The Sixties and Seventies saw hippies pouring in to Kathmandu with dreams in their eyes, searching for nirvana and to get lost in this enticing city. With the beauty of Basantapur haunting their minds, the Rastafaris found themselves searching and wanting for more of its mysteries to unfold. They came in thousands, travelling in their Merc buses and chanting Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.
Kathmandu attracted the flower children with her natural beauty and architectural monuments. And for all who wandered the world in search of peace and love, found Basantapur to be their ultimate destination.
‘Freak Street’, originally Jhochhen for all Nepalis, was the most happening place for all the flower children during the hippie era. It was irresistible because of its fusion of east and west — shy, conservative locals rubbing shoulders with dusty-haired ‘freaks’. The centuries-old temples, sweet smell of flowers and incense, and friendly locals added to the charm that Basantapur had for the hippies.
And marijuana, which was ‘legal’ then of course, added a great deal to this charm. Ganja, as it is called in Nepali, grew wild. Hence, Basantapur was heaven for the hippies, who fitted well into the picture like a piece in a zig-saw puzzle with their love for the place and easy access to the stuff.
Whether it was a cold December evening or clear summer nights, life was beautiful. There was no Thamel then. Basantapur was replete in all its glory.
Business was good, the air boomed with reggae, country and rock music, the smell of hash lingered in every lane, and the hippies lived their stoned life.
Pie and cake shops sold hash cakes, hash pie, hash tea... you name it, and it was there.
Jagan Nath Joshi, who has been working in the Eden hotel since the beginning says, “We use to get hash and marijuana from Bajang and Trishuli. As it was legal back then, we used to sell it in our shop, but the sales were restricted to the foreigners only.”
He recalls that Christmas and New Year celebrations saw the Hanuman Dhoka Square packed with partying hippies.
Raju Manandhar, owner of the Snowman cake shop (established in 1965), says, “My father started the business back then, and lots of hippies used to come here. As the shop is small, most of them sat outside. They even used to ask us to add hash to their cakes.”
It is estimated that over 4,000 hippies came to Kathmandu during this time as it was considered the Mecca for those who came in search of real peace. And Basantapur’s tranquillity captured their souls.
Though the time of the hippies has faded into the past and you don’t find people selling marijuana in kilos on the roads, Freak Street’s history makes Basantapur a popular destination still.
Today Basantapur tells a familiar, yet different story all together. The foreigners have moved on to Thamel, and Basantapur has become a favourite haunt for the Nepali teenagers — whether it’s the momo stalls, the night market or the temples providing a haven for friends and lovers alike. The flower power has given way to the hip-hop culture weaned from various television channels.
An evening in Basantapur is every youngster’s way to while away time today and to be seen in restaurants like Grass Hopper, Razzle Dazzle and Snow Man.
The trance era of hippies remains but in memories. Time has moved on, and so have the people who’ve visited Basantapur, but one might not be wrong in saying that wherever they go, they will always carry this place in their hearts.