Best Nepalese Hash and Ganja
Available in Wholesale & Retail
Come and Visit us for all Your Hashish Needs
5/1 Basantpur, Kathmandu, Nepal
If you want to see one that still exists, you’ll either have to visit eBay, where a few are still on sale for $32 each, or you could go to Himalaya Guest House on a side lane of Freak Street, one of the few surviving relics of that time, and ask the owner to show you one of these famous calendars that hangs on the wall besides the staircase. By the way, don’t be misled by the address above, Freak Street (Jhochhen Tole being its real name) was one of the highlights of Basantpur, the other being Kathmandu Durbar Square, which adjoined the Street. Just as a matter of interest, the abovementioned guest house’s owner’s daughter, Moni Mulepati, was the first non-Sherpa Nepali girl to summit Everest, on May 30, 2005. While on the top, she thought, why not set another record? So, she got married then and there to her Sherpa beau, Pem Dorjee, who had accompanied her!