Before the Maoist insurgency began, people of Kathmandu had a sense of security and walking about late at night was no big deal. Looking back, I remember once in the early 80s, when I was walking through Bange Munda in the early hours of the morning, I came across a girl, presumably a tourist, standing in front of a pack of stray dogs. She was coolly handing out biscuits like it was broad daylight. People would be walking home at all hours of the night, just as I did occasionally. Remember, this was the time of Panchayat rule and the city was safer; right through the night there would be cops patrolling and we often came across soldiers of RNA also out on patrol.
In the 1980s, some of the Sajha buses would head back to the Pulchowk garage around 10pm and many people would be waiting for the last one which usually got crowded. They were blue Mitsubishi buses about the same size as the large green Ashok Leyland buses we see on the streets today. People could stay out late, assured that there would be transport late into the night. But the insurgency changed all that; people stopped staying out late and the security forces even pressured shopkeepers to close their shops around 9pm. Our security forces always choose the easier option. When Maoists started bombing raids using motorcycles, they banned people from riding pillion. This affected countless people who reached their spouses to work, shop or to visit relatives on motorcycles or those who dropped off their kids to school.
Although the Maoist problem was settled once and for all with a truce, people have not gone back to staying out late. One often hears someone saying, “I have to go now because I won’t get transport.” Lack of transport is forcing workers to leave early. Knowing that there won’t be transport after 8pm, people just rush home early. The authorities experimented with late night transport for a few months, but that won’t help as people need time to change their lifestyle. If night transport is available for about a year then we might see people begin to stay out late especially in summer. Just because transport is available, people are not suddenly going to change habits formed over many years.
All around the world, shops, restaurants and night clubs are open ’til the wee hours or even all night. But here the police have always sited security problems to enforce early closure of restaurants and bars. There are security problems everywhere and what goes on in Kathmandu is nothing compared to countries with drug problems and gang warfare. The only eateries open all night here seem to be the dance bars. There obviously is a reason behind that; it can’t be a good one. What happens in these seedy places is far worse than what happens in bars, where there may be an occasional fight but generally it’s quite peaceful, as half the customers are tourists anyway. I recall one night when we had finished a concert as a tribute to the Beatles. We had closed the gate of the eatery and were chatting and drinking inside when around mid-night a waiter comes up to the owner of the place, “There’s an inspector outside, he wants to see you.” Early closures affect the economy negatively. If these places were allowed to open until the early hours of the morning, tourists would spend a lot more money. There is undoubtedly a certain kind of fun in staying up all night; perhaps because we are not supposed to!
Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal and it’s a shame that most shops are closed by 8pm and the streets turn dark and life seems to just die down. The only place that thrives after 8 is Thamel. Go anywhere in the world and the streets are bright and beautiful at night, but Kathmandu is another story. Being out on the streets late into the night is the real city experience. I remember walking back to my flat in Bangkok around 3 am; there were people eating out on the streets. The same was true when I arrived in Hua Hin from Phuket in the early hours of the morning. Not wanting to disturb my hosts who normally hit the bed around mid-night, I walked about the streets and saw people eating, while working girls took rides with bikers on hire to go home. It was amazing to watch people go about as if it were day time. Some sidewalk eateries were closing and the owners were washing the sidewalk before heading home. If all these places had closed early, I’d have had a miserable time.
Let the tourists have a good time; let them stay up all night if they want to. That will give added value to their time in Nepal. Many of them are repeat visitors which means they need more than just culture and tourist attractions!
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