Exploring Changing Alleys

Where am I Issue 219 Feb, 2020
Text by Suyasha Shah


I take a right from a wide and busy Kathmandu road, and stand at the beginning of a narrow stretch of road, wider than the gullies of New road and Ason, yet cramped. I pass by an elderly couple weeping outside the police station. It’s not late in the evening but its quite dark and I can feel my hands getting colder. As I’m walking, I can see local restaurants and small shops on both sides of the alley. Some shopkeepers sit on a bench outside their shops chatting with their friends and some are inside their shops scrolling on their smart phones. I can see many tourists walking around. There is a noise once in a while, ah, it’s the noise a sewing machine makes; I realize there are a number of small shops that sell sewing items, buttons, zippers and whatnot. I’ve heard there are a lot garment factories nearby. And these shops also sell bohemian pieces, patches and t-shirts with pictures that describe Nepal.

A few students are coming out of a school, which takes me back to my school days when passing the SLC was the only thing my teachers, friends, parents and to some extend me, cared about. How that one year of grade 10 decides what you are supposed to study and not, completely neglecting what interests you and what you are good at.

The stretch is very busy and it’s very easy for vehicles to get stuck in traffic. I’m very excited to see the school friends whom I’m meeting after a very long time. I increase my pace without paying attention to what is happening around me until I reach a junction. As I am about to take a left that leads me to the restaurant where my friends are waiting, I look to my right and realize that the bright alley wasn’t always like it is now. I’m standing here on the side walk and I can hear loud music that one of the restaurant is playing. Suddenly, I feel pulled into the gully. Subconsciously, I know I’m already late and I should head to my friends but the next thing I know I’m already walking into the alleyway. This is an area I have visited often in my childhood because my mother had relatives living here. Despite so many restaurants in the neighborhood, it used to be a dull yet peaceful residential area. There used to be a wooden house with a big garden where I spent entire afternoons playing with my cousins. But now I can only see multiple storied concrete buildings. There are numerous vendors on both sides and many travel desks around. Once a peaceful neighborhood is now filled with backpackers and accommodations for them. I hear indistinctive chatter and I notice a huge wall built with colorful holes on it. Oh! It’s a wall climbing center and there are a few harnessed kids trying to climb the wall with their parents rooting for them.

At the end of the road, it goes downhill and I can see a signboard, with a name written in big bold letters and a pinnacle and red cloth from one end to the other like the edges of temples have. The sign drew me in: the tall compound wall on the right has colorful graffiti on it and I see bright yellow lights at the end of the alley. I enter the premises and a young boy greets me with a big smile as I walk down to the café area. I can hear soft jazz playing in the background and only tourists seem to be around. Across the café is souvenir shop, and a building behind it looks like tourist accommodation. I turn back to find a place to sit and there I see a huge lakhey painted on a wall; the artist has used fur and ropes to give it a 3D look. I wonder what the place is and step down to another level of the property where I can see more tourists enjoying themselves. On the left, there is a petite fountain and to my surprise a tattoo shop also, while on the right are seating areas and hammocks. Tourists who are reading books and enjoying their coffee while others are having conversations with each other. There is a field on the next level where I can see a badminton net tied across and football posts. There is one more building below the field that must be offering more guest rooms, and people are meditating and practicing yoga on its terrace, with a superb view of Swayambhu hill in the distance.

Suddenly, I feel my phone vibrating, my friend is calling me. “I’ll be there in 5 minutes,” I say. On my way out, I feel like I haven’t explored the place enough; I’ll have to come back soon. Again, the boy at reception smiled at me while catering to a group of tourists with muddied trekking bags. More exploration is needed for what was once a quiet, dull and peaceful area.