Mandala Street Kathmandu, rebuilding an ancient city the right way …

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 26th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
The new Mandala Street in Thamel Kathmandu, Nepal

The new(ish) Mandala Street in Thamel Kathmandu, Nepal

Rebuilding the old world city of Kathmandu

Nobody I know likes Thamel if they live in Kathmandu. It’s a clustered tourist zone. Filled with travel agents, trekking stores and over-priced souvenir shops. And it is a traffic nightmare. We all avoid it. The local government has been gridlocked in a debate about pedestrianizing the main streets here for years. I imagine it will not happen for many more years. Nepal is a country of protests. If it’s not the students complaining they can’t get to school by closing off  Thamel then it’s the local businesses complaining about not being able to get deliveries. In Nepal riots and protests rule. But here, like in many places, money talks faster than councils and governments. And so far, money has done alright to preserve this section of Kathmandu.

Old buildings in Kathmandu endangered by profit

Kathmandu is truly an ancient city. As such many of the buildings here are falling apart. Red sandstone and carved timbers decorate so much of the old sections of the city it gives the impression of living in a different time.

Kathmandu has a soul and personality like no other city I’ve been too

Old street in Kathmandu vs ....

Old street in Kathmandu vs ….

Refurbished Mandala street in Kathmandu Nepal

… vs new Mandala street

But time itself along with pollution and a gross lack of maintenance is beating down these old buildings. Rumors has it that some large Korean and Chinese investors want to knock most of Thamel down and rebuild it into modern-day apartment blocks and shopping centers. A travesty if it becomes a reality. Where’s UNESCO when you really need them to preserve a place? I guess they don’t do that. They only seem to kick off the nightmare. It’s already a tourist nightmare so making the whole old Newari area of Thamel a “protected/designated” historical site would make no difference in that regard.

Mandala street may hold the answer

Mandala street is a side street in Thamel linking two of the main roads that form Thamel. When I was first here I avoided it due to the crowds, rampant motorbikes, cars, cows and the odd stoned hippie. The old red stoned buildings were falling apart and the street was like the rest of Kathmandu’s Thamel area. Ancient but in need of restoration. That was then. About two years ago it was completely rebuilt and pedestrianized by a group of private investors. Unlike the rumored Korean / Chinese mass demolition. Someone here has invested a lot of time and money into recreating the old look of Kathmandu. And quite frankly it’s quite nice.

New Mandala Street

The bricks are new. There are newly recreated Newari carvings and stone designs that match the old world feel of Kathmandu. The stores are bright and there’s even a public toilet here! What’s more, no traffic! Well, nearly.

Only in Nepal can you have a pedestrianized zone with an underground car park built at its center.

Come closing time the odd “big man’s” car is also seen picking him up too. But it’s as close to pedestrianized as you can get in Nepal. The result? It’s a milestone in the development of Kathmandu city.

Mandala streets biggest hurdle

New wall, new statues along Mandala Street Kathmandu

New wall, new statues, well maintained, is this the right way to rebuild Kathmandu?

The stores on Mandala street are not bargain basement trekking stores and the like. They are a mix of expensive restaurants, cafes, beauty salons and bars. This is not the place to come looking for a bargain. The people I see frequenting the stores are surprisingly not tourists. They are the rich up and coming Nepalese. Yes, there’s a tourist crowd too. But the more affluent students, moms and business types that like to be seen are here en-masse. Whether this is enough to sustain the guards on duty and 24/7 backup generators I don’t know. But, I think it just might.

Private investment vs Government vs Overseas influence

I don’t know the dealings behind Mandala street. Indeed, I don’t think I want to know. What I do know is that for a city grid locked on developing itself in haphazard baksheesh way. The previous idea of letting property buying overseas investors buy up all the land and then destroy truly ancient and characteristic buildings is to me a nightmare of soul-destroying proportions. We are talking Asian foreign developers here too. The type that can’t officially own land.

So they have a son or two marry locals. Have a baby. And bingo you have a Nepalese family that can own land.

Mandala Street: the start of something good or …

What’s happened on Mandala street is that people took the time to rebuild these old building in line with the surrounding Nepalese architecture and design.

New Mandala Street in Kathmandu

Welcome to Mandala street, apart of the new Kathmandu old world style

Sure the upper crust architects and historian’s are getting up in arms over it not being “exactly” like the old building. But it’s sure a lot better to look at than yet another protest, waiting for the city politicians to wake up, or a mass demolition of history to make way for giant Chinese apartments and malls. The question remains: is this an example of trying to preserve historic buildings? Or was it built purely to get a foot in the door for complete expansion of the aforementioned apartments and malls?

The battle for the soul of Kathmandu city

It’s not often I give credit to profiteering business types. But for the sake of preserving the old world feel of Kathmandu what’s happened to Mandala street is a lot better than leaving it the way it is. Or knocking it all down. I only wonder if this style of restoration will be able to save the rest of this Thamel or if it’s already too late. Dare I mention the rest of the cities areas. There’s a battle for Kathmandu going on between stagnant government types, profit seeking property buyers, overseas property investors, local business people and those that rebuilt Mandala street. At stake is the heart and soul of this ancient city …


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Speak your mind, all opinions welcome - leave a comment below

12 Great responses to Mandala Street Kathmandu, rebuilding an ancient city the right way …

  1. Jan says:

    There’s a big difference in those to photos. I think rebuilding a place for tourist money can’t be that bad. So long as really historic buildings are renovated properly.

  2. Inga says:

    Why don’t they have funding to protect these old buildings? Surely the money tourists pay for visas can go towards this.

  3. Sophie says:

    So big business bought the rights to this streets culture?

  4. Andre says:

    Too many governments don’t do enough so big companies take over their role.

  5. I’m so happy they are saving it!

  6. Heather says:

    The bakery on Mandala Street became my favorite spot in Thamel, when I was there!

  7. Mrs Neupane says:

    Oh, I quite like Thamel, especially the very old behind-back of-back streets where there’s still ancient Shah buildings and traces of older stuff going on. But then I don’t really feel quite like a tourist – nor a Nepali – but as I dress as many Nepali ladies of my age (40′s) I get little hassle from the tourist side of things. I also get to blag my into cultural sites for free as we have a Nepali marriage certificate!

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