Old Kathmandu

    11 Feb 2019
    Clock 50min      Length2mi
    0 ratings


    Old Kathmandu

    Namaste! Welcome to your tour of Old Kathmandu. If you've found your way to the top of Sohrakhutte, you should be standing in front of Shakya Pharma, looking down a steep slope to your right. Make sure you have a clear view of the junction below you, and allow me to introduce myself and your tour for the next hour.

    My name is Rabi Thapa, I'm a Nepali writer, and I'm delighted to be showing you around Old Kathmandu today. In fact, I'm going to help you discover an unusual part of the city mostly overlooked by guidebooks - except as a place to eat, drink and be merry. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, offers quite a bit more.

    So if you're wondering why you're standing over what looks very much like New Kathmandu, remember: nothing here has been the way it is now for very long. This is crucial to getting a sense of the Kathmandu Valley, which in its heyday comprised a trinity of highly developed city states - Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. They were ruled by the cousin-kings of the Malla Dynasty, who competed with each other to build the greatest temples and palaces and host the most extravagant religious festivals.

    Since that golden age, layers of unplanned development have smothered this ancient place. My objective today is to strip away some of these layers so you can imagine the city as it has been for much of its existence.

    So let's dive right in. Have a look down the hill. Right at the bottom, you should be able to make out a forked section of road clogged with traffic.

    Until half a century ago, the right fork was part of two trans-Himalayan trade routes intersecting in Kathmandu. This city, inhabited by ethnic Newars, was at the crossroads between India and Tibet. Sohrakhutte itself was named after a compact 16-pillar resthouse for travellers that once stood about 50 metres down the road.

    This junction was the last staging post before traders entered the city of Kathmandu. My mother and her 10 siblings grew up five minutes away in a large house surrounded by farming land. She remembers traders passing along the route, calling out for bed and board on their way to the grand bazaar of Asan.

    So think of yourself as a weary traveller, from lands afar, visiting the medieval Newar city of Kathmandu, seeking spiritual and material wealth.

    Start walking to the right along the busy road you have been observing the junction from.

    While you walk, let me briefly explain how VoiceMap works.

    It uses your location to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. This means that you can put your phone away now. Don't worry if I'm silent for a while, when I'm not giving directions or telling stories. There's a map on your screen if you ever feel lost, and if you do get way off track without noticing, VoiceMap will let you know.

    Keep going, and I'll tell you a bit more about Thamel.


    Thamel is known as a one-stop shop to streamline your Nepal trip, from trekking to thangkas to two-for-one cocktails. Too often, visitors to the district finish their business here and make a beeline for the UNESCO world heritage monuments scattered across the Kathmandu Valley. But in skating over the surface of the neighbourhoods in between the temples and palaces, you are doing the city - and yourself - a great disservice. It's useful, I find, to get a feel for the ordinary that made the extraordinary possible.

    Keep going.