Pilgrims Book House [kathmandu]


The fire began surreptitiously, away from the bar’s carousing punters, but soon crept into the kitchen. There it licked at the piled gas cylinders, unleashing a conflagration of such ferocity that in no time at all the store next door was engulfed. It was no ordinary establishment. Pilgrims Book House was perhaps the largest, certainly the most loved, purveyor of books in Nepal.

The owner came running, summoned the fire brigade and appealed to his neighbours to employ their buckets. It took 12 hours to tame the fire. There was relief that no lives were lost, that the inferno hadn’t spread through the tourist quarter of Thamel. But for booklovers across the Kathmandu Valley, this was a tragedy of Alexandrian proportions: tens of thousands of books on literally every subject in the cosmos lay scattered in a sodden heap outside the eviscerated husk of Pilgrims Book House.

In the three decades since he’d set up Pilgrims, Nandaram Tiwari of Benares had built up a veritable library with a specialization in the spiritual, cultural and material existence of the Himalayan region. Over the years, I’d purchased books on Indian philosophy, Nepali architecture, alpine flowers, Hatha yoga, spirit possession as well as old copies of the Paris Review, and I frequented the store long enough to see my own collection of short stories appear in the section for Nepali authors.

The last time I was at Pilgrims was to drop off copies of La.Lit, our literary magazine, a week before the disaster. They met a fiery end, no doubt. In the days that followed, the sage-like Tiwari spoke to journalists of the impermanence of existence, and reminded them that he “wasn’t quite on the street yet”—a much smaller branch of Pilgrims remains open for business down the road. Small comfort for those readers nursing memories of browsing through the quiet rooms jammed floor to ceiling with esoterica.

* *

Pilgrims Book House

Photo by Shashank Shrestha
Image 2 (modified) via

ThapaRabi Thapa is a writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is the author of the short story collection Nothing to Declare and the editor of the bilingual literary journal La.Lit. He’s been an admirer of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa ever since he encountered their work as a student of literature, and recently, a friend moving away from Nepal returned a birthday present, to his utter delight: Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions. Rabi is working on a novel about a journalist who goes mad.
Victoria CotinoVictoria Cotino is a journalist and a translator. Her articles have appeared in Clarín, Perfil and Revista Tónica. She is currently studying Liberal Arts at The New School in New York. Her first literary crush was José Arcadio.

Published on July 5th of 2013 in Shelf Love.

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