If someone were to tell you, “We could hear jackals from Durbar Marg in the evenings,” it would stop you in your tracks and make you ponder. You may even laugh at such an absurd remark. Surely, it would be very hard to imagine jackals lurking nearby as you walk past KFC to catch up with your friends on a shopping spree. Yet according to old-timers, back in the sixties one did hear a wild animal calling out to his mates, perhaps in search of a wholesome chicken meal around Hatisar. But you should not be too surprised if one morning after a late night garden party at the Hyatt Regency, you find a few jackals foraging among the left overs; it’s not all that far-fetched after all.
When the swinging sixties were over and the groovy seventies rolled in with bell-bottoms, block heels and flowery shirts, Durbar Marg was still a quiet, posh area lined with travel agencies and airline offices like Yeti Travels, Thai airways, Tiger Tops, Lufthansa and eateries like the popular Nanglo Restaurant & Bar on one side while Gaida Wildlife, Royal Saino Restaurant, International Trekkers and many others attracted walk-in clients on the other side of the road. Dominated by two storied buildings except for the old palaces behind them, traffic was light, few people rode motorcycles, the air was as fresh as any mountain air, the sky seemed perennially blue except during the monsoons; the seasons arrived on schedule and there were not a lot of people in the valley. In fact sometimes there seemed to be more tourists around than Nepalis. Kathmandu was a quiet, clean city with tree-lined streets and an abundance of breathing space; there was an abundance of spaced out hippies too.
Up until the eighties, Durbar Marg was still predominantly a hub for travel companies and most regular customers on whose patronage Nanglo thrived were employees or clients of travel related companies. A majority of the people seen along the wide sidewalks either worked in a travel agency, a hotel or airline. They were some of the glamorous jobs much sought after by most graduates. Foreign banks like Nabil and Grindlay’s were yet to arrive in Nepal, TV was a novelty, cars were mostly Japanese like most electronic goods that had ‘made in Japan’stamped on them. Yeti Travels’ tour officers in safari suits and their luxurious tour buses dominated the scene around Durbar Marg during that golden decade of tourism. Back then tour officers boasted, “We barely need to use our salaries as we can live off the dollars we earn as tips.”
By the time the nineties arrived, Durbar Marg was heading towards a significant change. The time was ripe for more glamorous outlets to make an entrance. The first was perhaps Nirula’s which was also Kathmandu’s first fast food outlet catering to the rising and progressively wealthy middle class that had more money to spend and young people unlike their parents, were more adventurous and eating out on a regular basis. The large variety of yummy ice-creams at Nirula’s attracted a good number of young people who kept coming back for more.
The Maoist insurgency which began during the latter half of the nineties severely affected tourism and with the dwindling number of tourist arrivals, the glory days of the travel trade was coming to an end. With revenues plunging, we witnessed the exodus of travel companies as they began to leave this posh and expensive location in search of cheaper office space elsewhere. The nineties and more so the new millennium was a catalyst for change.Taking advantage of the changing times, clothing stores like Benneton, eateries like Koto, Hot Breads selling bakery delights and many high end stores set up shop. In 2007, Hotel Sherpa was transformed into a shopping mall with several restaurants spread about the vast property, and the new mall immediately attracted hordes of eager shoppers and foodies. With the launching of Sherpa Mall, the metamorphosis of Durbar Marg was complete; it had become the place to be in the evenings and the place to shop for designer clothes. Many local designers were creating their own clothing lines and young people were turning up in Durbar Marg looking like models. For young, out-going people it became the place to be and to be seen around.
Durbar Marg gradually filled up with branded goods stores and all kinds of eateries: Levi’s, Bentley and Giodarno, along with Van Heusen, Titan and Omega among the international brands while people were queuing up outside KFC and Pizza Hut. While there were gazal singers entertaining clients in the restaurants selling Indian food in the eighties, Cafereena Restaurant and Lobster at Sherpa Mall hired rock bands for the excitable younger generation that started frequenting Sherpa Mall looking for action.This generation also had a wider choice of ice cream from Baskin Robbins and business was good for the new outlet. With businesses flourishing, the buildings rose higher and foreign banks moved in to capitalize on the boom. Now one could sit by the sidewalk sipping cappuccino, relishing a black forest and making plans on how to grab the money floating around in the air.
The market was booming as the capital was becoming more westernized and young people couldn’t stay home in the evenings anymore. They had to be out there with their peers where all the excitement was. Gone are the days when people rushed home to watch a serial; now they can watch on their tablets or even a phone. Being out with your friends these days doesn’t necessarily mean you sit and chat though; you could be chatting with friends far away, playing a game or just posting a selfie on facebook. Yes, times have changed. In the eighties it was family dinner outings as the kids weren’t given too much cash to spend. Today it’s mostly young people enjoying on their own, and the streets of Kathmandu had never seen so many teenagers in one place before.
The new millennium also saw an upwardly mobile younger generation enter the domain of senior businessmen who ruled the world of entrepreneurship in Nepal. People in their twenties were now opening restaurants, bars and cafes. Fashion took off like an exploding galaxy, opening up the market for young females to launch clothing stores or set up their own design studios. Durbar Marg was one of the first locations chosen by designers to start their new venture. Since then it has come a long way and the endless line of parked motor cycles stands testimony to the popularity of this fashionable street.