The best books about Kathmandu

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Kathmandu and why they recommend each book.

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Kathmandu

By Thomas Bell,

Book cover of Kathmandu

Planning on a trip to Kathmandu? Curious about what makes one of the world’s most fascinating cities tick? Thomas Bell’s 2016 account is the perfect and most concise introduction to the history, culture, religiosity, and recent changes of the capital on the roof of the world. Bell confidently unravels the intricate interplay of caste, tradition, and rigid hierarchy on the one hand, and modernization, tearing into a city that was virtually isolated until 1950 like a bullet train, on the other. Perhaps it’s time for a Nepali writer to publish a panoramic nonfiction view of one of the world’s most fascinating cities, but in the meantime, Bells’ Kathmandu sets the bar high.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Nepal in the mid-90s, traveled around extensively, and have returned regularly since. Climbing Gokyo Peak, then crossing the Ngozumpa glacier and the Cho La pass in a storm, was the kind of trip I’m glad to have survived unscathed. I covered the civil war, the plight of Tibetan refugees, and Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure projects. I sat down for an interview with serial killer Charles Sobhraj, subject of the BBC/Netflix series The Serpent and I survived and reported on the 2015 earthquake. I spoke to several travelers who followed the hippie trail from London to Kathmandu in the 60s and early 70s, whose accounts inform the basis of my novel.


I wrote...

The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

What is my book about?

The Devil’s Road To Kathmandu is a tense, fast-paced, and kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following the lives of two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs, and murder on the road between London and the Indian subcontinent. 

In 1976, four friends drive a bus along the hippy trail from London to Kathmandu. En Route in Pakistan, a drug deal goes badly wrong, yet the boys escape with their lives and the narcotics. Thousands of kilometers, numerous acid trips, accidents, nightclubs, and even a pair of beautiful Siamese twins later, as they finally reach the counter-culture capital of the world, Kathmandu, one of them disappears with the drug money. A quarter-century later, after receiving mysterious emails inviting them to pick up their share of the money, the remaining three companions are back in Kathmandu, trying to solve a 25-year old mystery that leads them to a dramatic showdown with their past.

Tiger for Breakfast

By Michel Peissel,

Book cover of Tiger for Breakfast

Tiger for Breakfast is the illustrious story of a Russian adventurer and nightclub owner, traveler Boris Lissanevitch who opened the first hotel in Kathmandu in 1950. Boris also opened the first mixed-race nightclub in Calcutta and had the first car carried across the Himalayas from India to Kathmandu. His guest list proved remarkable too. Edmund Hillary set off from the Royal Hotel for Everest in 1953 and numerous royals stayed, including Queen Elizabeth. For better or for worse, Boris was a catalyst for the outside world to make inroads into the Himalayan kingdom and Michel Peissel’s book does a great job evoking those early days of travel and exploration on the Roof of the World.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Nepal in the mid-90s, traveled around extensively, and have returned regularly since. Climbing Gokyo Peak, then crossing the Ngozumpa glacier and the Cho La pass in a storm, was the kind of trip I’m glad to have survived unscathed. I covered the civil war, the plight of Tibetan refugees, and Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure projects. I sat down for an interview with serial killer Charles Sobhraj, subject of the BBC/Netflix series The Serpent and I survived and reported on the 2015 earthquake. I spoke to several travelers who followed the hippie trail from London to Kathmandu in the 60s and early 70s, whose accounts inform the basis of my novel.


I wrote...

The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

What is my book about?

The Devil’s Road To Kathmandu is a tense, fast-paced, and kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following the lives of two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs, and murder on the road between London and the Indian subcontinent. 

In 1976, four friends drive a bus along the hippy trail from London to Kathmandu. En Route in Pakistan, a drug deal goes badly wrong, yet the boys escape with their lives and the narcotics. Thousands of kilometers, numerous acid trips, accidents, nightclubs, and even a pair of beautiful Siamese twins later, as they finally reach the counter-culture capital of the world, Kathmandu, one of them disappears with the drug money. A quarter-century later, after receiving mysterious emails inviting them to pick up their share of the money, the remaining three companions are back in Kathmandu, trying to solve a 25-year old mystery that leads them to a dramatic showdown with their past.

Video Night in Kathmandu

By Pico Iyer,

Book cover of Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far-East

Only one segment of this travel classic is about Nepal, but Pico Iyer’s exploration of 1980s South and Southeast Asia throws a candid eye on a rapidly globalising world. Before social media and smartphones, foreign travelers and locals talked to one another and the results make for illuminating and elegant reading about the Lonely Planet generation and how it was received and perceived in the Far East.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Nepal in the mid-90s, traveled around extensively, and have returned regularly since. Climbing Gokyo Peak, then crossing the Ngozumpa glacier and the Cho La pass in a storm, was the kind of trip I’m glad to have survived unscathed. I covered the civil war, the plight of Tibetan refugees, and Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure projects. I sat down for an interview with serial killer Charles Sobhraj, subject of the BBC/Netflix series The Serpent and I survived and reported on the 2015 earthquake. I spoke to several travelers who followed the hippie trail from London to Kathmandu in the 60s and early 70s, whose accounts inform the basis of my novel.


I wrote...

The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

What is my book about?

The Devil’s Road To Kathmandu is a tense, fast-paced, and kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following the lives of two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs, and murder on the road between London and the Indian subcontinent. 

In 1976, four friends drive a bus along the hippy trail from London to Kathmandu. En Route in Pakistan, a drug deal goes badly wrong, yet the boys escape with their lives and the narcotics. Thousands of kilometers, numerous acid trips, accidents, nightclubs, and even a pair of beautiful Siamese twins later, as they finally reach the counter-culture capital of the world, Kathmandu, one of them disappears with the drug money. A quarter-century later, after receiving mysterious emails inviting them to pick up their share of the money, the remaining three companions are back in Kathmandu, trying to solve a 25-year old mystery that leads them to a dramatic showdown with their past.

The Lady and the Monk

By Pico Iyer,

Book cover of The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

Pico Iyer is a noted travel writer with a gift for capturing the spirit of place. In this fictionalised version of time spent in the city, he captures many of its salient aspects. The seasonal round, the Zen tradition, the sense of transience, the allure of Japanese arts. I found myself nodding in recognition of the many insights that pepper his prose. The only book that compares with it is Kawabata’s Koto (The Old Capital), less substantial and wreathed in nostalgia.


Who am I?

Kyoto is one of the world’s great cities. I first came here in 1994, its 1200th anniversary, and was entranced by its many treasures. In the city’s river basin were fostered the traditional arts and crafts of Japan. This is the city of Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, geisha, moss and rock gardens, not to mention the aristocratic aesthetes of the Heian Era. Here in the ancient capital are imperial estates and no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites, including the Golden Pavilion and the divine Byodo-in. Faced with this wealth of wonders, I tried to weave them into a coherent story – the story of a most remarkable city.


I wrote...

Kyoto: A Cultural History

By John Dougill,

Book cover of Kyoto: A Cultural History

What is my book about?

Kyoto, the ancient former capital of Japan, breathes history and mystery. Its temples, gardens, and palaces are testimony to many centuries of aristocratic and religious grandeur. Under the veneer of modernity, the city remains filled with countless reminders of a proud past.

John Dougill explores this most venerable of Japanese cities, revealing the spirit of place and the individuals that have shaped its often dramatic history. Courtiers and courtesans, poets and priests, samurai and geisha people the pages of his account. Covering twelve centuries in all, the book not only provides a historical overview but also brings to life the cultural magnificence of the city of "Purple Hills and Crystal Streams."

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