This Christmas reminds me of old days when we used to celebrate Christmas in thamel, Jesus birth anniversary, celebrate the day with a big bang, Didn’t know why people in Nepal celebrate this day in a country where the major religion are Hinduism and Buddhism, I enjoy this occasion because I was a party animals, and best opportunity to flirt with white woman which was my favorite sports. In those days thamel wasn’t that’ over crowded places, Not so many massage parlors cum brothels or strip teasers club exist, no criminals activities or gangs of hoodlums wander around the street.
In short’ thamel was a best place to stroll around especially at night, with full of peacefull tourists and thamels local guys and only few outsiders. Seating in a garden of spamsport pub own by Irish gentleman. listening to live band singing Eagles track, sipping ram & coke my favorite drinks of yesteryear, but today I’m sober since 7 years , There are other good bar and restaurant in thamel which still exist, to name a few, tom & jerry, pub maya, pumpernickel, K Cs, road house, yinyang, and ram doodles. those days thamel was most peacefull location in ktm, I still recall the streets of thamel where I learn to ride the bicycle and after couple of years motorcycle.
These are my sweet memory with the downtown thamel. we used to call it heaven on earth….! Today thamel has turned into a red light area with over populated with peoples and vehicles. Today thamel is importent junction for call girls, collage sluts, swingers, strip teasers, he lady prostitutes, and all the alcoholic of kathmandu’s. These are what I encounter when I walk around the street of thamel, so partying in thamel is no more fun. — A Nepalese blogger reminiscing about his youth in Kathmandu
I remember Thamel long before a ‘spamsport pub own by Irish gentleman’ (whatever the hell that is) was even a concept and before ‘collage sluts’ had been invented. It was a sleepy residential district on the edge of the (admittedly very small) city.
I used to frequent a chang bar in a Thamel basement with my friend Ravi, who lived nearby (chang was the local millet beer, very cheap and very strong; it was often distilled into Rakshi, the Nepalese poitín). Afterwards, we’d ride my old Russian Ural motorcycle to a shack by the river, opposite the Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath), where Tibetans from Mustang served the most delicious momos (a Tibetan ravioli filled with shredded mutton, spring onions, ginger, chillis and coriander).
The Monkey Temple itself sat atop a conical hill on the opposite bank and the favourite pastime of the sacred (Rhesus) monkeys who crowded the hill was to mug the pilgrims and visitors who trudged their way up the (alleged: I never counted them) 365 steps, for food. 1500 years of immunity had made them utterly fearless.
On the night of the vernal equinox, the monks held a ceremony to celebrate the coming of spring. It took place in the hours before dawn and visitors were welcome, although I was the only foreigner there. The young acolytes of the temple had spent the previous few nights trapping fireflies. They must have caught thousands of them. The ceremony began with the lighting of crude tallow candles (a by-product of the water buffalo slaughter-house further down the river). Then the chanting began, with the accompaniment of small cymbals.
Finally, the long (6 or 7 ft) horns joined in. Following this, there was a period of quiet meditation with no sound but for the wind (and the gurgle of a pint-bottle of Khukri rum: what can I say? It was colder than a witch’s tit up there).
Then, at a signal from the abbot, the candles were all doused; another minute or two passed and at another signal from the abbot, the acolytes all opened their tightly-woven wicker baskets and released the fireflies.
The little insects swirled up into the night like a cloud of sparks from a large wood fire and disappeared into the dark. It was oddly moving. When the sun rose some 30 minutes later, everyone bowed to the abbot and to one another, hands placed together in the universal Buddhist expression of respect and then formed a long and orderly crocodile down the 365 steps to the river and across it homeward.
I was living in a room above the Yin & Yang Restaurant in Durbar Square. The owner of the restaurant and my landlord was my friend Trilugen, a soft-spoken, gentle man with a smile of ineffable sweetness. He was a hopeless businessman because (to his credit) he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in money. However, his hard-faced French wife more than compensated for his lack of avarice; but she wasn’t a bad sort and they were both exceptionally kind to me through the many periods when I was broke. Trilugen would lend me money and encourage me to try to repair my fortunes at the Casino (located in Kathmandu’s only ‘international’ style hotel, The Oberoi).
The casino was frequented by gambling-mad Tibetans, Chinese traders, Indian crooks, Thai heroin dealers, Australian remittance men, smooth young Portuguese gigolos up from Goa enjoying a well-deserved respite from their exertions and a shifting cast of hard-to-place shady characters who made a living off tourists.
