When travellers plan a trip to Nepal, it often involves a challenging yet majestic trek through the Himalayas – which encompass some of the highest mountains in the world, immersing in a yoga and meditation retreat, learning about Hinduism and Buddhism, and sun-basking by the Fewa lake in Pokhara. These experiences are indeed spectacular and what has come to define Nepali tourism. If you have three weeks or more to spend in the country, you could cruise through it all, tying it into one breathtaking bouquet with an essence that will linger with you forever.
Nepalis love to boast about two facts no matter where in the world we find ourselves: Mount Everest – the tallest mountain in the world, towering above us at a staggering 8849 metres – is in Nepal; and Lord Buddha – a spiritual figure whose ideology of impermanence, karma and rebirth has been adopted by approximately 400 million people across the globe, was born in Nepal.
However, Kathmandu is not Nepal. It does not represent the wider country of 30 million people at all. First-time visitors may be surprised to see the urban growth and westernisation that the city has gone through in the past 25 years. Similar to other Asian capital cities, the population of Kathmandu has rapidly increased with migrants from across the country in search of better economic opportunities, resulting in a sprawling metropolis and modern infrastructure.
Kathmandu is my hometown that my family and I left when I was seven years old in pursuit of golden opportunities that the western world could offer us. As a child of the diaspora, I tried to make sense of my Nepali identity as I attempted to fit into spaces where I often felt othered. Slowly over time, I metamorphosed from a confused diasporic child into a confident feminist adult and felt compelled to return home and witness how it has transformed alongside me.
What I found were inspiring communities of women from all walks of life courageous enough to challenge deeply-embedded patriarchal norms, driven to achieve personal success and independence in a sexist society, and determined to push forward equity for all women across Nepal. Kathmandu is pulsating with an energy of resilience, innovation, creativity and social justice culminating in ethical community-focused initiatives led by and for women.
Here are some of the most exciting and impactful feminist endeavours that are sure to enrich your experience of Nepal’s capital city.
What to do in Kathmandu
Go on a nature retreat with Duluwa Outdoors
Duluwa Outdoors curates women-only educational adventures and outdoors experiences across the Himalayas. Founded by five young women travellers passionate about breaking traditional restrictions around women’s mobility, Duluwa Outdoors organises hiking, camping, and trekking trips along with women-led corporate retreats and travel consultations. They also have a travel podcast ‘Duluwa Talks’, which began in 2019, to share stories of women in travel and outdoors, with the aim to inspire more Nepali women to travel.
Watch a captivating play that centres on social issues
Katha Ghera is a theatre collective with a deep passion for stories that evoke empathy and demand conversation. Founded by two women in 2015 due to a dearth of feminist spaces in theatre, it has been active in areas of play productions, theatre and acting workshops. Katha Ghera believes that theatre is a significant tool for individual and social nourishment and their work aims to be gender sensitive, mental health informed and social justice oriented. Past productions include a Nepali adaptation of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and they produce new works throughout the year.
Explore the nightlife with Nirvana Vibes
Nirvana Vibes was founded in 2021 in response to creating safe spaces for women to socialise and party amongst the male-dominated entertainment industry in Kathmandu. From themed dance parties to open mics with an all-women line up of musicians, spoken word poets and comedians, and networking events bringing together industry professionals and young women, Nirvana Vibes events are exclusively for women, trans and non-binary folks, and most events are free.
Where to work and create in Kathmandu
Tumbahalaya is a creative space situated in the heart of Thamel that is focused on fostering ideas of creation, collaboration and connection. They offer a co-working studio at an affordable daily rate as well as an open space for hangouts and events.
“We started Tumbahalaya to be both a space and a community for creative people of Kathmandu where they can network as well as work on their own ideas,” says co-founder Shuvechchhya Pradhan.
Tumbahalaya organises events including workshops on journaling, guitar and design, language classes, art exhibitions, game nights and film screenings.
Where to shop in Kathmandu
These ethical businesses give back to local women's communities.
Aasha Wears is a sustainable and ethical clothing line manufactured in Nepal by women who have overcome trafficking and/or gender-based violence. The business is entirely run by women and uses sustainable materials, ethical manufacturing processes and dignified wages to create beautiful pieces including organic cotton dresses, shirts and pants.
“We believe that empowering women in the workplace is an essential aspect of creating positive social change. A dignified job gives these women an ability to support their own and their families’ basic needs, giving them an agency in decision making within their families and communities,” says founder Allison Sapkota.
