Let me be contrary and take a break from my Kuala Lumpur narration to tell you a little about my first day in Kathmandu, Nepal.
I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning, ordered a cab using the Taxi iPhone app, and did the usual pre-travel panic dressing and packing. Fifty minutes later, I stood outside my building, growing increasingly anxious–either the cab had left me because I had been five minutes late, or it hadn’t come at all. I fumed for a bit, struggled with my luggage, called another ride, and made it to the airport in time. My flight was at 8:15 AM, and would be stopping in Bangkok to transfer.
The Bangkok airport is impressive, built in the modern chrome-and-glass style that seems to be so popular with the more modern Asian terminals. It had high ceilings and a spacious interior, but let me just say walking from wherever it was that I landed to Gate C6–NOT FUN. I must have staggered two kilometers with my heavy carry-on luggage just to move to the new gate to get on my second plane–and both flights were both on Thai Airways! For some reason, the floor I was in didn’t have any travelators.
Well, I reached the gate (eventually), sighted my colleagues who had taken a different airline earlier, and boarded after a short wait. Eyes falling shut, as the place took off, I smiled at the sight of all the seats filled with Buddhist monks in their yellow garb. It hit me, then: I was on my way to Nepal!
Then like a deflated balloon, I simply collapsed. I only forced myself awake when food was offered to me, but other than that, I must have looked a mess until we had landed in the red-brick Tribhuvan International Airport of Kathmandu.
My next hurdle was to obtain the Nepalese visa that can be gotten upon arrival for most nationalities. My colleagues, who had applied for their visas in Singapore, breezed past me, while I had to tackle the longest line in the airport. Mentally kicking myself for making the others wait, I fidgeted for twenty minutes as the airport officials did their paper shuffling. When I had finally emerged, my colleagues and I found the fellow who was assigned to bring us to the hotel.
The hotel car was a little, battered-looking vehicle that had definitely had seen better days, but it served us well enough as we drove the fourteen kilometers from the airport to the Crowne Plaza Hotel Kathmandu – Soaltee.
What can I say about Kathmandu from what little I was able to see of it from within a car window? Well, it’s definitely still a developing country, chaotic and charged with engergy, similar to what little I remember of India when I was growing up, before the call center and technology boom. Lots of traffic, and lots of people piled atop motorbikes. The weather was pleasantly cool, but part of me wondered whether the fuzziness in the air was fog or pollution. On one hand, the sky was overcast, so slight fog may have been possible, but the sheer abundance of people I saw wearing nose and mouth masks suggested that it was indeed a brew of exhaust and smoke in the air. With our car windows rolled down, I took it in–crisp, cold, but clearly not so fresh. “Not something you’d want to breathe in every day,” my colleague quipped.
The buildings were packed close together and were in varying states of disrepair, but oh! Culture screamed at me from every angle! Women walked around in traditional dress, in swaying ankle length skirts, rich in color and texture. Monkeys climbed along the angry black telephone wires that cut across the roads. Tucked in between decrepit buildings was a golden spire from a random temple. The flowing script of the local language was swept on signs and billboards as often as the Latin alphabet. I even spotted an establishment dubiously named “The Shakira Dance Restaurant.” What a city!
We turned into a side road and arrived at Soaltee. The hotel reminded me of a grand old duchess–beautiful and elegant, but obviously a bit worn out. The man helping me with my bags informed me that it was 44 years old when I had asked. I briefly recalled reading that this place had once hosted Queen Elizabeth.
My room itself is so-so. While the bed is wide and comfortable and the TV is flat-screened, the place smells rather musty. Another note: there is no way anyone is getting me to sit on that couch! It looks like the upholstery could crawl on its own, from all its dust mites.
The people, however, won me over completely. They smile and bow slightly, greeting everyone with a friendly “Namaste” that one feels compelled to mirror because of the good nature of the gesture. Folks I spoke to had said that this cheerfulness was a Nepalese trait, one that I like very much indeed.
I ventured to the grounds to withdraw money from the nearby ATM machine, but my eyes began hurting from my dry contact lenses, so I returned to my room to slip on my glasses and do some work before the planned welcome dinner of the company conference.
I’ve just returned from this dinner, which was mostly some delightful local fare, and very much similar (if not entirely the same as) Indian food. I’ve met some great people, some of whom I’ve interacted with online but have never met in person. More importantly (haha), I’ve met someone who can get me a discounted ticket on an hour long flight to the Himalayas! Woohoo!
And now, yawning but happy, I finish this post. Goodnight from Kathmandu, everyone!