For long a sleepy rural enclave, Thamel became one of the most celebrated and important centres of the counterculture movement in the 1960s and ’70s, and 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 by 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 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 flanerie, 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.