Pedestrian passFreeing Thamel’s narrow alleys of traffic will rejuvenate its historical appeal
In a welcome move earlier this week, Thamel was declared a “vehicle-free area”. The benefits of such a decision are manifold. The streets of the largest tourist hub in the Capital will be offered a modicum of respite from the air and sound pollution that was choking the area whose history dates back to the late 1960s. The movement of tourists, Nepali and foreign, on foot will no longer be hampered by the constant, haphazard movements of vehicles.
It’s an important step toward reclaiming the open space that made Kathmandu a tranquil international tourist destination. This year, tourist arrivals have jumped 41.50 percent and expectations have pegged the total figure to hit the 1 million mark by the end of the year. Of course, many of these tourists head straight to the mountains after a brief stopover in Kathmandu and many others to such Tarai destinations as Lumbini and Chitwan. But many find their way to Thamel. Author Rabi Thapa describes Thamel in his recent book, Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu as an area that has changed from a hidden Shangri-La into a hippie Mecca, and further into a rather odd choice for a Stag Weekend destination. Thamel’s allure has withstood the tests of time, and such an initiative to free the narrow alleys of traffic will only rejuvenate its historical appeal.
Various stakeholders including local bodies, tourism entrepreneurs, Thamel residents and the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) are working to enforce this decision. Vehicles will be prohibited from plying a 120 metre section of road, from Prayatan Marg to Saat Ghumti Chowk, and Hotel Buddha to JP Chowk. Certain streets such as Sorhakhutte Height and Chhetrapati have been designated as exit ways, and vehicles can only move towards Thamel via Tridevi Marga.
However, this is only a pilot programme, and it is obvious that there are a number of issues that have to be ironed out if this initiative is to continue. Recent developments have proven reassuring, with the relevant authorities acting swiftly to address concerns raised by feedback. Vehicles used for security bodies, diplomatic agencies, tourists, ambulances, and fire engines have been cleared for entry into the restricted areas. And in response to consternation regarding the delivery of essential supplies within the area, Thamel residents who own vehicles have been provided with entry passes, and businesspersons and hotel owners have been granted the authority to acquire supplies by vehicle between 10pm to 7:30am. The MTPD has also managed vehicle parking areas at Lainchaur, Khusibu and Sohrakhutte areas.
The benefits of this decision are increasingly apparent and have set representatives from other areas like Ason, Indra Chowk and Bantapur clamouring for similar initiatives. Vehicle-choked Kathmandu needs to reclaim its old tranquillity. In the race for hectic modernisation, places like walkers-only Thamel stand as an oasis. It is no surprise that Thamel’s new open space has been followed by a huge sigh of relief. It is time for us to demand open walking spaces in Kathmandu and beyond.