It’s hard to believe that this time last week I was in Nepal. Before we arrived in Kathmandu, where we would spend the beginning and end of our holiday, I dutifully researched bookshops. It seemed like if you were going to visit one bookshop in Kathmandu, it should be Pilgrims Book House.
After hearing all about Pilgrims, I was so excited to visit it. It’s been called an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ with a ‘maze of rooms filled from floor to ceiling with books’. Now who wouldn’t want to get lost in that? I also read that there was a nice café, where I was planning to enjoy breakfast before disappearing between the shelves. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the address written in the Lonely Planet travel guide, this is what I found…
It turns out that this famous bookshop burnt down in May 2013. For more details, read this article which really shows what I have missed out on. It sounds like the old Pilgrims Book House was a very special place.
Pilgrims Book House is in the bustling district of Thamel in Kathamdu. This is a touristy area where backpackers roam the street, motorbikes and taxis speed around, narrowly avoiding pedestrians, and rickshaw drivers call out to tourists, trying to sell a ride. As is usually the case with bookshops, walking into this one has an immediate calming effect.
I was pleased to see that Pilgrims Book House was not only large, but it was stuffed with books. Perhaps it isn’t quite the Aladdin’s cave that the other shop was, but it is still impressive.
The downstairs room is huge, and at first appears to be filled with books. Unfortunately a lot of space is dedicated to souvenirs, which although make good presents, are the same quality as the knick knacks found in the nearby shops, but at a greater price. Still, I can’t complain! The whole of the left hand side of the shop was packed with books.
On the shelves as you first walk in, there were the obvious choices such as Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and other mountaineering books. There was also a good variety of travel guides.
Piled high on the centre tables, I found some really fascinating books. Unfortunately these were much too large and heavy to go in my already overfull backpack. My favourites were the photography books, particularly Portrait of Nepal by Kevin Bubriski and the simply named Nepal by travel photographer Richard I’Anson. I would have loved to take one of these books home, but they will have to go on my wishlist instead!
I’ve already mentioned the souvenirs, and there really are a lot of them! You can get felt hats, slippers and purses, postcards, calendars, stationery, incense sticks, boxes, playing cards and many, many other treats. If you only have time to visit one shop, then this could certainly answer all of your gift needs, but I would recommend browsing all of the fantastic shops nearby too. You’ll probably get a much better price and more choice, as well as getting a chance to see a bit more of Kathmandu!
Once you’ve fought your way through the souvenirs, there are more books at the back of the shop and a collection of maps which could come in handy when planning a trek!
Walking up the stairs, I enjoyed the art work on the walls and was slightly surprised by the large statue greeting me at the top. I was also happy to see a brilliant and very generous children’s section. They had everything from picture books to Harry Potter and much more.
Opposite the children’s section was my favourite part of the shop; a long, long corridor filled with books. There were lots of different types of books, many of them second hand. One book that I was tempted with was called Singing Bowls: A Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use by Eva Rudy Jansen. This small book gives a brief history of singing bowls and touches on their therapeutic use (I did buy a singing bowl, so it would have been a useful little book to have!)
Leading off this fantastic corridor, I found a number of smaller rooms which were also packed with books. These little nooks are a brilliant place for a bookworm to hide from reality for a bit. I lingered the longest in the fiction room, where I chose a book for the long journey home; Sold by Patricia McCormick.
Other rooms concentrated on other subjects such as Self Development, Tibetan and Indian Literature and Buddhism.
The address is: Pilgrims Book House, JP Road, Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal (Tel: +977 1 4700942, 4700919, 4221546 or 9803926019).
For directions (the streets of Kathmandu can be a bit confusing!) and to learn more about Pilgrims, visit their website.