During the 1960s and early 70s Freak street (Jhochhen Tole - झोछेँ टोल) became an incredibly popular hangout place for hippies looking for legal hashish.
During this period the Nepal government had legalized hashish in Nepal making it a nirvana of sorts for those seeking it. There were even direct buses from the airport to Freak street that bypassed popular places like Thamel and Durbar Square just to aid hippies in getting to the famous area.
After hashish was banned in Nepal (still illegal) Freak streets popularity plummeted. Trekking largely took over as Nepal's greatest attraction and tourists moved to the more upmarket Thamel area.
In recent years Freak street has been making a bit of comeback as first reported here on this website. New restaurants are opening up and there's a small "classic" revival for yesteryear taking place in Freak street which connects directly with Kathmandu Durbar Square. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these new businesses took a hit. Many are now catering to locals now, or closed. Due read menus carefully before settling on a place.
If you are visiting Kathmandu Durbar Square it's certainly worth taking the short walk along Freak street where there are still some old classic souvenir stores and cafes intermingled with new vibrant restaurants. There's also an eclectic selection of budget accommodation on Freak street.
Did you know?
Freak Street is the nickname given to Jhochhen Tole in the 1960s due to the "eccentric" characters that used to stay there. Jhochhen has several pronouciations - the most common is "Joe-Se" by non-Newari whereas Newari will often pronoucen Jhochhen as "Jos-Se".
In the 1960s marijuana was legal in Nepal and hippies on the famous hippie trail had made Freak Street their home. Pie and chai stores became popular hashish zones. Tourism was boosted and Nepal had a very popular chill vibe to it.
Then in the 1970s under pressure from the USA government Nepal banned hashish and even ordered a proper dress code for tourists. During this period hippies were even rounded up and deported to India.
A new tourism focus was put on trekking in Nepal and the vast majority of tourists stayed in the more trekking conscious neighborhood of Thamel.
Under such pressure the hippie culture flowed out of Nepal into India and Freak Street was left with little more than empty cafes and stores.
Even though Freak street borders the ever popular attraction of Kathmandu Durbar Square it never took off again as a tourist friendly area until around 2015 when a few new restaurants appeared.
Mulled by Thamel's increasing cost of living, budget tourists and backpackers are moving to Paknajol and those seeking to be around less tourists are coming back to Freak Street.
At the moment there's a push to forget the nickname "Freak Street" for the original name of "Jhochhen Tole". However as tourism trends ebb and flow the attraction of a bygone era may once again bring credit and popularity to the name Freak Street.
There's a mix of old meets new in Freak Street today. While it lacks big temples or mountain views it does offer a different vibe to Kathmandu.
Bordering Basantapur (Kathmandu Durbar Square) Freak Street offers an eclectic collection of cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and some interesting art works.
It's a very short street that won't take more than ten minutes to walk up and down. However many of the side streets branch out into parts of the older city which make for excellent heritage walks. Do read my book Kathmandu Valley Heritage Walks.
To many it may seem Jhochhen is "boring". But to others who know where to look it's like looking back in time. It's worth having a look at taking a walk down modern day Freak Street.
Freak Street gives better options to those visiting Kathmandu Durbar Square and are looking for a place to eat or have a coffee without all the noise and bustle.
For culture lovers there are only a couple of Buddhist chaitya and one Bhairab shrine along the streets. But there's also the old Eden Hash House (newly renovated as Eden Hotel) which was once the most famous "cafe" in Kathmandu. There's also the Snowman Cafe which hasn't changed much at all and is indeed like stepping into another era.
Budget accommodation is available throughout Freak street but there is no mid or upper range of hotels. It's a backpackers paradise if you are the type who wants to stay away from the bustle of Thamel and preferred more laid back lifestyle.
The Tibetan mask center offers one of the best old and new wood carved masks in all Nepal. The old second hand bookstore is the last of its kind here. While hooka pipes are meant to be illegal there's still a store selling "colored pipes".
There's a wonderful old carpet/embroidery shop halfway along Freak Street well worth visiting. It's an experience!
New trendy coffee shops are opening up every 3 months along with nice little budget cafes to sit and chill at for the day.
There's also a hidden heritage walk I write about in my guidebooks to Nepal which highlights this incredible blend of old eras mixing with the new.
It's all budget and old school accommodation along Street and the little alleys that veer off from it. Very few accept bookings from online. Yes, it's that old school!
- Eden Hotel is perhaps the most famous accommodation here which underwent an extensive renovation in 2017.
- Third Eye offer basic single rooms with hard mattresses but there are a couple of padded beds so check them all out.
- La Casa Lodge offers neat budget rooms right in the centre of Freak street that are certainly quiet at night.
- Annapurna Lodge have some nice staff and again some basic rooms. It's worth checking them all out to be sure of the best choice.
Freak Street's Restaurant scene has been on the rise over the past few years. Trendy new cafes and coffee shops are opening up on the small lanes off Jhhonchen. A few restaurants have had renovations and others are opening up in what may soon be the new hip area of Kathmandu.
- Felcha Restaurant is one of Freak Streets more upmarket and popular restaurants. They offer a number of curries, chicken filets and an impressive selection of local dishes.
- Keepa's Sandwich Point is the most popular sandwich joint in Freak Street. Grab any number of sandwiches or hot meals along with a cold drink to enjoy at one of low tables.
- Snowman Cafe serves the best apple crumble, among other cakes, in all Nepal. It's one of the few places that retains a 60s vibe and is well worth going out of your way to visit!
- Chameleon Diner is a favorite among young Nepali couples. So if you like to chill like a local then make your way there in the evenings.
Freak Street is shown as Jhochhen on many maps. Technically, according to the hippie era, it encompassed the whole area and not just one street!
The street referred to as Freak street is found at one of the entry/exit streets to the south of Kathmandu Durbar Square. Many maps mistake it for a small side street. It is the main road heading south. See the map below for more details.
For a much more detailed map with more hotels, restaurant locations and reviews along with a heritage walk see my Nepal or Kathmandu guidebooks below.
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