I often did well, mainly because the blackjack dealers (the only game I played: roulette is for mugs) were reliably dozy and the other players tended to be passionate and impulsive: passionate and impulsive is not the way to win at cards. After a good night, I’d make my way back to the Yin & Yang, stop by Trilugen’s office, repay the loan and any rent owing, pay a couple of weeks rent in advance and invite him and Marie (his wife) to have dinner with me that night.
After an unlucky night, I’d go straight into the bar, which was opposite the restaurant proper, separated by a covered flagstone courtyard. A fountain stood in the middle of the courtyard in which a carved-stone goddess (Parvati?) smiled enigmatically as she played a flute and danced eternally. Trilugen would hear the barman greet me by name and would come out of his office, to find me gazing glumly at the goddess.
He’d light a Burmese cheroot for me, ask the barman, Mohan, to bring a bottle of rum and then, with my glass filled, he’d pat me on the shoulder: “Not to worry, my friend, not to worry; the wheel will turn again; always the wheel turns again…” and he’d give me one of his extraordinarily sweet smiles and invite me to have lunch with him. He really was a lovely man.
It was my habit on most mornings to cross Durbar Sq. to where the newspaper seller had his wares displayed on a cloth spread on the ground. There, I’d pick up The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu’s English-language daily. Published using the old hot-lead linotype method, it was a never-ending source of amusing misprints, malapropisms and mangled grammar. I’d then make my way over to Aunt Jane’s for breakfst.
Aunt Jane’s was a little bit of America in Nepal. The wife of an American diplomat had opened it in the late 60s and taught her Nepalese staff how to make brownies, pancakes, omelettes, club sandwiches, minestrone, banana splits, milkshakes and hamburgers. It was off the beaten track (most tourists never strayed far from A) The Oberoi, if they were well-heeled or B) Freak Street [Jochen Tol] if they were hippies) and I only discovered it through a Peace Corps pal who ate there three times a day when he was in town (the rest of the time, he was 200 miles away, up the Lang Tang Valley, teaching Gurung hill-farmers How To Win Friends and Influence People…or something).
The first time I went there I pointed at the menu board and said to my pal, “They’ve mis-spelled ‘beefburger’; it says ‘buffburger’…”. He grinned and set me straight: “No, it’s correct; that’s what they are–burgers made from buff…water-buffalo…”. And very good they were, too.
There was a large framed photograph of ‘Aunt’ Jane on the wall, freshly garlanded with marigolds. Apparently ‘Aunt’ Jane had died not long after leaving Nepal. In all the times I went there, the flowers on the picture of ‘Aunt’ Jane were always dewy-fresh. The place was always spotless and the staff were always in crisp, white shirts: ‘Aunt’ Jane had trained her staff well.
Two or three times a week, I’d stop by the fire-station on New Road. It was the only fire-station in Kathmandu and for all I know, Nepal. It contained one fire-engine…but what a fire-engine: a 1930s Merryweather & Sons of London. There were about a dozen firemen and they spent most of their time attending to the Merryweather: polishing, buffing, wiping, oiling and cleaning. It was immaculate, a vision of blood-red coachwork, gleaming brass and chrome and glowing polished oak-ladders.
The firemen were charming. The first time I’d walked past, the sight of that magnificent old machine stopped me in my tracks. Seeing me transfixed and enchanted by the Merryweather, the men invited me in, delighted to show off their pride and joy and happy to practice their English. They brought me masala tea and samosas and happily told me the machine’s history; how it had been a gift from the government of India to the present king’s father; how it had never actually attended a fire (they looked a little crestfallen at that but cheered up when I suggested that it was only a matter of time before the Old Palace went up in flames, it being mainly built of wood).
Sadly for less exalted residents of the city, the Merryweather was far too wide to pass through the majority of the city’s streets. The firemen were clearly sorry about that too. They’d have liked nothing better than to tear around town, bell clanging wildly as they raced to a conflagration.
But once a week, they drove the old machine down New Road to the palace and back again. I took to dropping in regularly and it wasn’t long before I was invited to join them on the weekly run. I still remember it vividly, standing on the running-board and grasping one of the side-ladders, waving back at people who waved at us as we sped down what had once been the city’s only paved road; people seemed to enjoy the sight of the old Merryweather as much as I did.
I expect it’s long gone; like the Kathmandu I knew.
Verse about places lost, please.