26 vivacity • april 2011 www.vivacitymagazines.com 27april 2011 • vivacitywww.vivacitymagazines.com
SSTREATS“Kathmandu has visual metaphors skidding off
its spaces tripping you as you walk the streets”.
model: bimina ranjit
photographer: rajiv shrestha
make up: sophie
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& ATMs. A show of almost cinematic delight, which
may bring to mind the ecstatic lines, said elsewhere, by
the film maker Sergei Eisenstein “utterly diverse stages
of culture, coexisting in the same geographical area, next
to each other…” the sights of Kathmandu streets may
too be just that!
How many cameras run out of memory on these
streets, archived in time! Spaces change shape like a
digital enhancement of images superimposed, lanes
become courtyards and doorways, houses change to
shops and road side tea stalls.
After a few unacknowledged pedestrian collisions
your look could be a mix of ‘what next?’ and a smile…
you have got it! Strolling in Kathmandu streets is a
pleasure if jostling with a diverse crowd is your way of
getting lost in it for a while. As a matter of jostling par
excellence Ason chowk, the granny of all Kathmandu
alleys is a junction of lanes irradiating like capillaries
around the iris of an eye, a sight bursting at its seams!
If you happen to walk here just after an early cup of
coffee, before the sun touches the tips of newari houses
rising out of a lack of space, you will catch flowers,
garlanded or scooped in handfuls, sold for a couple of
rupees to regular worshippers going to one of the many
temples in the neighborhood. As the day progresses,
flowers give way to vegetables, vegetables to motor
bikes, pedestrians and mounting decibels. Full blown
trade ensues. Rice, household rations, kitchen ware,
shoes, trinkets, vermilion…by evening vegetables are
back, reinforced. Most of the inside streets maintain
Kathmandu has visual metaphors skidding off its
spaces tripping you as you walk the streets.
The sight flits across street spaces trying to measure
by-lanes, defined beyond their boundaries with sounds
emanating from all directions.
The stride shifts to a constant side stepping among
sprawls of vendors making narrow lanes narrower, a
cocktail of smells from tens of ingredients, dried fish,
fresh dug earth gobbets sticking to green crunchy
vegetables, fermented bamboo chippings shoved into
plastic bags and incense sticks imitating a jasmine
temple balustrades, medieval palace squares, star hotels
“How many cameras
run out of memory on
these streets, archived
in time! Spaces change
shape like a digital
enhancement of images
and doorways, houses
change to shops and
road side tea stalls”.
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Some corners turn in towards nostalgic niches of
the 70s travelers, where the first flow of western tourists
known as Freak Street, in memoryoftheHippiecult.
The western budget traveler now locates at Thamel.
As streets changed so did the chillum corners, since
long replaced with cybercafés trafficking Facebook.
Exhausted memory cards plugged in, sending images
The streets in Thamel, with three-wheeled Rickshaws
an import from the flat lands of Nepal, ply a few selected
streets, ready to give an exotic ride to a visitor. Rows of
shops lined with hemp and cotton, loose shirts, kurtas,
and pajama trousers deliver the dress code for the
foreign traveler. Fusion and ethnic chic gain momentum
here.Pashminascarves hang with denims, Gucci glasses
with prayer beads, North Face jackets with Tibetan
ponchos. Strings of music float by. Bob Marley meets
Lady Gaga. You turn the corner and a smiling face
strings a folksong on the sarangi.
Among the jammed up cafes in the area, lie the
memories and mementoes of many mountaineering
A traveler captures life
in the dazzling bustle
of Thamel. Colorful
streets turn to a
glittering hew of neon
lights as evening falls.
Fusion and ethnic chic gain momentum here.
Pashmina scarves hang with denims, Gucci glasses
with prayer beads, North Face jackets with Tibetan
ponchos. Strings of music float by. Bob Marley
meets Lady Gaga. You turn the corner and a smiling
face strings a folksong on the sarangi.
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legends, from Edmund Hillary to Reinhold Messner.
Backpackers, mountain climbing gear and camera
of travelers about to embark on climbing adventures.
Among the hordes of motorbikes that weave the
juicy sekuwa, mutton meat barbecued, or wager the cost
of a return ticket back home for you and your partner
and sit at a five star hotel restaurant at the end of the
street, sipping a Camus Cognac brandy served direct
from a collector’s crystal container or sparkling Dom
Pérignon Champagne in elegant Baccarat crystal flute
glasses or perhaps aila, the festive liquor of the Newars,
ignited to a blue flame in tiny clay containers - besides
the one you swig off ! - as a mark of its potency.
Ethnic food vies with the best bakeries and fusion
takes the cake. Corner shops sell a variety of newari
food, Chatamari could give the Pizza some palate
ideas. A typical bakery café will go beyond baking
and serve momo, meat filled dumplings with the same
verve as fudge brownies. These bakeries acknowledge
the significant presence of expatriates over the decades.
Weekend organic vegetable markets bring the same
fusion of native growers and foreign buyers.
Kathmandu has its share of fashion statements, at
times bohemian, or aristocratic for an elite few, and of
course street smart, hip, peppered with young people
everywhere. The back drop of heritage sites, preserved
and honored by the continuous cycle of festival &
traditions that pay homage to them, is also frequented
on regular days by gadget touting college students.
Converse sneakers, denims, layered pullover jumpers
and T-shirts don’t stop one to mingle at ease with red
saried women reaching out for the same temple bells
for a chime of obeisance.
Saried or denimed, women are a very visible part of
the cityscape. A look at the street gives the impression
women are busy, bustling with handbags, on the move.
Flat-ironed hair, khol-eyed, jeans or a wrap around
skirt, walk besides pleated tresses parted beyond the
forehead with the red of sindhoor. The frequent splash
of red celebrates traditions, rituals, ceremonies and
a significant part of married life. Often the versatile
shawl, pashmina, Dhaka cloth, or anywhere in between,
becomes a scarf, stole or a tippet; And bangles, a plenty.
The attractive Haku Patasi sari a traditional dress of the
newari women , black with a red border, is more of a
sight in the traditional niche areas of the city and its
In the fervor of lanes and by lanes, with languid yet
incessant vehicles that run traffic at thirty kilometers an
for resting; these are the paatis, wooden pillared, bricked
or tiled porches, which sit like a moments of silence in a
and contemplates what passes by. You could sit here to
just see the city as seen by its inhabitants or see folks
from households around spread grains and temporarily
shelter them from a rainy day; or catch a local rock band
strum guitars for a local crowd!
Ancient palace squares, swallow many lanes,
assimilating them into their wide spaces, only to have
the sights from garden top restaurants somewhere in
the vicinity, with the blare of traffic wafting up to the
you may walk the streets to experience the occasional
coming across of someone you already know, a mark
of entwined lanes, merging into themselves.
Permutations of color, design and shape shift, style
marks the ethnic diversity and brings it to the stage of
streets. These are the trends to reckon with in a blaze of
fusion. Walk on! n