Remember your first experience in Nepal? If you were one of the lucky ones, without a prearranged itinerary, probably a backpacker, then your first experience of this quixotic country must have started at the international airport itself. Of course, you are lucky you’re traveling light; for those with lots of baggage, there will be probably quite a bit of longer waiting period than international travelers are generally used to. As for you, the what-will-I-do-with-so much-baggage tourist, you are just raring to get out of the airport to inhale the fresh Himalayan air you’ve heard so much about, and get your first look of this one-time Shangri-La that has sometimes been touted as one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the whole wide world.
Well, hold your horses, dude. You’re falling into a common tourist-disappointment trap. Don’t have too high expectations in the beginning, but certainly, you can expect more as you go. The airport must have looked pretty quaint to you; you who have strolled through fantastic steel and chrome structures like Abu Dhabu or Dubai International, or even the gigantic, if less grandiose, JFK in New York. Sure, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport isn’t big in any sense of the word, and sure, it isn’t as shiny, but it surely looks quite homely, don’t you think? Hope you didn’t have to wait too long in the immigration desk line, and even you did, surely you must have received a lot of welcoming smiles. So, that’s the first thing you may have noticed; people smile easily here.
Now, hope you have been warned of what to expect next. As you exit the main entrance gates, you’ll be assailed by the small multitude waiting outside. You don’t have to look for your moniker among all the name cards bobbing among the crowd; you are the intrepid traveler, right? No advance bookings. So, you keep on walking to the taxi stand that’s a little way ahead. But you won’t have to walk long; you’ll soon have a couple of drivers by your side, asking if you want a ride. Here, you should know that you can always avail of a pre-paid taxi service, but that’s going to cut into your unique experience. So, you go with the flow, and soon find that one of the drivers is trying to grab your bag, with the other doing likewise. A minor scuffle ensues, not serious. You’ll eventually be ensconced inside a small taxi, and with a big grin, the driver gets going. That’s when you have an uneasy feeling. Hey, did we agree on a price? You ask yourself. No, you didn’t.
So, as the taxi rolls onwards, you glance at the meter. It’s not running; hasn’t been flagged. So, how much to Thamel, you want to know. Thamel’s where you want to go to; you already know that from friends back home, and from online blogs. That’s where the action is supposed to be. Cheap hotels, great restaurants, lots of tourists. How much, you repeat. You may well have a driver who may not come to that straight away, instead charming you with a bit of chit chat. He’ll regale you with stories of how he had to wait the whole day at the airport, not a single passenger; and that too after waiting in line the whole night to fill up at the gas station. You’ve heard about the political strikes, the gas shortages due to the India’s economic blockade, etc., haven’t you? And, of course, last year’s great earthquake that killed more than 8000 people.
He sounds rueful, and soon you’ll be expressing genuine sympathy for not only him, but the plight of all Nepalis. So, when he names a figure, finally, you agree wholeheartedly, deciding to give a tip, as well. You do a quick calculation on your smartphone; the fare looks ridiculously low in dollars. So, you’ll certainly give him a generous tip. Poor chap. But, surprising that even with so many problems, he seems to be pretty cheery!