Hatti Hatti was initiated in 2014 by a group of young women in Kathmandu with a vision to empower women from marginalised communities to achieve their full social and economic potential and create a sustainable future. The women that Hatti Hatti supports upcycle preloved sarees into a range of sustainable products including tote bags, kimonos, bow ties, headbands, scrunchies and cushion covers, with the profits going back into their communities. You can browse and buy their products through their Instagram page.
Mithila House is an art gallery and boutique store dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional Mithila art and culture. Through working in collaboration with Indigenous women who are independent artists, their products include hand-painted copper water bottles, shawls, t-shirts, sarees and tote bags. Mithila House also organises art workshops for both children and adults.
Curl up with a thought-provoking book at these feminist libraries in Kathmandu
Junkiri: the feminist library
Junkiri: the feminist library is a space dedicated to women-centred literature and ideas. In their own words, “it is a gathering place and source of information, contributing to the cultivation and strengthening of the feminist consciousness in Nepal. The library aims at providing girls, women and the general public with easy access to feminist literature, tools and resources. We believe that creating a safe space for women and girls to explore literary and intellectual ideas, to voice their opinions and to share their stories is important for the advancement of women’s position in society here in Nepal.”
Membership to the library is free and accessible to everyone.
Matangi Library is an inclusive library that believes in building a community of readers who feel safe in the space and can meet like-minded individuals. Book genres include feminist literature, politics, books on gender identity, art magazines, and books from South Asian authors.
“The library was founded because there was limited space where people could read contemporary books without having to pay for them. Not only do we want to build a community of readers, we want to build a network of writing creatives who feel comfortable in our space and can be confident in their words,” says founder Stuti Sharma.
Matangi Library also offers art workshops, reading and writing circles, and book recommendations to visitors.
What to eat in Kathmandu
Authentic Newa cuisine
The Newa people are the historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley and have a rich culture whose presence continues to be felt and appreciated throughout the city. Food is an integral part of Newa culture and Newari food consists of over 200 dishes! Wander around the well preserved heritage sites of Basantapur, Patan and Bhaktapur, duck into the small local eateries and sample traditional dishes cooked by some of the most talented mums in the world at an extremely cheap price. Recommended dishes include bara, tama, choeila, and chatamari. And no trip to Nepal would be complete without devouring dozens of momos – small succulent dumplings with your choice of filling – chicken, vegetable or buff, and served with a tangy tomato achhar.
Where to drink in Kathmandu
One of the hottest bars in town located in the centre of the nightlife and tourist hub of Thamel, Supper Club is all about disco music and dim-sum. The two storey venue is divided into an upscale restaurant serving Asian fusion dishes and the bar and dancefloor, complete with flashing tiles and decadent cocktails. Supper Club is co-owned by a woman and often showcases female DJs. Free entry.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
Born in 2019, hostel nextdoor is a passion project of a team of women travellers with the aim of creating a dynamic platform of immersive experiences across Nepal. Inspired by a culture of adventure and freedom, the hostel has a quirky and relaxed vibe, with 24 dorm beds and three private rooms as well as a shared kitchen, rooftop area, and indoor lounge. The hostel offers complimentary toast, tea and coffee every morning as well as free walking tours to the historical city of Patan. Hostel nextdoor also houses Raithaane, a restaurant that celebrates local ingredients and diverse ethnic cuisines of Nepal.
Give Back in Kathmandu
We wouldn’t be very intersectional feminists if we travelled to the global south and contributed nothing from our position of privilege. Rather than engaging in a one-week voluntourism stint, here are some grassroots feminists initiatives you can donate to that do important work every day.
Founded in 2019 by a group of students with a focus on youth participation and empowerment, LokoPakar has designed and delivered a range of initiatives including a leadership program that provides a platform for girls to share their stories, a mentorship program to connect students to industry professionals, and a program to teach English to students at public schools. Through a model of peer facilitation and equipping youth leaders, LokoPakar has engaged 3900 young people from seven states across Nepal over three years, and continues to grow.
YoSHAN is a youth-led feminist organisation working to establish and advocate for sexual and reproductive health as human rights in Nepal. Through sexual health education via social media, providing advocacy training to young people, and an information and referral line, YoSHAN aims to destigmatise and create open dialogue and understanding around topics such as sexually transmitted infections, methods of contraception, sexual consent and decriminalising abortion.
Pad2Go is a social enterprise established in 2018 to ensure affordable and equitable access of menstrual products across the country through Nepal’s first sanitary napkin vending machines. Additionally, Pad2Go engages in advocacy to remove tax on menstrual products and a program to ensure equitable access of menstrual products within the prisons of Nepal. Your donations can fund a new pad machine! Learn more at www.pad2gonepal.com