The business of Freakstreet, the tourist hub of Kathmandu in the 1970s and 1980s, was gradually recovering since 2010-11 after slowing down for almost a decade. The latest cause of the decline in tourism business of Jhochhen, popularly known as Freastreet was Covid – 19 pandemic.
Nepal’s tourism sector, which has been in decline since the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jetplane that took off from Kathmandu towards the end of 1999, witnessed further deterioration due to a number of incidents such as the 2001 royal palace massacre and the decade-long Maoist insurgency. After that, the number of restaurants in Jhochen area was reduced to 4-5. But after some time as the tourism sector got relief the number of restaurants grew to 10-15 in the Freak Street in 2010-11. Now, after a decade the number of restaurants in Freakstreet has increased by ten fold to around 150, said Bhushan Manandhar, the owner of Tikejhya Restaurant in the area.
Although the number restaurants has grown by many fold there is no business now as we can hardly find any tourist, says Shanker Shrestha, another restaurant operator.
In the past, Freakstreeet was famous among hippies, who could freely enjoy narcotics drugs here, recalls Shrestha. “Due to open trade of cannabis and hashish, tourists used to come here in large numbers and there was movement in the market . “Even now, some foreigners come to ask if there is a hashish,” he said. “The area had been bustling for the past five or six years, but for the past two years it has been deserted due to Corona.”
In Freakstreet, though a number of restaurants are being operated these days, there are hardly any guest house or lodges in operation here. The number of Thanka, jewelry and curio shops are not as many as in the past. Although some curio shops are open on the streets of adjoining Basantapur, customers are not coming there either.
Lack of unity among the restaurant operators is another reason why this area could not be developed properly as compared to Thamel, points out the restaurant owner.
“There should have been a concerted effort to promote tourism, which is not happening,” he added. “If we could organize street festivals from time to time, such as celebrate New Year’s day, Lhosar, Dashain, Indrajatra, Tourism Day, etc. in Freakstreet the number of tourists visiting in the area could have increased and the business would have grown.”
One of the main reason why business could not grow in Freakstreet is the strict measures taken by the local authorities that ban operating restaurants after 10 pm, complained Manandhar. In Thamel area the restaurants remains open even at mid- night, which is not allowed here, he added.
The local traders, however, expressed hope that the situation may improve after the number of corona cases would decline. In the past 5-6 years though, the area did not receive many foreign tourists, the business was going well because of Nepali customers. Now, it is even difficult to pay the monthly rent for operating restaurants, the traders pointed out.
Freakstreet area spanning over less than half a kilometre area, was very popular among tourists before the development of Thamel as the tourist hub of the capital. The hippie culture. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, young people in the United States and Europe, disgusted by the formalities like social norms, dress codes and etiquettes, revolted against the existing society. Their revolt against the society turned them into hippies or freak and were attracted to the East, where they could enjoy free lifestyle including consuming narcotics etc. At that time, they used to follow the “freak trial” or hippie route from Europe via Istanbul (Turkey), Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, (Goa) India and finally to Kathmandu by road network. They wear loose clothes having long hair, and walked around smoking cigars, enjoying marijuana freely. At that time, in Goa and even in Pokhara, half-naked hippies were seen walking on the streets and near beaches.
According to the dictionary, freak means wild and lewd. Depicting the same hippie culture, popular Hindi movie, Hare Ram Hare Krishna, starring Dev Ananda and Jinat Aman, was shot in the streets of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur in the 70’s . Freak Street is a small street located at the south of Kathmandu Durbar Square in Jhochhen Tole . This old Newari street ‘Jhochhen’ was named Freak Street, referring to the hippie trail of the 1960s and 1970s. During that time the main attraction drawing tourists to Freak Street was the freely-run hashish shops. Hippies from different parts of the world travelled to Freak Street (Basantapur) in search of legal cannabis. Direct bus services to Freak Street were also available from the airport and borders targeting the hippies looking for legal smokes. Freak Street was a hippie nirvana, since marijuana and hashish were legal and traded openly in licensed shops. (By Pratima Sapkota)