Kathmandu’s umbrella street brings cheers and jeersWhile youngsters throng the street to take photos and video, residents face disruptions.
While the streets of Kathmandu reverberate with slogans against the Oli government’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives, a road section in the heart of the city echoes with laughter and chatter.
At the 150m-long stretch of road that leads to Sankata temple from New Road Gate, hundreds of cellphone-wielding youngsters take selfies, make faces, recite lines from viral videos on social media, and take turns to attempt popular dance moves underneath umbrellas with hues of yellow, green, blue and pink.
The “umbrella street” set up by Sankata Club and Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Ward No.22 office has become the go-to place for youngsters, especially those into making TikTok videos. The 420 colourful umbrellas that went up two weeks ago, attract more than 15,000 people every day, according to Ashis Man Singh, secretary of the club.
While the umbrellas attracted a lot of attention and even helped local businesses, many are concerned that things might be going out of control.
“We were confined to our homes for the past nine months due to Covid-19, and the present political situation has made things worse. So we came here for refreshment,” said Pratima Basnet, 25, who was there with her brother, as she prepared to make a TikTok video.
Basnet, like many others who came to the street to take photos and video, said she learned about the place from TikTok.
Susmitra and Rachana Dhakal, both of them in their late teens, came to the street from Kavrepalanchok to take pictures and make videos. “We have made three TikTok videos so far,” said Sumitra. “This place is really cool because the colourful umbrella gives you a different feel,” said the sisters.
But many people may not know the story behind the installation. “Actually we installed these umbrellas to invite more visitors as this place lost its life following Covid-19 pandemic,” said Singh. “We had never thought that so many people would come here.”
He said the idea came over a tea conversation and everyone agreed to it. A total of Rs 300,000 was spent on the installation. While the early days were fun, the installation is adding to the problems faced by congested alleys in the area.
“We are now facing a really difficult situation when it comes to handling this crowd. It has obstructed the movement of locals in the area, and we are concerned,” said Singh.
As the whole road section is filled with youths and video makers, some with selfie sticks, and others taking pictures in different poses, it has become difficult for people to even walk. It is all the more difficult for vehicles ferrying goods to pass through the road.
“It’s really challenging to handle the traffic here,” said Dambar Bahadur Shrestha, traffic constable assigned to look after traffic at New Road Gate. “I had never seen such a big crowd. This has disrupted traffic even at Sahid Gate and Ratnapark,” said Shrestha.
With this unexpected footfall, local traders are happy to see brisk business. “We opened our shop only in mid-July after closing it for our months. It was so depressing as no one would come here. But once these umbrellas were installed, from morning to evening this place is full of people,” said Rajan Jaiswal, who owns a paan shop.
“Now I have a minimum of Rs6,000 worth of business in a day. Earlier, I would hardly earn Rs500,” said Jaiswal, 21.
Meanwhile, public health experts are also concerned about the crowds gathering at the installation during the time of a pandemic. “It's a good place for catching Covid-19,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. “The danger is compounded with the rallies,” said, adding, “there might be superspreaders there. People must be conscious of it.”
Club secretary Singh said that he was more about controlling the crowd than the risk of Covid-19 transmission. “The government has reopened everything, including the cinema halls. There are numerous political rallies. So we are not worried that much about Covid,” he said. “We are worried about complaints from locals, and we are facing trouble moving around.”
He said the last resort to solve the problem would be to take down all the umbrellas.