Inside the part of town where art flourished.
A lot of foreigners have been traveling to Kathmandu for a number of years now. But during the 60s and 70s, a different crowd wandered around the streets of Kathmandu. For a period of time, Kathmandu was the epicenter of the hippy movement in the east. Much like what Amsterdam is now, Kathmandu was equally well known back in the days.
A lot of them came here because pot was legal. It was like a little haven for foreigners. But that was not it. Many were here because they wanted to escape the surrounding they were in. They came to discover themselves, away from the busy western world. In the west life can get very monotonous, and Nepal was a perfect place to relax. The ones who came, travelled by road. They took boats, trains and busses to get to Nepal via Europe, Middle East and India.
Most of them who came to Kathmandu stayed in Jhochen or Freak Street as it’s popularly known nowadays. Back then these streets were buzzing with a many hippies or flower children. The came from all over the world. And that mixture meant Kathmandu had a diverse environment. They talked about a lot of issues. From politics, war, art and even spirituality – the conversations were never boring. Solely because the hippies were very simple and interesting people. Most were artists looking for inspiration. Some were rich trying to escape their normal life wanting to be free. Which is why many had very strange names.
Kathmandu was originally inhabited by Newars. And they have a very rich culture, which might have been the reason most the hippies stayed here for as long as they did. The locals blended in too, there were government approved shops that sold pot. Others used the pot to make cakes, teas and even candies. Many locals rented out rooms, in exchange they wanted to learn English or learn how to draw and so on. Which is why many locals in Freak St. have an American or a British accent.
But what they really brought was a different thinking. The writers and poets would sit around and share all their experiences along with their writing. They brought literature, art and music, a reason why most of us here are huge followers of Pink Floyd, Dylan Hendrix etc. This gave Nepalese a different perspective to life. Some of these cafes still have paintings on the walls done by the hippies which reminds us of their time here.
Ever since the government banned pot thanks to the Americans in the early 70s, things changed. The place changed. Now all that remains are memories as most of the hippies are gone. Some remain but they’re lost in their own trying to recreate the wonders of past. You still find some rebels here and there trying to light a bud but be sure, pot is a thing of the past and if a cop catches you, you’re in deep trouble.
The old coffee shops and cake shops have been turned into new bars and restaurants. Even though they’ve tried to preserve the essence of the past, but it’s not the same. However, you’ll still enjoy the place nonetheless. You’ll find a lot things here from handicrafts to colorful t-shirts to books. Most of the old houses have been turned into hotels and guest houses and there are also a few tattoo parlors around.
There is one place however that you must visit. The Snowman café which back in the day used to be pretty famous among the hippies. Though they didn’t sell any hash cakes, people came to enjoy the fresh cake and juice which you still can. The owners are friendly people who can tell you a lot more about what it was like in that time.
The earthquake did a lot of damage to Freak St., but most say the place is still the same. Most people I talked to mentioned how that era changed their life. After all artists like Hendrix, Cats Stevens, Santana to name a few were here for inspiration. Many fell in love with Nepal because of this place and if you do decide to come to Kathmandu you have to visit this place. Because sometimes it still feels like walking to a place stuck in time.