Pilgrims burns down, ignites old memories, new hopes
KATHMANDU, MAY 17 – (Posted on: 2013-05-18)
The fire that raged since 10 on Thursday night razed hundreds of thousands of books at Pilgrims Book House in the heart of Thamel. Other paraphernalia such as postcards, handicrafts and a backroom cafe that made the bookstore a resting favourite among travellers were also burned down to ashes.
Though the fire was visibly under control by 11 am the next day, the remains of the bookstore were still smouldering in corners and fire engines still patrolling the area in mid-afternoon.
The street that usually bustles with tourists was cordoned off by the police and charcoal, water and damaged books, either soaked or burned around the edges, filled it.
The most visible devastation caused by the massive inferno, however, was in the eyes of Ramanand Tiwari, the man behind the bookshop that had become a landmark in confusing Thamel. He could not hide his tears when he spoke of the damage.
“It was painful,” he said, adding, “The books might have been charred to the ground, the knowledge, however, is not lost.” Still, it was an irreparable loss to ‘a source of knowledge,’ said author Abhi Subedi, a Pilgrims regular. “I’ve bought so many books from Pilgrims and have practically made two of my students do their Phd from that bookshop. I was shocked to hear of the fire. They had rare and valuable books. It was a big enterprise.”
The bookshop, however, had a humble beginning some 30 years ago when Tiwari made a pilgrimage from Varanasi, India, to Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu and fell in love with Nepal.
A book lover with experience in running a bookshop, Tiwari chose the name ‘Pilgrims’ for his next venture. To the philosopher-bookseller, it was an answer to his own existential questions such as who he was.
He registered the bookstore under his daughter Kahani Tiwari’s name.The bookstore was not insured against fire and the monetary value of books burned has not yet been established. But daughter Tiwari said the loss is more emotional. “My parents worked very hard to set it up. Pilgrims Book House was a legend. Kathmandu has lost it today.”
Legend it certainly was for many who have over the years established a distinct emotional connection with the bookstore. By Friday afternoon, messages of sadness and well wishes were pouring in in the social media.
Toronto-based author Manjushree Thapa tweeted, “Saddened to learn that Pilgrims Book House in Thamel, which has saved my sanity in Kathmandu, burned down yesterday.”
Himal Southasian, a magazine published from Kathmandu, also tweeted, “Our thoughts go out to our friends at Pilgrim’s Book House in Thamel, Kathmandu, and all those affected by last night’s fire. Pilgrim’s is an institution which must endure.”
Benjamin Monnet, a French national and an exporter of Nepali handicrafts, expressed similar hopes. “Hopefully, they will start afresh and the next bookstore will even be better.”
Monnet will keep the damaged books until they are dry, readable and ready to be donated to a charity not yet decided.
Although the police are still investigating the cause of the fire, it is said to have originated in the Faces Lounge, a bar above the Pilgrims, when the bookstore was closing for the night.