Category Archives: Nepal

Buddha Airline Crash

Just a quick message…

We were on our way from Delhi to Kathmandu when the Buddha Airlines plane crashed seven miles outside the airport in KTM today (http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/25/world/asia/nepal-plane-crash/index.html)

We were actually starting our descent into the KTM valley when the pilot came on the plane loud speakers and announced, “The Kathmandu Airport has been temporarily closed. We have no further information. We will circle for a while until we hear more details or receive permission to land.”

My first thought was that there was another earthquake and that we couldn’t land because the ground was trembling beneath us. P thought maybe there was a strike that all of a sudden broke out. “Only in Nepal does the airport temporarily close when you are just about to land” he said.

About ten-fifteen minutes later we were given permission to land, but not given any additional information. We went through the airport, I got my visa, and we collected our bags, but no one said anything. We met P’s dad outside the airport, and he helped us to a taxi to travel back to P’s house.

As we were loading our bags (which, luckily, made it to KTM against all odds), I said to Daddy, “While we were in the air the pilot said the airport was temporarily closed. Do you know why?”

Daddy said, “Yes. One of the mountain flights [tourist flights that do sightseeing flights around the high mountains/Everest] crashed right before you landed.”

When we got back to P’s house, after being welcomed as the new buhari, and tikka-ed and garlanded by P’s grandfather, mother, father and aunt, we turned on the news, and the crash was all anyone could talk about. 19 dead. The news crew showed damage from the wreckage as well as the line of dead bodies on the ground, with just their upper bodies covered by a blue tarp, limbs crooked every which way.

Scary to think that we were circling above the airport as this happened. The fog was thick in the valley upon approach, but not more than I’ve seen when I flew other times.

I guess when my mother woke up this morning she saw on a news ticker on the tv, “2 Americans dead in a plane crash in Kathmandu” and she totally freaked out, but once she saw the full story she realized it was a local not international flight.

So I am here safe, let’s hope there aren’t any other crazy issues in the next two weeks.

More info on the crash: http://myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=36509

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The Urge to Smack a Delhi Airport Employee at 5 O’Clock in the Morning

This post is long, but the title pretty much sums up what I wrote….

I’m sitting on my flight to KTM waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, but I was so steamed that I couldn’t wait to whip out my laptop and draft a blog post.

P and I landed in Delhi early. Our flight was originally due to land around 4 (Sunday morning), but we got in at 3:30am. We had already been traveling more than 24 hours straight, departing Boston at 8pm on Friday and flying to London, then London to Bahrain, and then Bahrain to Delhi (last minute tickets… what to do?), before finally making it to Tribhuvan International Airport a little after breakfast time on Sunday.

A lot of Nepalis that I know tend to be wary about flying through Delhi. They seem worried about being hassled, or having problems with their luggage, or missing flights. I had chocked that up to the general attitude that Nepalis sometimes have towards India– as a country that tends to push Nepal around. But after today, I’m happy to say that on our return flight we are flying from KTM to Bahrain direct and skipping Delhi completely.

When we checked our bag (and thank goodness we only have one between us!)  in Boston the worker at the airline counter said that our bag was checked straight through to Kathmandu with no problem, but that we could only get boarding passes until Delhi since gates for flights more than 24 hours in advance hadn’t been issued yet. Okay, I’ve heard that before, I understand that.

So as we departed our flight in Delhi, P and I follow the signs for “international transfers” knowing we had to eventually find a check-in desk for Jet Airways to get our boarding passes before continuing on to the gate. Eventually we were herded into a corner where a gathering of European tourists and Nepali workers returning from abroad had already started to congregate. In front of us was a check-in counter with 5 kiosks and about 8 or 9 airport employees who were waiting to “assist passengers” to get their boarding passes. In addition to the 8 or 9 people behind the counter, several other airport employees were circulating through the crowd of passengers trying to track down passengers from different flights.

