Nepali Times
The Yin and Yang of KUPONDOLE


When Pooja Karki recalls her childhood memories of living in Kupondole, they mostly involve visiting meat and wrought-iron shops. Now, as the 20-year-old has grown up, the street has burst into a flurry of colours in the form of boutiques and handicraft stores. It's even given her a job - Pooja now works as an assistant in a shop across her house.

At Kupondole, women take charge - a hint that modern notions of gender relations are coming in with the rapid development. Anju Shrestha studied fashion in Kathmandu and interior design in India, and then started Saaranz boutique with her sister-in-law. Most boutiques on the street, of which there are no less than fifteen, are owned by women who have had just enough capital to get their plans off the ground. After her two children grew up, Sarita Gupta had a lot of time on her hands, and so she opened Gulmohar at the mouth of Kupondole selling ready-made saris and kurtas. "I wanted to start something of my own," she says, her cosmopolitan background apparent in her clear English diction and keen eye for fashion detail.

Several of the shops supply outfits for beauty pageants such as Miss Nepal. At Meher, an 8-year-old family-run business which pioneered the boutique boom in Kupondole, the walls are adorned with certificates of accomplishment won by designer Yagendra Meher for dressing the beauty queens of various contests. Meher acknowledges how much the area has developed and says, "It encourages creative work."

Go down the bustling street and you will come across pockets of handicraft shops. "It's a second Thamel here," says store assistant Anita Maharjan of knick-knack store Smile Wear, though the atmosphere is certainly more relaxed.
Most of these handicraft stores have a strong belief in ethical shopping. It all started with Mahaguthi, the 23-year-old bohemian mega-store that was founded with the mission of alleviating poverty of female villagers in 17 districts of Nepal, spearheading fair trade in the country. Many shops though, export their goods. This has become important, as political instability in Nepal has rendered local sales an unpredictable affair.

At paper boutique Barefoot, owner Lotika Chadha notes that business has slowed down in the last five years due to the ongoing chaos. "We rely more on regular clients than new ones," she says. Om Raj Shilpakar of Patan Kalatmak Wood Carving and Furniture says that the frequent strikes sometimes prevent him from opening his store.

Still, the international repute of Nepal's handicrafts means that foreign traders keep coming back for more, such as Tibetan Khonchok Gyamtso who visits Kupondole every year to scout new products for his store in the United States.

Go back a decade and few would have thought that the street would evolve to what it is today - Kupondole is teeming with indulgent boutiques and organic stores. No one planned it this way, nor did anyone ask for it, yet everyone wants a piece of it - rent prices have increased by up to 50 percent over the past five years, with average rental costs at Rs 15,000 for a space of around 7m by length and breadth. Yet increasing costs have not deterred contemporary furnishing store Thong Na Ga Wa from relocating from Babarmahal last November because it wanted more prominence.

With its modest days long gone, materialism and conscience now co-exist mutually in Kupondole. It is a rags-to-riches tale, and one can only hope it gets to earn its own happily-ever-after.

A quick guide

Everyday, the display models at Gulmohar have their outfits changed according to colour. "I wanted the shop to be different," says owner Sarita Gupta. Those who often pass by the Bagmati River try to guess what colours might adorn the models the next day.

For eight years, Thong Na Ga Wa has been crafting contemporary wrought-iron furnishings in Nepal. Increasingly, it has added fresh home accessories such as clocks and wood furniture to its repertoire, which has been used to furnish several embassies.

It's not hard to notice the futuristic Samsonite standing out, after all, it's the only luggage company embedded in heart of the street. With Hotel Himalayan nearby, it begins to make sense. Every three to four months, the store updates itself with new collections, and you can also request to view their catalogue for a specific model.

The pioneer of conscience-driven handicraft stores in Kupundole, Mahaguthi looms over 3-storeys high, with a wide range of handmade items from clothes to furniture to children's play items. Adhering to fair trade values, the organisation provides technical training for village artisans, while also developing their business and design know-how.

Kipoo Handicraft is a hippie's heaven. From its traditional dhaka shawls to mini khukuri knives to cotton wear, there is nothing that the small abode does not carry. The six-year-old store also exports to Japan, where its colourful woollen wear makes big sales.

Small scale and home-based artisans get to exhibit their crafts at Sana Hastakala. Allo (wild nettle fibre) garments are delicately stitched, while woollen and felt items make for creative gifts, ranging from winter wear to accessories such as flower bouquets and neck adornments.

Contemporary meets traditional at Akarshan Interiors, where the Indian marriage dijo set and the kasauti dining set sit alongside urbanely-crafted barbecue grills, office desk systems and intricate garden ensembles. Besides the wrought-iron furnishings, the rattan dining sets and wood beds are also eye-catchers.

At Saaranz, custom-make your own intricate saris and kurtas with the advice of designer Anju Shrestha. A blending of east and west gives her designs a cutting-edge, and she counts many high profile figures among her clientele.

Customised wood furniture takes centre stage at Himalayan Wood Carving & Himalayan Interiors, where you can bring your own designs to be made on site. Otherwise, check out the range of Chinese wood carvings inspired by the Ming Dynasty, as well as Nepali, Tibetan and European furnishings.

Lokta is a natural fibre made from the bark of forests in the hills of Nepal, also used by Tibetan monks for their manuscripts. At Barefoot, the fibre comes in the form of paper bags, photo-frames, wrappers and diaries. While the material is traditional, the designs have funky colours and prints.

It's not Christmastime, but if you walk into Fibre Weave, you can see a darling scene of angels and bells in the store. Hand-crafted by Limbu, Gurung and Tharu women, the woven accessories - which include baskets, carpets and couches - are resistant to fungus and humidity, making for easy maintenance especially in warm season.

At the entrance of Smile Wear, silver and brass jewelry greet you with rustic charm. But go to the corners of the shop to uncover hidden gems, such as one-of-a-kind Mithila bags and extra comfortable hemp slippers, all which are handmade in Nepal.









(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)