Thamel Open For Business, But Will Tourists Show Up?



By Amrit Sharma

It’s been almost 2 months since the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal. All major relief operations are well underway, and life for everyday Nepali people is slowly inching towards normalcy. But with a lack of tourists in the country since the earthquake, many businesses are stuck with a difficult proposition – continue operations in Nepal, or shut down their business?

Thamel is Kathmandu’s popular thriving shopping and relaxing destination, for everyone from backpackers to international diplomats. Everyone who visits Kathmandu, almost certainly walks through Thamel.

Everyday the streets of Thamel are buzzing with everyone’s collective energy – the street hawkers, the shopkeepers vying for your attention, and also the laid back locals taking a break in the many coffee shops and restaurants.

Thamel is well-known for it’s hundreds of shops with meticulously designed mandala paintings, eye-popping embroidered clothes, and many gorgeous brass, stone and wood statutes. It’s also notorious for hustlers selling marijuana and hashish on street corners in low hushed tones.

But since the earthquake, the streets of Thame have been much quieter. They’re not quite deserted or abandoned, but they doesn’t feel like a flourishing and buzzing tourist destination anymore.

Fortunately though, the spirit of the entrepreneurs in Thamel is very much alive. Many business owners have cautiously reopened their shops, and are anxiously on the look out for the next tourist who may walk in to their store.

Michael Schmitt, a tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, walked through Thamel with his wife. “We had already booked this trip before the earthquake, and decided to come here anyway,” Schmitt explained.

“It’s quiet, but Kathmandu looks pretty normal,” Schmitt added.

Erika Keesee, a volunteer from in Nepal with the JRM Foundation, admired delicate embroidered skirts and detailed painting of mandalas by local artists. “These are beautiful. I can’t decide which one I want, “Keesee said, pointing at the yellow and blue mandala painting.

Today was shopkeeper, Ram Thapa’s lucky day. Keesee decided to buy a dozen paintings as personal souvenirs and gifts for friends.

Thapa was thrilled with Keesee, and said “This is only the second sale I’ve had all month.”

Thapa runs a small family-owned shop that only sells mandala paintings. “We’re hoping that sales improve here soon, but fortunately the demand for our products has increased in China so we have been exporting to them.”

The usual tide of tourists into Kathmandu has definitely taken a blow, but the trickle of tourists into Nepal is steadily on the rise. This week Nepal signaled to the world that it’s ready for tourists, when it announced that the majority of UNESCO Heritage sites are now open for the public.

Schmitt has visited several UNESCO Heritage Sites around Kathmandu, but was disappointed that some aren’t reopened yet, like the Changunarayan Temple.

“Everyday we see more tourists than the day before,” Schmitt added. “I expect tourist levels will rise back up to normal in a few months.”

In a country where tourism is the biggest industry, it’s not just the businessmen who are affected by the slowdown, but rather the entire economy. Local business owners must adapt to this post-earthquake reality and squeeze through 2015, and see what next year brings. They are holding their breath in anticipation for more tourists to visit Nepal.

Amrit Sharma is a Freelance Journalist and Entrepreneur based out of airport lounges around the world. He loves to travel, drink coffee and say “Why not?” Follow him on Twitter at @amrit_sharma

NOTE: Views expressed are the author’s own. Janta Ka Reporter does not endorse any of the views, facts, incidents mentioned in this piece.