Meeting Locals in Kathmandu – Why Visiting a Local Hangout Makes a Difference

When it comes to eating and drinking, I’m all about visiting local hangouts and seeing local life in situ. Not only does this mean giving something back to the community but it also means getting to interact with the people as well as sample traditional food, drink and culture at its absolute best. Meeting locals in Kathmandu, away from the specific tourist hubs, has been one of my best experiences here so far.

In Kathmandu, local tea and snack houses appear almost everywhere. With doors not that much taller (if not smaller) than my mini 5”4 height and an interior no bigger than 6-8 squares metres, they are easy to miss. If stumbled upon, they are a delightful experience where you can tuck yourself away from the street chaos for a short while.

During a two hour Lonely Planet walking tour my friend, Tessa, and I were ready to take a break before hitting our end point – Kathmandu’s crowded Durbar Square. As a Brit this meant needing a tea fix, especially after discovering that they too drink delicious milk tea and Masala tea like in India.

Since we practically looked at everything in view (our walking tour actually took us five hours with added distractions) and as we loved being amidst the spontaneity of local life that emerged from every street corner and hidden alley, we were not ones to miss what looked like a simple yet well-established family-run business.

Situated on Kilagal street, which connects to the Pyaphal Tole street leading south to Durbar Square, the shop had no sign. All that existed was a little commotion, a few young children playing outside and an elderly lady sat behind the counter watching the world go by. But it was the young boy who caught our attention, whose amazing grasp of English and charm of a salesman resulted in us heading inside.

As two Western girls thrown amongst a group of confused looking locals (I gather not many travellers before us had ventured in), we never once felt uncomfortable. We were just as fascinated with them as they were with us, communicating only via smiles as we sat quietly sipping our tea.

The young lad, Ram, soon became our friend and told us his story. At the age of 14, he was working most days for his grandparents who owned the shop, joining his siblings and other family members in the venture but using the opportunity to practice his English. We praised him for speaking it so well and soon learnt that his time there was all a part of a big dream to better his life. You could tell he wasn’t enjoying it – looking around and pointing to the interior of the shop he simply said: “I don’t want all this. I want to be a mechanic.” He asked a multitude of questions about our lives – us having led such different childhoods- and we learnt from one another. We told him he’d make it someday for sure and to keep working hard and practicing English.

It’s pulled off already since the charm offensive worked – after paying 25 rupees (20 pence) for two teas and a snack, his grandma looked in disbelief and said “too much”. But you can’t fault the guy for trying – when did we ever have to work that hard as a kid?

So hard that we went back the next day. So hard that I want to share his story. So hard that I want you to visit when you go to Kathmandu.

Despite how it looks on the surface, many people in Nepal live in poverty and are still recovering from the instability of its turbulent political past. Visiting a local business set up can make all the difference, whether you are over-charged or not – but let’s face it, you can’t argue with a few pence! You never know, you may end up getting a real insight into local life and the new generations emerging from this developing country, just like we did. So much so that we almost pop in every local tea house we see.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Lovely post! I’d love to have the chance to add Nepal to my list of places visited. I agree that getting to know the local people is really what helps you know and understand a culture.

    • says

      I’m at my most happy when I stumble upon these situations. Just to have a moment to evaluate your life in relation to others and to understand people better. You must add Nepal to your list – it’s beautiful and a very interesting place.

  2. says

    I love moments like this when I travel. Good on you for picking such a remote place and not being put off by the discomfort of a language barrier. I hope this kid achieves his dreams.

  3. says

    I’m heading to Kathmandu next May before setting off on the Everest Base Camp trek and this is exactly the sort of experiences I want to have, away from the usual tourist haunts. Thanks for your insight.

  4. says

    Lovely Post. We frequently hangout in Durbar square and have tea there. Btw, I just happen to see your Tweets on Twitter, hope to read blog about Zipline, paragliding, rafting very soon. Enjoy. :)

  5. Kev says

    Hey Becs….

    Reading your story has brought a smile to my face. I can imagine these are the things that you’ll remember, something that really touches your heart. As westerners we have no idea of struggle to live one’s dreams. Ram should be an inspiration to us all. I hope he achieves his dreams of becoming a mechanic. If i go next year, I will certainly try and visit.

    Thank you for sharing the story……Look forward to seeing more :)

  6. says

    Jealous of your travels in that region. I haven’t been able to get there yet and its a huge hole in my travel resume. Really lovely story and inspiring me even more to go — and I already had a lot of inspiration (though not a lot of time, alas).

    • says

      I’m in love with Nepal and if I didn’t have commitments (and a huge love for) Cambodia, I would still be here. It really is an amazing place. Where else can you trek, do adventure sports, go to the jungle? It has it all! :)

  7. says

    Lovely article. It’s so fun when you meet locals while traveling. I’ve been never to Nepal but during the times I’ve been backpacking in Thailand (actually, more so the most recent one), I found it relatively easy to find local hangouts. Although I didn’t meet too many people, I did eat some delicious food :)

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