P and I got in the Jet Airways line behind about 8 European tourists. We stood in line for a good fifteen minutes and only 2 people had been serviced.

“This guy is slower than death,” I said to P, “What the hell is he doing?”

Finally one of the employees searching for passengers came over to us and asked, “Gulf Air?”

P answered yes.

“Come with me,” he said, and pulled us out of the line that was going nowhere fast. “Do you have your luggage tags and your eticket information?” We pulled out both and innocently handed them over to him. He then asked for our passports, and an “assistant” took down all our details and carbon copied them onto two sheets of paper. Luggage man #1 explained that he had to go down to the Gulf Airways baggage area, find our bag, and then pull it so they could transfer to the Kathmandu flight.

It was a little after 4 am, so we really weren’t thinking about how this logically didn’t seem to make much sense. I mean, don’t airports transfer luggage all the time without having to go through all this? But for the first half hour I had my cross-cultural adjustment hat on, and I was giving the workers the benefit of the doubt.

The man disappeared with the print out of our eticket and our luggage tag number (along with the two carbon copies of all our information). We didn’t see him again for nearly an hour and a half.

P and I sat, and watched some of the other airport employees chat with the European tourists. For being so freaking early in the morning there were a lot of staff people around, and precious little actually happening… just a lot of “confirming of information,” “taking down passenger details,” and staff chit chatting with each other.

After about half an hour, and a quick trip to the nearby bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, and generally freshen up, I started realizing how utterly ridiculous this was. Where was the guy who took our baggage info? Where were our boarding passes?

I went up to the Jet airways guy (finally his “slower than death” line had disappeared, more because of the circulating employees than probably his doing.) and said, “I am taking the 6:30 flight to KTM that starts boarding at 5:30am. An airport employee talked to us more than half an hour ago about transferring our luggage, but we haven’t seen him since, and he has our eticket print out and our luggage tags. Can we get boarding passes? Are we supposed to just sit and wait?”

“Do you want to go to Nepal without your luggage?” The guy—Sumit—his real name, asked, condescendingly.

“Of course not, but can you not issue a boarding pass if our luggage isn’t here?” I asked.

“I can, if you don’t care about your luggage.” He answered.

“So we just have to wait for him to come back?” I asked, “Isn’t there some way to check? I mean, when we checked our luggage at the start of our trip the airport employees told us that it would go straight through to Kathmandu. I don’t understand what the situation is.”

This sparked some comments back and forth in Hindi between several workers milling around the front desk.

“We cannot guarantee your luggage will get to Kathmandu if we print your boarding pass now ma’am. But if you are so concerned talk to that man.” Sumit said, pointing to another idle-looking employee.

So I went to him, explained that we talked to a guy who was supposed to locate luggage for Gulf Air more than half an hour ago, and we had heard nothing since. “Can I see your luggage tag and eticket info?” luggage guy #2 asked.

“THE OTHER GUY HAS IT, that’s part of the problem!” I explained.

“Okay, okay, let me check. What is your name?” I showed him P’s passport (the bag was checked under his name). Luggage guy #2 left with a promise of, “I’ll be back soon.”

Then he disappeared, for about 20 minutes or more. P started talking to another Nepali guy waiting for his flight, which wasn’t scheduled until noon. Damned if I was going to miss this flight and wait until noon. I jumped up to talk to Sumit again. In was approaching 5am.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you again, but our flight starts boarding in half an hour, and now two people have gone missing tracking down our luggage. I’m afraid of missing this flight after traveling so far, and having to wait until noon to fly because of this baggage issue.”

“Fine. I’ll print your boarding passes so you will be confirmed on your flight. But I don’t know about your bags. I won’t give you the boarding passes until the man comes back.” He took the passes and stuck them behind his keyboard. This sparked more conversation in Hindi between people behind the counter.

“I don’t understand.” I said again, “Would it be easier for me to walk down to baggage claim myself and pick up the bag and recheck it?” I asked.

