Our guide shopping, eating, pampering, a.k.a. spending money
Disparagingly referred to as ’ghetto‘ by some curiously twisted minds, Thamel has been the epicentre of the tourist industry in Kathmandu for over two decades. From cyber cafés to caffe lattes, singing bowls to sleeping bags, hashish to hash brown potatoes, you get them all in this tourist haven. Thamel is ideally-sized, ideally-located and ideally-organised to make it the perfect base from which the discovery of the 'real' Nepal can be planned. The ‘real’ Nepal is not too far away either. Some of Kathmandu's traditional, historical and cultural must-sees: Ason Bazaar, Durbar Square and Swayambhunath are a mere 10-30 minutes’ easy walk away. Amazingly, Thamel still harbours a vibrant ethnic culture, practised by its core population of the Néwar people who have been living here since time immemorial. Without any warning, elaborate palanquins housing clan deities, borne on the strong shoulders of festively inebriated devotees and accompanied by a discordant band, hurtle their way comically through the streets, disregarding traffic rules entirely. In recent years, more and more local residents from other parts of Kathmandu are being attracted to Thamel’s myriad attractions and services. The 'ghetto' is no longer the haunt of tourists alone, and is going native indeed!
The Paper Park, Thamel 01 470 0475
Has a range of delightfully colourful gift boxes, photo albums, stationery, etc. made of local Nepali paper. Amazing products at amazing prices.
Pilgrims Book Shop, Thamel 01 442 4924
This celebrated bookstore offers an extensive array of books to satisfy the most avid reader. Also has a crowded ‘souvenir’ section which can be a bit distracting.
Vajra Books, Jyatha 01 442 0562
Excellent selection of books, especially on Buddhism, regional art and history. Fiction section is across the road in a different shop. Also undertakes to mail your orders all over the world.
Saba Gems, Narsing Chowk 01 441 3319
Semi-precious & precious stones set in silver settings. Personalised service from Sahid. Bargain away, as is the norm in this part of the world. Reasonably priced.
Amar Prem, Chettrapati, Thamel 01 425 1933
Wide range of precious and semi-precious stones set in silver and gold. Well-finished and attractively priced.
Thanka House, Thamel 01 442 0266
Exquisite collection of thangkas, the devotional Buddhist paintings. Has a thangka to suit every pocket. A profitable place to try out your newly-found bargaining skills if you can outwit Surendra, the owner!
Fabulous Handicraft Centre, Thamel 01 470 1473
The elaborate gold-plated idols and statuettes are breathtakingly fabulous indeed. Expensive.
Tiger Rugs of Tibet, Jyatha 01 425 0650
Collection of old and new carpets handmade in traditional designs. Affordable fine quality.
Shona’s Alpine Rental, Jyatha
Shona, the owner, is fantastic at helping you to rent or buy the right stuff for your trek up in the Himalayas. And she ain’t expensive either. Closed from June to August.
Mountain Hardwear, Tridevi Marg
Authorised seller of all Mountain Hardwear trekking & mountaineering products. More expensive than other look-alikes you find all over Thamel.
Darjeeling lying just over the eastern border in India, it is hardly surprising that tea is also produced in Nepal. In fact, the tea grown in the main gardens of Ilam, Kanyam, Soktim and Antu Valley is noticeably lighter with superior flavour, colour and aroma to that of the more intense Darjeeling teas. Quality varies according to producer and inevitable seasonal factors.
Budhha Tea Shop, Shreegha, Naghal Tole 01 422 0929
High quality teas from Nepal, Darjeeling & Assam. Rajeev Singhal, the owner, very helpful with tips and recommendations. A must visit for tea lovers.
Yin Yang, Thamel 01 426 0478
A delight to dine in the small garden terrace that is infinitely more appealing than the first floor dining room.
Thamel House, Thamel Tole 01 441 0388
Beautifully maintained traditional house serving excellent Newari & local food on two floors. Well worth a visit.
Bars & Clubs
J-Bar, Tridevi Marg 01 442 2519
Modern, as in glass, chrome and marble interiors. Stick to straight liquor with mixers.
Maya Cocktail, Thamel
Laid-back bar with the best Margaritas in town, Latino music in the background. Serves Mexican snacks.
Charak Yoga Centre, Thamel 01 424 1771
Mrs Kamala Singh is a charismatic yoga instructor. Visit her studio to practise meditation, pranayam (breathing exercises) and yoga, to connect your mind, body and soul with the universe. Classes usually 11am-1pm, weekdays. Above Jatra Café.
Rest of Kathmandu
Mandala Book Point, Kantipath
Huge collection of books on Buddhism, Tibet and Nepal. Helpful owners. Will also ship your books.
Zeab Rose, Hotel Radisson Road 01 442 8497
Excellent quality leather goods in a dramatic range of colours. Will make bags, belts to order within 24 hours.
Marzan, Lazimpat 01 4442939
Design your own jewellery or choose from the interesting range set in gold and silver. Good prices.
Yasmine, Durbar Marg 01 422 7864
Owner Yasmine makes to order and has a line of her own distinctive designs in beautiful materials. Visit after 3pm to meet her personally for your fashion desires.
Sherpa Adventure Gear, Lal Durbar
Founded in Seattle, USA by a Nepali, the label has come home! Flagship store with everything you need to climb Everest, or just to strut around your neighbourhood!
Linen Club, Indra Chowk 01 422 2434
A fantastic treasure trove of fabrics: linen, cotton, silk and wool. Reasonably priced.
