If you’re not careful, Kathmandu will swallow you. The smog will cover you like a blanket, the traffic will flatten you like a pancake and the crowds will blow you away like dust. But if you are cautious, if you take the time and the patience to give Kathmandu the attention it demands, it will reward you with serendipity.
I discovered some of Kathmandu’s serendipity 10 years ago, at a time when life was slower here, a time when it was easier to give the city the attention it deserves. One afternoon, after pushing through the maze of signboards and the din of vendors, I found myself shoved into a Thamel alley. A shop at one corner sold the usual garish knits, while another promised handmade paper faded by the autumn sun. I was tempted by a loot of pirated CDs, but the exhaustion of the day was wearing me thin. Two small chairs perched in the alleyway beckoned me with a humble call. With a sigh of relief, I timidly accepted their invitation and soon discovered the place that, for the coming decade, would weave memories through the warp of my life.
I walked inside the tiny shop. The proprietor had his back turned to me and was slicing pineapples into juicy chunks. He did not hear me above the whirring of the blender as I pulled a stool up to the counter. When he turned, his cool demeanor suggested a man who had seen everything but was impressed by little. I liked that he didn’t treat me with the usual sweet talk of shopkeepers in Thamel. If I wanted something, I could get it; if I didn’t, I could leave.
I scanned the menu on the walls and ordered a mango shake. A middle-aged woman pulled up next to me and said, “You can make that two.” Her name was Sara and, as we talked, she told me about her biology research in Kenya. The man in the corner with a coffee shake spoke up, “I was in Kenya last month. I was helping to track rhinos.” Three years later, Sara and Richard were married.
A few years later, I met one of my best friends when she ordered a tall glass of watermelon juice. Another time I met a man who found me a job when he asked me which shake was the best on the menu. Last year, I met a woman who knew my mother back in the ’60s when she spilled part of her juice on the floor and asked me to pass her the napkins.
There is a common rule in emerging economies that if you want your business to succeed, then you should try to reach as many customers as possible. Apparently, the economists never visited ‘Just Juice & Shakes’in Thamel. This miniature establishment may not be as bustling as some of the other cafés just around the corner, but it manages, time and time again, to align people at the right moments in their lives and to playfully knit the little strings of the universe into just the right arrangements. Perhaps these moments are always lingering in every bar and in every café, but they go unrealized in spaces that are too expansive for anyone’s good. At Just Juice & Shakes, these moments can’t help bumping into each other and sharing some of the delectable serendipity of Kathmandu.
Just Juice & Shakes is located in Thamel, in the alley across from Pilgrim’s Book House. Yanik Shrestha is a freelance writer, living in Kathmandu, and can be contacted at 9851048598