Cover for Kathmandu, by Thomas Bell, featuring a Nepalese temple and a bird mid-flight.


‘A wonderful literary journey through the streets and history of Kathmandu’
– Sir Ranulph Fiennes

‘A wonderfully discursive account of the personal discovery of a great city. Looping through centuries and slaloming between journalism and history, memoir, mythology and gossip, Tom Bell has written a portrait of Kathmandu like no other, taking us from Manjushree to the Maoists via witches, colonial Orientalists, LSD cults, spies wars and old Serge Gainsbourg movies. A splendidly eccentric and enjoyable first book’ – William Dalrymple

‘A narrative of an enchanting and troubling complexity. Tom Bell has thought through the history and contemporary reality of Kathmandu, and has written a great, subtle book, one as shadowed as Kathmandu’s alleys and as brilliant as its midday squares’ – Teju Cole

‘Nepal is always at risk of being defined by the tragic and the violent, by dramatic events involving rock, ice or blood. … Thomas Bell’s Kathmandu … is therefore to be welcomed as a chance to look beyond such tragedies and learn something of Nepal’s complex religious and social history — and the equally complex machinations of politics in the capital city that has dominated it for centuries.’
Financial Times

‘in Kathmandu, [Thomas Bell] tells the story of the city both before and, to an extent, after the quake … But then this isn’t so much a standard history as an amiable ramble around Nepal’s past … Bell’s approach isn’t entirely orthodox … But it’s all the more readable for it. ‘
The Guardian

‘Kathmandu, like the country of which it is the capital, is much visited but much misunderstood. Few make the effort to look beyond the mountains and stupas, the forests and elephants. In this lucid, clever, thorough and beautifully written book, Tom Bell does this for us, recounting the gripping history of the fascinating city with equal measures of verve and care. Kings, Maoist guerillas, mountaineers, demonstrators, poets, psychopathic princes and politicians all make for a tale as colourful as a local market. A genuine must-read for any visitor to the city, to Nepal, or indeed to the sub-continent.’ – Jason Burke, The Guardian Southeast Asia correspondent

‘[a] sprawling history and memoir of Nepal and its fast-growing capital’
New York Review of Books

‘Thomas Bell…makes Kathmandu his focus. His account is part memoir (he marries and settles in the capital), part war reporter’s travelogue and part political history. He is captivated by Kathmandu’s art, architecture and unpredictable layers of history.’
The Economist

‘Thomas Bell’s wide-ranging, deep-delving, clear-headed exposition of all things Kathmandu’
The Spectator

‘With extraordinary candour and courage he blazes a trail through the backstreets of the city to the hidden places most of us choose not to see, listening to conversations we prefer not to hear when visiting a country as complicated as Nepal. Fault lines affecting the whole country radiate out from the city; to ignore them, this book makes clear, is to be complicit in the myths that continue to bind Nepal in a knot of poverty and injustice. It is not just tourists who can be selectively blind and deaf, but also expats, diplomats, aid agencies and a whole host of foreign NGOs.’
Literary Review

‘The sheer breadth of the subject matter Thomas Bell covers in his book, and the clear affection with which he writes about the city where he is now raising a family, are a remarkable tribute to one of the most entrancing and rapidly evolving capitals of the world.’
The Times Literary Supplement

‘a personal narrative chronicling the Nepali capital in depth, shedding light on the failure of foreign aid, social unrest, rapid modernisation and other contemporary realities.’

‘There is fine, unflinching journalism in this book. But there is affection, even love too. It is a powerful, intoxicating mixture. It produces an unsettling, admirable, compelling and deeply unusual narrative that matches the city in both its allure and individuality.’
Herald Scotland

‘Thomas Bell’s excellent history, Kathmandu, explores a city that sits at a crossroads in politics, history, religion and myth – an excellent primer for those visiting post-quake.’

‘The best bits in Kathmandu are the hour-by-hour accounts of reporting brick-throwing demonstrations, or trudging mountain tracks for days in search of Maoist insurgents to interview […] a very enjoyable book. Above all you breathe the atmosphere of Nepal, with its blend of permissiveness and constriction. Nepal is rigid yet oddly adaptive, and resilient.’

‘In his impressive debut book Bell traces the layers of Kathmandu’s past through to the present’
Asian Affairs

Kathmandu is an extensive, well-researched and multidisciplinary writing on Nepal. Anyone who is interested to know about the art, culture and heritage of Kathmandu should read this book. All the people, including students to scholars, who want to know about Nepal and its political upheavals, would find it enlightening.’
Policy Eye

‘An evocative and entertaining portrait of a misunderstood city’ – Sam Miller, author of Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity

‘Capturing the complexity of Nepali-lived experience, this is an exquisite read’ – Manjushree Thapa, author of Forget Kathmandu

‘Thomas Bell has captured the bewildering complexity and perplexing allure of Kathmandu’
– Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary

by Thomas Bell

Kathmandu is the greatest city of the Himalaya; a place where unique cultural practices that died out in India a thousand years ago have survived. It is a carnival of sexual license and hypocrisy, a jewel of world art, a hotbed of communist revolution, a paradigm of failed democracy, a case study in bungled Western intervention, and an environmental catastrophe.
Closed to the outside world until 1951 and trapped in a medieval time warp, Kathmandu’s rapid modernisation is an extreme version of what is happening in many traditional societies. The many layers of the city’s development are reflected in the successive generations of its gods and goddesses, witches and ghosts, the comforts of caste, the ethos of aristocracy and kingship, and the lately destabilising spirits of consumer aspiration, individuality, egalitarianism, communism and democracy. Erudite, entertaining and accessible, it is the fascinating chronicle of a unique city.

Thomas Bell studied at Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art before moving to Kathmandu to cover the civil war in Nepal for the Daily Telegraph and The Economist. He was later Southeast Asia correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

Publication Date: 25 Apr. 2016
RRP: £17.99
463 pp
ISBN: 9781910376386