Arriving in KathmanduPosted: November 7, 2016
When I stepped off the airplane, the sights, sounds, and overwhelmingly bad air quality assailed my senses. After packing the passengers into the bus from the tarmac to the terminal, we exited and filed into customs, which felt like many other third world customs offices. Hundreds of people searching from one line to another. Where am I supposed to be? Is this the right line? Do I have the right paperwork?
As for me, I didn’t complete the visa application so that took a few extra minutes at a circular table covered with scattered and discarded applications and entry cards. Luckily, I had a passport-sized photo, which probably saved forty-five minutes. The visa line was slow-moving and about fifteen people deep. With my completed country entry card, application, and photo in hand, it started feeling uncomfortably warm and stuffy in the building, and I felt the weight of my daypack. Sixteen days of this. Okay, don’t freak out. It’ll be fine. At least the air will be cleaner in the mountains. Forty dollars and thirty minutes later, I had a legit 30-day Nepal visa.
The checked luggage made it without a hitch, and once loaded onto the baggage cart, amidst the swarming travelers all speaking different languages buzzing around, talking or arguing with one another – I couldn’t tell, I followed the signs on the ceiling out to the exit doors. The guards were sticklers for checking baggage claim tickets too. It took me an incredibly long minute nervously riffling through each pocket to find my plane ticket with the claim tag stapled on the back of it.
Thirty feet from the exit doors, amid hundreds of Nepali men holding up papers with names in block letters on them, stood a man in his early thirties with dark, disheveled hair and khaki pants waving my name on a piece of paper inside a pink plastic paper protector: Ms Sherry Keating. Okay, that’s me. I made eye contact with him and he pointed me over to where I could cross somewhat safely with my bags. As soon as we met, he took the push cart from me and said, “Namaste. This way.”
I followed him to a van in a parking lot about two hundred feet from the exit doors where he loaded my bags into the back. The sun was warm and air smelled of fumes. Another man met us at the van. This gentlemen was slightly older, dressed in a suit and wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses. It disconcerted me that I couldn’t see his eyes. He greeted me with namaste and said he would be taking me to my hotel. He sat in the passenger seat and the driver started the engine so I climbed into the van.
Once seated, I was taking in how vulnerable I must seem or maybe just feel, when the other guy who waved my name and rolled my bags over called to me before the van door slid shut. “Hey,” he said, “tips,” and raised his right hand moving his thumb across his middle and forefinger. The international sign for money. “I’m working here,” he touted.
I laughed out loud. “Oh, you want a tip?” I asked, smiling. I thought about telling him to bet on the Chicago Cubs to win the 2016 World Series in game seven. But instead said, “I have American money. Is that alright?”
“Even better,” he said smugly. I handed him a five dollar bill and said, thank you. He smiled widely, held the money up as a thank you or that’s right gesture, I wasn’t sure, and then walked back to the airport. I looked at the suit and couldn’t read his expression behind his sunglasses. Did he think me a fool? Stupid American for not thinking to tip or stupid American for tipping too little or too much or at all. Instead of worrying, I mapped the hotel and saw that it was seven minutes away.
Upon arriving at Dwarika’s Hotel, I was promptly greeted with a white linen Prelong handkerchief placed on my shoulders, then seated in the lobby across a glass table from the suit. The hotel attendant promptly asked for my passport and later returned with two glass goblets containing cool apple cider. The suit sat across from me and removed his sunglasses. Finally. His kind eyes were a deep russet brown. I asked his name and he said Biswajit. He downed his apple cider in two long swallows, then told me I would meet my trekking guide tomorrow at 9am and later my Kathmandu guide for the half-day tour. Sounded reasonable. No, I didn’t have any more questions. We stood and I handed him a tip. He smiled, took it, and said, “Thank you. Namaste.”
The lobby attendant led me to my room on the third floor. The hotel is old, full of antique word carvings, and incredibly ornate. The room door was secured with a padlock on the outside and a large wooden sliding door latch, imagine viking-sized doors and latch, on the inside. I tipped the attendant who brought up my luggage and closed the door. Then I took much pleasure in sliding the three foot, incredibly old wooden latch across both doors, because when one gets the chance to slide a door latch the size of a toddler across a door the size two side-by-side refrigerators, one must comply.