Present day Thamel is a busy hub, where global trends from the world coincide with local and traditional cultures passed down from generations; it’s a beautiful confluence between ancient etiquettes and modern culture.
Thamel right now is a hub of pure dopamine-filled activities where every street corner, every shop, every restaurant is bustling with activity, and anyone who enters - tourists or locals - will have something new to discover.
But it wasn't always this way. The transformation of Thamel into a flurry of tourist destinations with cross cultural pollination between the locals and foreigners only culminated in the past three decades. Before this, Thamel was the backwaters of the city with little to no development with rural marshes and battered infrastructure. In its heyday, Thamel was known as ‘Tha Bahil’ with Budhhis Newars being its indigenous dwellers.
The only prominent sites of any significance in the city were the government buildings and the palaces that were built in the age of the Ranas. While many more palaces and lavish places were built, the general public were still largely unaffected and the places outside the royal residences and structure were still rural and underdeveloped. The roads were poorly built, there was no good infrastructure and everything resembled a small town you would see in the suburban outskirts of the valley today. But after 1951, when the Rana regime toppled, tourism started to slowly pour into the small community known as ‘Tha Bahil’. But the story of Thamel was just beginning as it moved on to the start of the Hippie Era.
During the 1960s and 1970s, two distinct types of tourists existed: the high-end mountaineers, alpinists and the budgeted tourists, hippies. This was when the first pioneers of the hospitality industry spread its roots in Thamel. Many people would rest and make accommodations in traditional Newari homes that were comfortable with hosting them. The main point of contact and community for the Hippies was the 'Freak Street' in Jhochhen. And Thamel was in the midst of this on both travel and recreational drugs, thus concluding the hippie tourism. In the 1970s, this began to change with the Nepalese implementing stricter restrictions on both travel and recreational drugs.
After this, the first pioneers in the travel and hospitality industry targeted alpinists and people interested in the mountaineering and trekking experience, the main focus of the tourism industry.
The tourist hub and the melting pot of cultures that we know as Thamel today was originating in the late 1980s and solidified in the 1990s as Thamel transformed both literally and figuratively. This was the time when the borders of Thamel expanded rapidly from the small settlement of ‘Tha Bahil’ to encompass neighbourhoods like Chhetrapati, Jyatha, Paknajol and others. Another major change was the creation and explosion of the nightlife in Thamel with many bars, live bands and dance venues. And the aesthetics and vibe of Thamel originally targeted to the foreign tourists, were now being visited more and more by locals too. The area also developed many businesses to service the tourism industry; numerous hotels, restaurants, luxuries, independent trekking supply stores and much more. The Thamel of today had taken shape.