Having had your first experience of what’s it like being in Nepal, your taxi ride having given you an up-close contact with a knowledgeable Nepali taxi driver, you reach Thamel after driving down half of Kathmandu. You would probably have noticed that the traffic seems to be not that good, and that there seems to be a lot of people walking on the sidewalks. This is a constant of less developed countries, cities may seem to be sprawling and quite large, but most of the commercial places are located within certain specific areas. So, you’ll see many more people around than in cities back home, where buying groceries means visiting a superstore, probably a 15-minute-drive from your home. And of course, roads are not that wide, so traffic, which is growing in leaps and bounds, tends to be somewhat bogged down most of the time. In short, speed limits are not necessary here!
In due time, you reach Thamel, the tourist heart of Kathmandu, which is full of hotels lodges, restaurants and bars and cafes, shops selling all kinds of stuff, yoga, reiki, massage, and other health centers, and so on and so forth. And yes, plenty of tourists strolling around the narrow lanes and alleys. The interesting thing about Thamel is that it is located smack bang in the middle of the city, which means getting anywhere from here is a breeze. The restaurants serve all kinds of cuisine, local and international; the hotels are of all sorts, classy and economy. In other words, it’s a pretty convenient place.
Of course, you can expect the locality to be a bit of a strain, what with all that hustle and bustle all day, all night long, So, if you are looking for more peace and serenity, there are excellent hotels nearby that are safe, comfortable, and convenient, such as Hotel Shanker in Lazimpat, a stone’s throw away from Thamel. It’s actually a 120-year-old royal durbar that has been converted into a fantastic hotel with a sprawling landscaped garden with a great swimming pool and health club. Once, it used to be the favorite haunt of mountaineers bent on conquering Everest; their base in Kathmandu. Reinhold Messner lived here, as did Tenzing Sherpa. For the really intrepid traveler, this is the kind of hotel to look for, because it’s quite an experience living in an ancient palace, let me tell you! Once-in-a-lifetime, all right.
Actually, the whole locality of Thamel, Lazimpat, Durbar Marg, and so on are all situated around the central iconic structure that was once the royal palace, now known as the Narayanhiti Museum. While Thamel is the preferred watering hole of most tourists, Lazimpat is more upscale, with quite a few important embassies, and Durbar Marg (Kingsway) is an upper-end commercial center full of branded stores. Thamel, being most familiar with tourists, deserves a bigger description here.
On May 16, 2013, a fire raged through the famous Pilgrims Book House in the heart of Thamel. It claimed to have the largest collection of publications on the Himalayas in Asia, and was one of the capital’s important landmarks. A visitor’s words on a Lonely Planet site is pretty compelling: “Pilgrims was an incredible source of knowledge about Nepal as well as all things about the Himalaya…their own publishing outlet made available out-of-copyright books on the history of Nepal, Tibet, India, the British Raj, exploration, etc. What they had was irreplaceable.” Thankfully, although the main store is gone, there’s a Pilgrims nearby, also in Thamel. The locality is a magnet for tourists not only for such landmarks; there are many other places that are also quite well known. In addition to hotels, restaurants, travel and trekking agencies, and shops, Thamel also has quite a few stores selling and renting trekking and mountaineering supplies, as well as some places where you can rent high quality bikes. You’ll also be able to avail of some much needed healing done the traditional way at one of the natural healing centers here, and rejuvenate your flagging spirits with a couple of yoga lessons at a yoga school.
No doubt, Thamel offers much that the tourist seeks, and the fact that you are likely to make some good friends from around the world makes it indeed a tourist haven.