8th-10th March, 2015
After five days of closure, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport opened again, and I was part of the initial stream of passengers from backlogged flights to arrive there.
It turned out to be much more than the tiny airport with just a single runway could handle: my flight was diverted to Calcutta, where we waited for three hours, and the airport management had simply not prepared for what it had coming. Baggage claim was absolute hell – there is no other way to describe it. The room was so tightly packed you could barely move. There was no information on the screens about which belt you should go to. Each of the three belts had up to four different flights being slowly loaded on at a time. Waiting times were horrendous – some were waiting for well over 10 hours. People kept pushing, and shoving, and were – quite understandably – getting angry.
The army were eventually called in to ‘help’, but all they did was stand around, bark orders, and try to control the crowds. It took several hours before some bright spark had a brain wave (or just finally did what many, including myself, hinted) and decided to get some of the soldiers to the task of resolving the source of all the problems and discontent; distributing bags.
The luggage – which until then had been appearing on the belts at a painfully slow pace – began coming in, and more soldiers appeared to take them off the belts, making mountains of jumbled suitcases, backpacks, and boxes on the floor. One man’s TV was broken in the rough handling, causing more uproar.
After over ten hours of waiting, I realised that everyone from my flight had already received their luggage, and accepted the fact that mine must have been left in Kuala Lumpur. I was not very surprised by this: the day before, after my flight had been cancelled for the fourth time, I had asked for my bag to be returned to me but, before I could collect it, the flight was rescheduled and I had to rush to the boarding gate. I had been promised that my backpack had been loaded back into the cargo, but I think they were just in a rush to get me onto the plane.
I went to the Baggage Help Desk. There was only one man there, and about forty people were crowded around him. Nepali people don’t believe in queuing, and I waited to speak to him for so long that I got angry. “WHY IS THERE ONLY ONE OF YOU!?” I exclaimed. It was morning by that point, and I had been up all night.
Several people around me applauded and raised their fists to the air. I swiftly quieted down: I didn’t want to be part of inciting a riot and, from the energy I could feel in the room, this place could have easily gone in that direction (apparently there actually were some incidents where things got a bit out of hand, but that happened after I left).
Once I managed to get a chance to speak to him, I told him why I believed that my luggage was still in Malaysia but he kept making excuses to not call them up. I ended up saying something to him which was very rude and I will not repeat.
Me and my friends caught a taxi to Kathmandu, and the first thing I did when I found a hotel was call up the Help Desk for Air Asia at Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport.
“I think my bag is still with you,” I said, once I had given her my name and booking number. “Can you check for me?”
“Okay. Ring back in three hours,” she replied.
“Can’t you do it a bit sooner?” I asked. “I really need my bag. If you find it I need you put it on the next flight to-”
“We can’t do that, I’m afraid,” she interrupted me. And then began to say, robotically; “To get a lost bag the procedure is to fill out an E-Form, requesting-”
Now it was my turn to interrupt her. “Look,” I said. “This is your mistake, not mine. So can you just get my bag to me as soon as possible, please? I’m not going to wait for one of you to get round to reading some ‘E-Form’. I have plans. I can’t do anything until I get my-”
“Call us back in twenty minutes… I will see what I can do…” she said.
I ended up having to ring them another six times before I finally got confirmation that they had found my bag, and persuaded them to load it up onto the next plane heading to Kathmandu.
Shortly after that I went outside onto the streets of Thamel. I was with Francisco, Manuel and Annette; three of the friends I made during my time stuck in Kuala Lumpur. We had all bonded during the long hours of waiting at airport departure gates and evenings spent laughing off each day’s frustrations while chugging down beer in cheap hostels in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.
My mood began to lighten a little: I was already beginning to love Kathmandu. The streets were filled with shops, most of them either specialising in outdoor equipment or hippy clothes – colourful fisherman’s pants, baggy tunics, thick ponchos, and patchwork hats – and I even spotted an entire store dedicated to different kinds of tea.
“This is awesome!” I said. “It’s like someone made a street for me!”
It was shortly after saying that, that we came across this – a source of much laughter:
I spent the rest of that morning shopping – buying myself a coat and a few other useful things for the trek I was planning to venture upon – and the afternoon napping. In the evening I braved the airport again to collect my bag. The baggage claim area was unrecognisably calm. I joined the people who had just got off their flight from Kuala Lumpur, and I only had to wait fifteen minutes before my bag appeared on the belt. I picked it up, not believing, after the hellish week I had just had, how easy it was.
The following day I made preparations for the trek. I went to the Department of Tourism to fill out some forms and purchase my permit for trekking Langtang National Park. On the way back I wandered around Kathmandu, finding myself lost in old alleyways which looked almost – apart from all the motorcycles zimming past – like I had stepped into a world from hundreds of years ago. Every now and then I would pass a little shrine or see an archway with Hindu imagery on the visage, step through, and find myself in a small temple. Kathmandu certainly seemed like a great place to get oneself lost in.
I also took a stroll around Durbar Square – the ancient palace of Kings – but I tried to not venture too far inside the actual temples or the museum, as my parents were going to be meeting me in Kathmandu at the end of the month and I had a feeling they were going to want to spend some time there too.
In the evening Francisco, Manuel and I went to rooftop bar, where we had a reunion with Annette, Irene, Fabian and Linda. After been stuck for almost a week in Kuala Lumpur, we had finally made it to Kathmandu and were about to go our separate ways. We talked about meeting up again at the end of the month though.
For more photos from Kathmandu, click here.