We have finally arrived in Nepal! Our flight landed Thursday afternoon at Tribhuvan Airport, where we were greeted by Karma Sherpa, the head of The Small World, the Nepalese NGO Edge of Seven is partnering with on the Solukhumbu Development Project. Karma was gracious enough to come welcome us to town and help us navigate to our hotel.
I have already been reminded of a few basic travel rules on this trip, such as always err on the side of “really heavy” when estimating your bag weight for flight bookings. But the one that really came to mind when we got to our hotel in Thamel, Kathmandu’s touristy backpacker district, is don’t reserve a room at a place that lacks photos on its website.
View of Thamel, Kathmandu.
In truth, our room is fine. It’s bare-bones basic, but relatively clean, with two beds and an attached bathroom. Its biggest issue, however, is its direct proximity next door to Kathmandu’s premiere death metal club, where the live music starts around 2 p.m. and doesn’t stop until 10 p.m. It is so loud. Sitting in our room is like being front row at a Gwar
concert. Thankfully, around 8 p.m. the bands switch to somewhat “lighter” covers. For example, we were lulled to sleep last night by a stunning rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”
So far, we’ve spent our time getting some practical errands taken care of and exploring the city by foot, trying to orient ourselves a bit. Yesterday, we met with Karma first thing in the morning and decided it was a good opportunity to go ahead and get our bank account set up. At the local branch, everything was going swimmingly until the bank manager looked at our visas. Pointing to the date in our passports, he informed us that the visas had expired earlier this year. We said that was impossible, that we had just arrived the day before.
In Nepal, most government bookkeeping is done by hand, so the margin for human error is high. In this case, the customs official at the airport had mistakenly written down an expiry date of 2011, when it should have been 2012. Since the bank couldn’t process our account without a valid visa, Karma put us on a bus headed toward the Immigration Office to sort things out.
When we got off the bus, we ventured into the Tourist Services office to ask for directions. After explaining our visa situation to the man there, he gave us a huge grin and mapped out the route to the Immigration Department. “Go there,” he said. “They will laugh.”
At Immigration, we were bounced around to about 7 or 8 different desks before reaching someone with the power to help us. He and another employee stared at our passports for several minutes, pointing repeatedly at the visas, while exchanging a lively dialogue and trying unsuccessfully to conceal their laughter. Finally, one of them took out a pen, crossed out “2011” and wrote in “2012.” Done. Why didn’t we think of that?
Our jaunts around the city thus far have reminded me just how completely chaotic the streets of Kathmandu are. Travis hops through traffic like he owns the place, while I tentatively navigate my way through all sorts of moving vehicles and animals. Yesterday, as Travis pulled me along for the umpteenth time, he slapped me on the back and said, “You’re going to do well here.” I appreciated the vote of confidence.
It’s really great to be back in Nepal. It’s the kind of place that plays on every sensory nerve in one’s body, where even small things can seem exciting and time seems to slow down so that each moment can be properly acknowledged and recorded. At the same time, it’s impossible to walk down the street here and not notice how hard life is for so many people. One minute, I am marveling at the beauty of such a colorful city; the next, I am tearing up at the sight of a young street kid. We are really looking forward to getting settled and getting to work.