Thamel, Dark Star of Kathmandu


For long a sleepy rural enclave, Thamel is today the beating commercial and cultural heart of Kathmandu—a dizzying square kilometre of hotels, bars, cafés, bookshops and temples to which visitors and residents gravitate, drawn to its dazzle and its possibilities.

In this unusual biography of the place, Rabi Thapa revisits the haunts of his youth. Tramping around its temples and monasteries, he unravels its layered history as well as the tales of the kings, monks and travelling merchants who laid its foundations. From residents—both Nepali and those who visited and never left—he pieces together the story of Kathmandu of the ‘flower-power’ sixties, the legendary Freak Street, and the rise of modern Thamel. On its streets he encounters the stories of glue-sniffing children, local toughs battling for turf, transvestite prostitutes turning tricks, and entrepreneurs looking to make it big. What emerges is a finely detailed portrait of a place that is not only a vibrant, ever-evolving reflection of the social mores of Kathmandu, but also an enduring staging post for Western fantasies of the East.

Written in the best traditions of flânerie, Thamel combines history, memoir and sharp reportage to tell the electric story of a place forever in flux, forever reinventing itself to suit the appetites and desires of those who seek it out.

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Take a walk through Thamel with the author:

Watch the multimedia launch of the book in London:

Read an excerpt here.

Read reviews below:

Soho of Kathmandu, by James Mcconnachie, Times Literary Supplement

Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu book review, by David Ways, The Longest Way Home

Thamel tales, by Smriti Basnet, Nepali Times

A Thamel state of mind, by Sanjit Bhakta Pradhananga, The Kathmandu Post

Book review, by Benjamin Linder, Studies in Nepali History and Society

Lanes of hashish brotherhood, by Shylashri Shankar, New Indian Express

Rediscovering Thamel, Dark Star of Kathmandu, by Atul Thakur, The Wire

Voices of Thamel, by Anjana Basu, Outlook Traveller

An ancient city’s beating heart, by Pradhuman Sodha, Hindustan Times

Speaking Tiger, 2016, 174 pages

Nothing to Declare


In the title story, Bikram achieves his most urgent middle-class dream; to emigrate to London. Young phoren-returned Nepalis hang out in the bars of Thamel in ‘Night Out in Kathmandu’; sharing tables with those who did not—could not—go. They talk about pretty much the same things: visas; music; booze; the impossibility of getting laid in the city. There are foreigners too; trekking on the usual routes; smoking cheap grass and looking for their inner selves. The Maobadis loom large in ‘Home for Dashain’; wreaking vengeance on behalf of the people. Though rarely mentioned in the city; they are ever present; invoked by the sad pole dancers in the more risqué bars and the transvestites pounding the streets looking for customers. And in ‘Aryaghat’; a Kathmandu family lays to rest the ashes of a Nepali boy who has committed suicide in Alabama. The sixteen stories in Nothing to Declare are passionate; pensive and at times disenchanted. They mirror the experiences of the middle-class youth of Kathmandu as they build lives; trying to make sense—and pushing the limits—of a rapidly changing but ever-conservative society. Vividly imagined and deeply felt; this is a brilliant debut.

Click to buy

Read an excerpt here.

Read reviews below:

Nothing to declare, Book review, by Saurabh Kumar Shahi, The Sunday Indian

In search of lost Kathmandu, by Stuart McCarthy, Nepali Times

No place like home, by Ranjita Biswas, The Hindu

Two small reads, ECS

I declare!, by Paavan Mathema, blog

Nothing to declare, Book review, The Hungry Reader

Nothing to declare, Book review, by Martina Nicolls, Martina’s Blog

Penguin India, 2011, 184 pages