The Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams, and the Indra Chowk are attractions in Kathmandu of a very different nature. The Thamel district has been a magnet for all foreign visitors for more than four decades. It is crowded, noisy and full of shops and restaurants. To the south we find the even more crowded and noisy market streets around Indra Chowk. The Garden of Dreams offers a quiet escape from all of this.
Even if you are not staying inside the Thamel you are bound to pay a visit or two into this maze of narrow alleys and not so narrow streets of Kathmandu’s centre of tourism. Since the days of the hippies, the Thamel district has served as The hotspot for foreign visitors to Nepal. The noise from cars, motorcycles, rickshaws and eager salespeople will make you confused. You are drawn into it and will spend your first hours just walking around trying to figure out what all the fuzz is about.
This is a commercial district with all kinds of shops. They offer food, souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, electronics, trekking equipment and a lot more. Hotels, guesthouses and restaurants are a-plenty. In addition, it is crowded. When I arrived from a week in peaceful and quiet Bhutan, the land of gross national happiness, Thamel came as a culture shock.
As the days went by, I managed to get a notion of what Thamel was about. I went on sightseeing excursions to the cultural and religious highlights of Kathmandu and the valley. In between I had plenty of time on my own. So I ventured further and further away from my hotel at the centre of Thamel.
Commerce. The stores mainly cater the trekking people who have booked trips to the Everest Base Camp or any of the other places of interest in the Himalayas. Numerous shops were selling boots, clothes, backpacks, tour tickets and the like. There are a number of locals in the streets, but the buyers seemed invariably to be people like me: foreigners.
On first thought Thamel seemed like crowded India in miniature. On second thought it was not. So I kept expanding my circles, north, west and then south from my hotel. On foot of course. Then I discovered Indra Chowk.
Indra Chowk is basically a square where six streets meet. The junction is found south of Thamel and north of the Durbar square. I had been showed around that square (upcoming chapter) and was guided into this wonderful area of small temples, street stalls and small shops. I dismissed my guide after getting my bearings right and suddenly found what the locals where looking for: affordable goods at local prices.
Now, if you are Nepalese and need new shoes, clothes, pots, pans, vegetables, meat and more, this is where you go. If not, wander around, stop at a corner and watch how everyday life in Kathmandu unfolds. Take a notice of the buildings, of the spaghetti electric wires, the bargaining, and so on. This part of town is even more crowded, but still it seems natural and logical given the size of the population here. I came to remember that Bhutan not even has a million inhabitants, Kathmandu alone has more – and Nepal has 28 million altogether.
The Garden of Dreams
Located right on the edge of Thamel the Garden of Dreams parks the rest of the world outside the moment you leave the gate behind you. It is so quiet, so lovely and so different from anything else that you immediately believe you have entered the garden of Eden.
It was a field marshal named Kaiser Shamser who built the palace and the garden in the 1920’s. He was inspired by Edwardian estates in England. After years of neglect and deterioration the garden has been restored to its former glory in recent years, but only on half the area once covered. Still, walk around and look at the pavilions, fountains and lawns. Young couples come here for an afternoon romance, groups relax on the lawns or under the pergolas. I had a coffee and cake at the restaurant. Such a place, full of tranquillity and so completely set apart from the rest of the ordinary world outside, is hard to come by, anywhere.
Sleep and eat
In Kathmandu I stayed at the Holy Himalaya Hotel in Thamel. It was picked by my travel agency and was quite alright with a good location. There are two restaurants I would like to recommend. One is the Typical Nepali Kitchen, the other is the Atithi Satkaar Restaurant. Both are good value, budget cost restaurants serving Nepali food. The latter also includes a show with local dances. If you would like a very good Italian pizza, seek out the Fire and Ice Restaurant nearby.
The map below indicates the places I visited during my stay in Nepal. Most of the days were spent in and around the capital of Kathmandu. I also went down to the Chitwan National Park for a bit of jungle life. Zoom in and out as you like to find the Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams, and click the markers. You may also expand the map into a new tab.
This article is from my visit to the Himalayas. I flew in from Bangkok, spent seven days in Bhutan (read the first chapter from Bhutan) and then took a flight to Nepal for another week. The overall schedule is introduced in an article called The outline of a visit to the Himalayas. These are the posts from Nepal:
- Inflight views of the Himalaya mountain range
- Kathmandu’s Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams (THIS)
- Kathmandu’s historic districts and temples
- The former city-state of Patan
- The beautiful town of Bhaktapur
- Jungle life in Chitwan