“You do not have an entry visa for India to go to the baggage claim, ma’am.” Sumit said.

“My husband is Nepali,” I’d only shown Sumit P’s passport half a dozen times at this point, “he doesn’t need an entry visa, should he go down and get it if finding the bag is so hard?” I was really losing my patience.

This sparked more discussing in Hindi. I’m sure this was fun entertainment for the workers.

The guy standing next to Sumit, who looked like he had a fever since he kept wiping his face and rubbing his head, offered to call his manager. He dialed up the phone and another exchange took place in Hindi. “He will call back in 5 minutes, come back in 5 minutes.” He said.

I walked back to P. I was trying really hard to be patient, but I was tired, and this truly was ridiculous.

Then I spotted luggage guy #2 again and walked up to him.

“Our luggage is all set?” I asked him.

“I relayed your message.” He said, noncommittally.

“So you have talked to the guy who is looking for our bag or you haven’t talked to him? Does he have our bag?”

“I don’t know. I passed your message to him. He will explain the problem.”

“So there is a problem now?” I asked.

“No, no… no problem.” He said.

“There isn’t anyone we can call?” I asked a bit desperately.

“No.”

I went to Sumit again, the time getting dangerously close to 5:30 when the flight was due to start boarding. “I don’t really understand the problem.” I said, “Why can’t we call someone to track down the bag? We are going to miss our flight!”

“Wait five minutes ma’am.”

What the hell!

So I walked back to P who was still talking to the other Nepali guy. A few minutes later P spotted luggage man #1, “There he is, let’s go talk to him!” he said.

P and I walked up to luggage man #1 and I asked, “You found our luggage?” (thinking in my head, “it’s only been about an hour and a half! Where the hell have you been??”)

“Yes.” He said.

“And it’s definitely on the flight?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “It’s a blue bag with a retractable handle, right?”

“Yes.” We both answered simultaneously.

He handed us back our eticket and original luggage tag. Sumit had conveniently walked away from the counter, so I said to the fever man, “Our boarding passes were printed out earlier, can you please give them to us now that our luggage is confirmed?”

Fever man shook his head, “I can’t. Sumit has them.”

So now we had our luggage, no boarding passes, and the flight was getting ready to board, and we were quite a walk from the gate (and P can’t walk fast… he has a torn meniscus, and his surgery isn’t scheduled until November, so even gingerly making it across the terminals had been a challenge this whole time.)

I spotted Sumit coming from the bathroom from across the room. He walked over and I asked him for our passes. He insisted he had to print everything again, asking for both our passports, our luggage tag, our eticket, and a verbal confirmation from luggage man #1.

P and I were practically stamping our feet in frustration.

“I’m sorry,” Sumit said, looking up from the computer, “I can’t put you two next to each other on the plane, since we waited so long to confirm your boarding passes there are no seats left together.”

“Whatever,” I said, “Just give us our boarding passes.”

He printed them and handed them to us saying, “It’s boarding now, I suggest you run.”

Thanks… asshole.

“Don’t forget your luggage tags*.” He said as we walked away from the counter. That was the least of my worries, so P and I ignored him and ran through the passageway towards international security check.

* for clarification—I mean the luggage tags you loop through the shoulder strap of your bag with your name on it that serves as identification, not the sticker on your boarding pass envelope that tells you where your bags are, which I had been talking about previously.

A uniformed young woman with a large noise piercing and a colorful bindi asked us for our passports, tickets, and wanted to see the luggage tags for each of our carry-ons.

“Shoot,” P said, “I forgot that they stamp the luggage tag to verify that you have gone through security at this airport.”

Of course the woman only had one spare, and we had three bags. I spotted one on the floor near the x-ray machine and picked it up, it was blank, good. I frantically looked around for another and saw one under the foot of another uniformed security officer, a man with a mustache. I asked him to hand it to me, but it wasn’t blank. “No matter,” he said, and gave it to me anyway to loop on my bag. Whatever works.

