Pride of Place

Fire destroys Pilgrims Book House in Kathmandu


DENSE, crowded Thamel is Kathmandu’s tourist district.

Sad news. What I did not know while writing last week’s column on favorite bookshops was that the extraordinary Pilgrims Book House in Kathmandu is no more.

It feels like a personal loss to me.

Rama Nand Tiwari, proprietor of Pilgrims, broke the news to his loyal Pilgrims devotees:

“To book lovers everywhere, particularly those of you who have supported the Pilgrims Book House over the past 30 years since its humble inception, to become one of the landmark book houses in Asia, perhaps in the world, we offer our deepest gratitude.

“It is with great sadness, we now inform you that our beloved establishment is no longer, having burnt to the ground on May 16, 2013.”

ONE of the many rooms at Pilgrims

Said to have started at a nearby bar, the fire raged for nine hours through the tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu. Flames quickly spread to neighboring low buildings on one side of the narrow street crowded with tourist establishments and restaurants, engulfing Pilgrims.

For the years that I have been going to Kathmandu regularly, Pilgrims was the first place I’d head to after dropping off my bags at the hotel (usually at the Kathmandu Guest House next door), and there I would spend the rest of the day browsing from room to room.

Each room on the second floor of Pilgrims contained a specific section of titles.

Some rooms were organized by geographic location, where each room contained stacks of books devoted to Nepal, India, Bhutan  or Tibet. Shelves held everything about the Himalayas from academic dissertations to rare vintage guidebooks.

There were individual rooms, each filled with books on Western or Oriental art, architecture, gardens.

Other rooms were for the esoteric: New Age, Hindu,  Buddhism—Tibetan, Vipassana, Mahayana or Zen.

Buddhism teaches about impermanence, that everyone and everything has a lifetime of its own. And when the particular lifetime is over, the cycle continues, so there is no need to mourn over Pilgrims.

There may not be a new Pilgrims up and running the next time I return to Kathmandu, but I know that a new one will be there, starting on its second lifetime.

It won’t be the same, I know, but it’ll be there.

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