Wonderfabs, New Road 01 424 2250
Exclusive collection of dressy silk, cotton & linen fabrics. On the 3rd floor of Bishal Bazaar shopping complex.
Pashmina (or cashmere?)
Pashmina, the local name for cashmere, is the fine under-hair of the Pashmina goat. Shatoosh is spun from the under-hair of the Tibetan Antelope. This antelope is seriously endangered and production, purchase and trade in shahtoosh are strictly illegal in the sub-continent as well as in America and Europe. Pashmina, on the other hand, is totally legal and involves no harm to the goats. We recommend two companies in Nepal for their commitment to quality, innovation and good design.
Tara Oriental, Lazimpat 01 443 6315 Great selection of designer quality cashmere products from slippers and hats to chunky knit polo necks and silk-lined dressing gowns, all at unbeatable factory prices. They specialise in unusual weaves and patterns.
Weaves & Blends, Jawalakhel 01 212 1200
Using traditional craftsmanship, products are styled to captivate & symbolise contemporary spirit. The range includes cashmere accessories, home and knitwear.
Galleries & Museums
It has to be said that the hearts–known as durbar (palace) squares–of the three former principalities which make up the Valley, viz. Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, are living museums. Get up early and walk around, an atmospheric experience specially in the dense morning fog of winter, or in the lengthening shadows of autumnal afternoons. Browse through the bazaars; marvel at the overflowing mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables; duck into alleyways and hidden bahals, (inner courtyards) and make discoveries that guidebooks or even local people seldom talk about. In Nepal, religion, culture, commerce, politics, even domestics, intermingle freely for histrionic public displays. Don’t be just a timid bystander: jump into the fray as the Nepalis often do with untrammelled and uninvited enthusiasm!
Siddhartha Art Gallery, 01 421 8048
Situated in Baber Mahal Revisited, Kathmandu’s premier art gallery holds exhibitions of local and foreign artists regularly.
Park Gallery, Lazimpat 01 441 9353
Regular art exhibitions of mostly local artists. Also has an excellent framing department.
Kalinta, Nag Pokhari 01 444 2437
Exquisite frames, expensive. Also exhibits works of art. Lots of artistic knick-knacks for sale.
Patan Museum, Patan Durbar Square
A must-visit. A former Royal palace stylishly but sympathetically transformed into a very well designed museum showcasing the art and culture of the Kathmandu Valley. Also has a café serving snacks and meals in a tranquil garden courtyard. Considered one of South Asia’s best museums.
Tukuche Thakali Kitchen, North Gate former Royal Palace
Ethnic but somewhat dark décor. The food of the Thakali people from the high and dry mountains of North-West Nepal is very well prepared. Inexpensive.
China Garden, Soaltee Crowne Plaza, 01 427 3999
Interesting Chinese food in a very modern setting. A branch of the renowned Mumbai restaurant famous for its Bollywood patrons and Nelson Wang, the owner.
Nepal International Clinic, Lal Durbar 01 443 4642
Travel and mountain medicine centre. Efficient service with on-site laboratory.
CIWEC Clinic, Lainchaur 01 442 4111
Healthcare relating to travellers’ illnesses. Also has a dental clinic. Across the street from the British Embassy.
QFX Kumari, Kamalpokhari & Civil Mall, near Sundhara 01 444 2220
Kathmandu’s latest cinema heaven! If you want to know what Bollywood (i.e. Indian) films are all about, this is the place to make that discovery. Latest Hollywood releases are also screened in multiple theatres. Air-conditioned, plush seats and popcorns to boot! QFX Kumari is 30 mins walk due east from Thamel centre or a 10 mins taxi drive; QFX Civil Mall is 45 mins away due south or 15 mins taxi ride. Ticket prices: Rs 200-400
- Nepal, Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya & Nepali phrasebook, Lonely Planet editions
- Nepal: The Kingdom in the Himalayas, Toni Hagen
- Festivals of Nepal, Mary M Anderson
- People of Nepal, Dor Bahadur Bista
- Fatalism & Development: Nepal’s Struggle for Modernization, Dor Bahadur Bista
- Annapurna Circuit: Himalayan Journey, Andrew Stevenson
- Caravans of the Himalaya, Eric Valli & Diane Summers
- Mustang: A Lost Tibetan Kingdom, Michel Peissel
- Tiger for Breakfast, Michel Peissel
- Vignettes of Nepal, Harka Bahadur Gurung
- Travels in Nepal, Charlie Pye-Smith
- Nepali Aama: Life Lessons of a Himalayan Woman, Broughton Coburn
- Aama in America: A Pilgrimage of the Heart, Broughton Coburn
- Modern Nepal: A Political History 1769-1955, Rishikesh Shaha
- Imperial Warriors: Britain and the Gurkhas, Tony Gould
- Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy, Manjushree Thapa
- Patan Museum: The Transformation of a Royal Palace in Nepal, Götz Hagmüller
- Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya, Jamaica Kincaid
- The Face of the Tiger, Charles McDougal
- Birds of Nepal, Rober Fleming Sr, Robert Fleming Jr, Lain Bangdel
- Birds of Nepal, Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp
- Trees and Shrubs of Nepal and the Himalayas, Adrian & Jimmie Storrs
- Flowers of the Himalaya, Oleg Polunin & Adam Stainton
- Himalayan Flowers & Trees, Dorothy Mierow & Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha
- Mountain is Young, Han Suyin
- Arresting God in Kathmandu, Samrat Upadhyaya