Many visitors to Nepal complain that there is not much to do after dark besides go to their hotel rooms to watch tv. But Kathmandu has a different kind of vibrant nightlife, people just don’t know about it yet.
We should be able to offer tourists and locals heritage walks by moonlight, dining under the stars, and night market shopping experiences in Nepal’s monuments sites. That would be one way to increase the time and money visitors spend here. Managed properly, this could be a real opportunity to extend visitors’ stays, enrich their experience and increase revenue from tourism, which is falling even as numbers rise.
In inner city Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan, bhajan groups are active all night, all year long. Night walks along the alleyways of the old town yield a unique experience of this culturally vibrant valley. It is a myth that Kathmandu goes to sleep early. In fact, it is a city that never sleeps. Devotional music, mask dances and chariot festivals go on till dawn.
Of course, the street lights need to work. Potholes need to be fixed, garbage managed, food and water quality assured. Designated parking and making narrow lanes vehicle-free would help. Emergency vehicles would be on standby. Electric two or three wheelers could help people commute to parking areas.
Mahendra Shakya, who now operates a chain of hotels called the Heranya – including one at Patan Durbar Square – says, “We have a world class city. What we really need to upgrade is the third-class services and infrastructure for the visitors.”
CCTV and visible patrols by the police will be needed. We may even need a night court for trouble-makers. All these mean more jobs and will be worth it because we can boost the revenue of the local governments. We can do a baseline and report trends in increased revenue in the days to come.
During the Rana days there was actually a night time curfew. The city has finally come out of regular power outages and we may soon have a bit of power surplus to push for increased demand. NEA should spend some of its profit re-investing in street lighting for additional revenue. After all, late night is when demand is lowest.
Sajha Yatayat can run special bus routes to and from heritage sites to tourist hubs like Thamel till midnight. Imagine the ride from Thamel to Bhaktapur on a well lit road in a clean electric bus, minus the traffic at Ratna Park, Maitighar and Koteswor.
The million dollar question is whether the local people, businesses, heritage site managers, security agencies and local municipal governments are ready for these longer work hours. It really means changing from a 10-5 job to putting in two shifts. One could argue that creating twice as many jobs would be welcome in a country where we desperately need employment.
Not just visitors, Nepalis who work hard all day would love to spend the evenings at these beautiful over a beer, momos or to browse in a book store. With more and more women joining the workforce, people will be cooking less and less at home.
Heritage sites are already attracting visitors at night for the arati at Pashupati and Janakpur, the Nava Durga and Asta Matrika masked dances in Bhaktapur and Patan, and the Indra Jatra in Kathmandu and so much more.
The monuments and dabalis or raised platforms for performances would come to life with cultural performances. We could have sound and light shows. The key is how we bring these places to life year round with the best services and infrastructure.
Away from the heritage sites, we have our other monuments: the Himalaya. With little light pollution, visitors can watch snow mountains by starlight, the moon shining on the world’s highest peaks, wait for meteorite showers, and take time lapse photographs of a world spinning on its axis. Nowhere else in the world are there nights like in Nepal.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc