Arrival in Nepal

Arrival in Kathmandu 
My journey to Kathmandu, Nepal took about 22 hours. It was the shortest flight and travel time I could find and I thought the route was rather nice and direct. New York JFK to Dubai via Emirates and then Dubai to Kathmandu via FlyDubai (who I had admittedly never heard of before). Note to self and other vegetarians: If you pre-order the vegetarian meal on Emirates they will give you a vegan meal, they now offer a vegetarian selection in cabin. I wish I had known, the vegan option was not appetizing and I usually like vegan things.

During the layover in Dubai I could just barely see through the haze how much the skyline had changed since I last saw it in 2006. The Burj Khalifa stuck out straight to the heavens in spike form like the tower of babble (or what my brain imagines as the tower of babble and I'm not even religious). Even though it was quite a ways away through the desert, you can still grasp the immensity of it. I flew into one of the new terminals, terminal 3 or 1, nope 3, but was eventually shuttled to one of the old terminals that they use to do puddle hops around Asia and the Middle East. This terminal was basically a large room with seats, three places to eat and mass amounts of people. It was actually hard to find a seat, especially one where someones bare feet were not spilling over onto it. This place was a hub for places most people have never heard of. The gate system was a bit willy-nilly and you just had to hope you heard them call your flight at the right gate.

The flight from Dubai to Kathmandu was around 4 hours give or take. I tried to stay awake to make sure I slept at the right time when I got to Kathmandu, but I dozed off. I woke up to find a really smoggy situation outside my window. We were approaching Kathmandu. The mountains started to stick up out of the haze and I was able to see how close we were to them while also noting how low the visibility was. I wasn't concerned so much as curious. I had read about the pollution in Kathmandu and now I was seeing it. We landed without event at close to 6pm. The sun was setting over the city and airport, altered by the haze, giving it a look like I had seen in pictures of places like India.

Once in the terminal I was relieved that I had procured my visa in advance.  The "at the door" visa line was quite long. I was in and out in ten minutes and they didn't ask any questions. If you can get the visa in advance, I highly recommend it. No one wants to wait in line for an hour after getting of 20+ hours of fly time. Baggage claim was easy and my bag came right out. I was surprised at how uneventful baggage claim was, much more organized that I expected (this does not apply to the domestic arrivals). From the time I got off the plane until the time I was outside in the not so fresh air only about 20 minutes had elapsed, a good time ratio by any standards. I was greeted by the normal taxi driver cadre that immediately rushes any single female traveler at any third world airport in the world. I pushed right through to find a guy with a sign for my trekking company. I was brought to the van and told that the other passengers had not landed yet, no big deal, that was pretty normal in a group situation. I tried to get them to let me go to the ATM in the airport but they claimed it wasn't working and kept a pretty good eye on me, telling me to stick to the van. No Nepali rupees were to be had at this point. I had to stick to dollars which I wasn't that thrilled about but had partially expected. The other guests eventually arrived, a family of four, with two children that must have been on school holiday, they couldn't have been more than 8 and 10, I love to see that. I don't know anyone in the US that would bring an 8 and 10 year old to Nepal and I love that this couple did. They were Brits. There was a little mix up with them, their hotel and the tour company, and I started praying that they were going to not only stay in the van but be dropped off second. It was getting dark and I did not fancy a solo van drive with two men into the dark, no power, streets of Kathmandu. (I'm sure it would have been fine, I they were very professional).

After the mix up was cleared, we were all off into the raging traffic of Kathmandu. Near the airport there were some street that had lights and it looked like small pockets had power. (Note: Kathmandu regularly has 12-16 hour power cuts daily.) Then we passed into an area without any at all. There were a few shop keepers that had one light, probably due to a small generator of some sort. It was oddly fascinating to watch the streets during this time. Everyone was still out and about doing their daily routines, walking from here and there and everywhere into the road. It was obvious they were used to the darkness and thought nothing of it. Some people wore masks and I could immediately see why, the road quickly turned to dirt and the fumes from the motorcycles were intense. As we rode through the streets, flitting in and out of traffic, I was reminded of other third world driving experiences I had had previously. There is one constant thing about third world driving that always gets your attention, everyone seems to know the rules of the organized chaos and they abide by them without getting angry (obviously a sweeping generalization). The honking is incessant and alerts everyone to that fact that you are coming and they better get out of the way, and people do. They move and let you pass or they just drive faster. It's amazing especially coming from the US where even the smallest issue can set off some major road rage.

After about 15-20 minutes or so we entered an obviously more "affluent" area, there were lights everywhere. Shops were lit up, hotels and houses appeared to have lights. Based on the type of shops the general difference in upkeep in the road, it was clear to me that we must be near or in Thamel, the more touristed part of the city. Shortly there after we were winding down the tiny streets of Thamel headed for the hotels. All of the little trekking shops that you read about were open in Thamel selling every manner of knock offs or perhaps some real, North Face, Mamut and everything in between. There were backpacks, clothing, trekking poles, pretty much anything you might need for a trek in the Himalayas. It is true what they say, you can get anything you need for a trek in Thamel or in Pokhara. The only thing they recommend you bring is a sleeping bag and broken in hiking boots. Everything else you can buy for cheap once on the ground in Nepal. It depends how much you like your stuff to be a particular way though. I heard stories of some of the gear falling apart after one trek. I guess it's a gamble.

I arrived at my hotel without even and was thankfully dropped off first. We sort of pulled over and I jumped out with one of the guys and walked up to my hotel. The first night I stayed at the Ambassador Garden Home because the tour hotel didn't have extra rooms a night early for me. It ended up working out. The AGH was a good place to rest my head after a long journey. Expensive by Nepali standards, cheap by American ones, but nice and basic with hot water and a comfortable bed, which is about the only thing I cared about after the journey. Luckily they must have had a great generator because they also had pretty fast wifi and I was able to skype with my parents. It was like they were in the next room, no delay at all. This was a very pleasant surprise.

View from my room in AGH, in the am.