We tossed our things on the x-ray machine and I walked through the scanner, and of course set it off, and had to be taken aside and frisked. I told the lady we were running late. She looked at my boarding pass and said, “You have time.”

P and I gathered our things on the opposite side of the x-ray machine, and started walking as fast as we could through the Duty Free section of the terminal, on the other side was a sign that said “Gates 1-14 to the right”, with a notification it would be approximately a 15 minute walk.

I hefted the bag I had been rolling on to my back and picked up my speed. I called out to P to see how he was doing. He was moving along, but didn’t want to push himself too hard in case he injured his leg more. So I said I’d go ahead, at least let them know at the gate that we were on our way.

So I hurried ahead, and by the time we got to the gate the crowd waiting for the plane to KTM was still waiting, some playing cards, a few stretched out sleeping on the floor. Apparently there wasn’t such an urgency as Sumit made us think.

“Do you think we can ask someone to trade seats on the flight so we can sit together?” P asked.

“It’s only an hour and a half, I think we will be okay if no one switches.” I said.

When boarding started P and I got on the flight and waited as people found their seats. I was placed between two older Nepali men who looked like they were returning from working in the Middle East.

As the plane filled, I noticed no one sat in the seat next to P. I asked the stewardess if I could move. She said if once the pilot closed the doors no one came on the plane with a ticket for that seat I could move.

Lo and behold, the pilot closed the doors and no one came. That jerk Sumit probably just wanted to mess with us some more.

I moved back a few rows to sit with P.

So now our flight is just about to land in KTM. Our freaking bag better be on this plane, or I might just have to conjure up a voodoo curse on Mr. Sumit of Jet Airways at the Delhi International Transfers desk. Yes, Sumit, I’m talking to you.

Happy 2011… Now Go Visit Nepal!

Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate than visit a beautiful, culturally rich, and adventurous country?

The Nepali government and Nepali travel trade sector decided in October of 2008 to launch the national tourism campaign “Nepal Tourism Year 2011” to help bolster tourism after the country’s long and costly civil insurgency.

With the adage “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guests are Gods), an important concept at the heart of Nepalese culture, the campaign will hopefully rekindle tourist interest and dollars in the tiny Himalayan destination.

Not yet convinced? Check out this lengthy (9 minutes) but intriguing tourism montage:

If all works out, we hope to be there for Dashain 2011. When are you going?

Just Me and My Momo Man

Something short and sweet (I mean “tasty”) and funny…

Nepali Summer 2009

It’s me and the “Momo Man” from the Bakery Cafe chain in the Kathmandu Valley. How could one not pose for a picture with a character made out of the tasty Nepali delicacy?! (I’m assuming he’s veg, of course ;) even though his head is kinda shaped like a buff momo… hmmm…)

This is from the Bakery Cafe in Thamel.

Deadliest Journeys–Nepal

The administrative assistant in my office found this video on Hulu yesterday and passed it on to me since it was about Nepal. So last night after dinner, a group of us sat around the table eating dessert and watching the show.

The voice over commentary is over dramatic, but it is still interesting to watch and see the conditions of one of the remotest roads in Nepal (from Surkhet to Jumla– a 185 mile journey that takes 4 days by truck).

Apparently the editing staff played around with translating Nepali to English, and in several instances the subtitles over dramatize what an interviewee stated (example– the subtitle said, “Damn that road that killed my mother!” when she actually said, “I’m scared of that road that killed my mother,”), or outright changed a good portion of the context. However, if you are like me and need to rely on the subtitles, you’ll get a general idea of what is being said. I’d recommend watching with a Nepali speaker so you’ll get a better understanding of what the local people are actually saying.

The program is only about 20 minutes long, and if you are not able to watch Hulu in your home country, I believe the video is also available on Youtube (but you have to sign in to watch it).

