Covid fatigue drives Nepalis to nightspots


Kathmandu’s tourist neighbourhood of Thamel has been a ghost town for most of 2020, but just like Pokhara and Chitwan it is now bustling with Nepalis who are going out with a vengeance.

Cooped up at home for the best part of the year, and despite a surge in coronavirus cases in Kathmandu Valley, young Nepalis are thronging to nightclubs and resto-bars in Thamel and Darbar Marg.

Public health experts have warned that the nightspots could become coronavirus hotspots, but that does not seem to deter Nepalis determined to have a good time.

After Pokhara, Thamel, Kathmandu’s prime nightlife destination and popular pre-base camp for trekkers and mountaineers is now opening up to local visitors as they await international tourists to return.

Streets in Thamel, Pokhara’s lakeside and Sauraha that for months were deserted had started filling up again with rowdy revellers since Dasain, and the footfalls have been increasing ever since.

Taxis and rickshaws are once more waiting for passengers, souvenir shops are crowded with Nepalis, and bars are thrumming with live rock music.

Low air fares have also made it possible for young people to visit Pokhara, people from Biratnagar and Dharan to visit Kathmandu, and the trekking trails in the mountains are full of Nepali hikers.

Most bars and pubs in Thamel are now open for business, catering to Nepali customers from 7 to 9:30PM every night. Bartenders and waiters with face visors, masks and gloves is a common site.

But although maintaining social distance is a norm, some of the nightspots were filled to the rafters on Friday night with youngsters on the dance floor.

In its first Friday after reopening, the popular bar in the heart of Thamel LOD (Lord of the Drinks) was brimming with youth enjoying a night out following nine months of imposed lockdowns and restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19.

But even as nightlife and small business are on track, Kathmandu is still on the grips of coronavirus crisis. While much fewer daily new infections (mostly owing to reduced tests and no official contact tracing), the capital city with Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts still make up for over 50% of all new positives with close to 8,000 active cases.

Says CEO of LOD Rabin Shrestha:“We make sure all customers have normal body temperatures and once in, people are not allowed on the dance floor. And despite our occupancy of 2000+, we are letting in less than 200 at a time.”

Towards the end of 2019 and in the beginning of 2020, many new businesses catering to tourists had opened up in Thamel with high hopes of turnout as the country was gearing up Visit Nepal Year 2020.

But following first few months of lockdown, hundreds of businesses shutdown unable to pay rents, which ranged from Rs50,000 to half a million depending on the space. Soon, Thamel, which thrives on international tourists, was on the brink of collapse.

Many small businesses were eventually granted 50% discount on their rents and utility bills. But with no international visitors on sight, shopkeepers and businesses have set their targets on local consumers to make up for the loss by adjusting their services more suited to Nepalis and with special discounts and packages.