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An idea overly successful: The story of Tebahal’s umbrella street



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By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Dec. 30: Tea talks are a staple of Nepali culture. Group of people gathered at stalls sipping warm tea and discussing the daily struggles of life. This is what the traders of Tebahal were doing a couple of weeks ago.
Worried about the fall in business since the lockdown in March, the local retailers wanted a way to attract people and hopefully business.
This is when Ashish Man Singh suggested that they turn the alley into an umbrella street. Singh had seen such streets in other countries and proposed the idea to the other businessmen who agreed. They collected more than Rs. 200,000 from among them and got started with buying and setting up umbrellas. The traders were aided in their endeavour by the Sankata Boys Sports Club.
Work began on December 15 and in a few days they covered around 150 metres of the alleyway connecting New Road to the Dharahara construction site with 400 colourful umbrellas.
“Our aim was to beautify the area and attract visitors, who would, hopefully, also contribute to the local businesses,” Singh, who is also the secretary of the Sankata Club, said. “But never in our wildest dreams had we imagined that it would become so popular.” It took no time for people to start flocking, driven by photos of the place on social media. “We are seeing nearly 10,000 daily visitors these days,” Singh said, adding that a huge chunk of the crowd was there for selfies and TikTok.
Encouraged by the foot traffic, Sankata Club also put up lights and flower vases to further increase the lane’s appeal. The ward no. 22 office has also provided administrative support and helped maintain cleanliness. Nearly Rs. 800,000 has been spent till now on the decorations and day-to-day management which has been borne by the traders, the club and the ward office.
The umbrellas have been successful in luring people and boosting business but Singh believes that they might have been too successful. The throngs of people that gather at the unofficially christened “umbrella street” block traffic, causing jams and road blockages that take hours to clear. They do not maintain proper physical distance and often take off their masks to pose for photos, increasing the risk of COVID-19 infections. The management headache is starting to outweigh the potential commercial benefits, according to Singh.
“That is why we are thinking of removing the umbrellas after January 1,” Singh said. “However, we are only discussing this possibility and no concrete decision has been taken yet,” he clarified. Ward Chairman Chini Kaji Maharjan did not comment on the issue but said that the ward would support whatever decision the locals take.
However, the visitors don’t want the gamps removed. “They are pretty and make for a good attraction,” said Kushal Shrestha, who was seen taking photos of his sister at the street on Tuesday. “They have made an otherwise dull road lively,” said Mandeep Mali, who passes through the road every day on his way to office. Many The Rising Nepal spoke to echoed similar sentiments.
While a novelty for Kathmandu, the street is not the first of its kind in Nepal. The country’s first umbrella street opened in Patihani, Chitwan back in February.