While looking for a picture of the road I found another posting that tells about the journey between Surkhet and Jumla with lots of great pictures– “The Karnali Express: Bumping on for 52 Hours (Jumla to Surkhet)” on the blog “United We Blog! for a Democratic Nepal.”

An example of the road between Surkhet and Jumla

Agni Air Crash

I’ve written about the tiny mountain airport of Lukla before, and how we got stranded in Lukla for a few days due to bad weather. It’s supposedly one of the most dangerous airports in the world because of the altitude, angle and shortness of the runway, and the narrow valley leading up to the runway. Certainly there is a good reason for the flights not to travel when the weather is bad.

Sadly an Agni flight traveling from Kathmandu to Lukla crashed Tuesday morning killing all 14 on board. The flight took off from KTM, heading towards Lukla only to find that the weather was too bad to land and the flight turned around to return to KTM (something which also happened to us– but we were left in Lukla listening to the plane engines recede into the distance). Before the flight could make it back to the airport it crashed– about 50 miles from KTM– in a rural village.

The photos are scary… the remains of the passengers– 4 Americans, 1 Briton, 1 Japanese, 5 Nepalis, and 3 Nepali crew– have been collected in small blue garbage bags, as if their bodies simply exploded on impact and left tiny pieces. It’s scary and sad, especially when I can picture exactly what the flight and the plane involved in the crash looked like, even the uniform of the flight hostess–a Sherpani styled chupa and apron.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

For more info:
BBC–Nepali tourist plane kills all 14 on board
The Himalayan– Agni Air crash victims mortal remains brought back to KTM

Cavity formed in the paddy field where the Agni Air plane crashed. Photo credit: Nepal Army

Monsoon Wedding VI- The Final Chapter

So thanks for baring with me… at least there were lots of photos to look at.

This final ceremony, the Mukh Herne, is specifically a Newari tradition. Mukh Herne literally means “face looking” and it was explained to me that after the bride spends a few days with the groom’s family she is brought back to her relatives so they can “look at her face” and see if she is happy and being treated well. For R it started back in Chitwan, where S’s family made sure she was looking great, including an elaborate hair style.

So remember the pile of gifts that the groom’s family brought to the bride’s family during the Supari? The bride’s family reciprocated by adding more gifts to the pile and displaying them during the Mukh Herne. During the reception many of the edible gifts were distributed to the guests as sweets but other gifts like cosmetics, purses, clothing, etc, were brought back to the groom’s home.

One of the more creative gifts came from R's brother. Inspired by sets of tee shirts that S brought from the US as a funny treat for their families with different logos printed on them (like a tee shirt for R's brother that said, "I love my new brother-in-law"), R's brother dressed two fish in mini "I love" shirts. The fish wearing pants has a shirt that says "I love R" and the fish in a red sari says "I love S."

Similar to the other receptions, the bride and groom had a special place to sit where family and friends greeted them and offered gifts.

R's dad gives a gift while the family priest (who married them) looks on

R accepts the gifts by bowing and touching her forehead to the offering

At some point during the ceremony, R changed from the clothes given by S’s family to a set given by her own family. The second part of the evening occured after the reception when the groom (and the groom’s friends) returned to the bride’s house to be officially welcomed as a “jwai”– a son-in-law. Supposedly the groom’s friends are usually teased by the bride’s family, but I think by this point we were well loved by R’s household.

S was greeted and introduced to each member of R’s extended household individually (even though by now they already also knew him), and each gave him a monetary gift and blessings, which he touched to his head and receive tikka. As S’s “groom representatives” we were also given gifts by R’s mom and dad.

Groom's friends pose with bride and her grandmother

The very very last step in this process was symbolically sharing a meal with R’s family (Sagun)… we were given eggs, rice, roti, and different curries to try. At the end of the evening R and S’s wedding had officially concluded. Slowly, afterward, R was able to start wearing colors other than red. Phew… what a journey!

P and C... a little "wedded" out :)