Friday, January 18, 2013

Farewell, Nepal

The day after the paragliding course finished, I took the bus back from Pokhara to Kathmandu. As we drove through the suburbs of Pokhara, the weather got gradually mistier and mistier, something which I hadn't really seen before, but definitely indicative of the Nepalese winter creeping in slowly.

But after about an hour and a half, the mist disappeared and the coach started to warm up. The view improved as well:

We stopped twice, once for breakfast (where I didn't bother to get out, I had food with me) and again for lunch where I found myself chatting to a Gurkha from the UK who had been visiting his relatives in Pokhara and was now on his way back to England. It was really interesting to hear his thoughts - but I was really starting to get tired of explaining my story by now so I just listened!

The coach journey, a mere 8 hours long, was its usual rough self and I didn't realise just how rough until I called my parents and found it very difficult to string together a coherent sentence! But half way through, the driver or conductor must have seen me chatting on the phone so they put the Nepali-music radio on full blast and I had to hang up...

But eventually I arrived in Kathmandu and this time accepted the offer of the cab driver to take me across town to Ratna Park where I could get a bus back to Lokanthali. We also passed a fantastic example of the Coca-Cola vs Pepsi battle which I have seen raging across the planet - I can't imagine a commercial conflict so widespread, incessant, pointless or visually offensive as the soft drinks market :-)

It was nice to see everyone in Lokanthali again. I spent the night there, and spent quite some time packing all of my belongings into my incredibly trusty Berghaus and creating a pile of clothes and supplies to donate to the orphanage. I ate my final Dal Bhat, saw Nicky depart in a taxi (her flight was the same day as mine) and also debriefed Bal on my thoughts about the placement. Finally I was sent off in style by Amy and the Gautam family - resplendant with tikka, a wreath, a tangerine and a lucky Nepali Rupee coin. 

And then, nothing was left for me but to wave farewell and head off in a taxi of my own. How did I feel? Certainly, excited to see Dubai and return home (just to leave for skiing a day later). Excited to see my friends and family again, and ultimately start my proper graduate job. Satisfied, at having survived Nepal unscathed, got fitter than I have ever been, making friends in all sorts of countries and really enjoying my volunteer placement. And of course, reluctant to leave those same friends behind and set off out an environment I had become very comfortable in and onto another airliner. But of course I have the ability to keep in touch with everyone - so it's not really goodbye for ever!

As I departed, the taxi driver's daughter (who inexplicably accompanied us to the airport) took this photo of me, the last one in Nepal. The wreath was confiscated in Departures, the tangerine didn't survive the flight (yum) and neither did the tikka - but the coin I still have in my wallet.

Kathmandu airport isn't actually the easiest place to get into - straight away you have to go through a security check and then find your way to the check in counter. There was a huge queue of Nepalis heading to Dubai, most going for work I was sure, and I stood happily at the back. Until they opened up a new check-in and hand-picked the foreigners out of the queue and sent us to that one - much to our embarrassment and the frowning of the locals. But I was able to ask for a seat on the left hand side of the plane, so that I could see the school as we took off, and was given 3A! Not bad at all.

I had planned in the airport to change my remaining Rupees into GBP (Pounds), AED (Dirham) or even EUR (Euros). Surely, there would be currency exchangers in the airport! Yes, but while he bought all sorts of currencies, he would only sell USD (Dollars) to me (with a 50Rp service charge). But he and a security guard did confirm that there was one upstairs, after immigration.

There wasn't. So I broke out of the 'secure area' and then talked my way out of the airport, first through a very ineffectively guarded VIP entrance (though they did catch me that time) and then eventually back through security. And so I had left, despite having 'emigrated' and having had my bag scanned 3 times!

I went to the counter and explained that I wanted to exchange for Dirhams. The chap counted the money and then gave me 100 Dirhams. This didn't seem right - I did some quick mental maths, probably something he didn't expect me to be able to do, and discovered that he had cheated me out of 500Rp, which remember is a day's wage! I called him up on this and asked him to confirm how many Rupees I had given him, he gave the correct answer, then explained it was a 500Rp service charge. Yeah Right I said and snatched back all of my Rupees. No way I'm getting conned this late in my trip! Be ever on the lookout!

Anyway so I went back to the first exchange counter, and the guy kindly gave me 20 EUR and 7 USD - I was happy with his maths but he even gave me a calculator with which to check. So then I emigrated again with an exceptionally confused emigration officer who saw that I had already left the country once today, and then went through security again and eventually waited around for our flight to be called (not through the screens which had not been updated since 2 hours before, but over the tannoy).

Even in Nepal, air travel is as stupidly regulated as in the UK, so we did the routine (familiar to anyone who has flown to a regional airport such as Innsbruck) of all piling onto an airport bus, to be driven a total of 20m to the aircraft that is parked right outside the gate. The only possible reason I can think of for them doing this is to minutely control when and how many passengers board at once. Because otherwise it is SO STUPID!!

I had forgotten that it was now night-time so of course I could not photograph the school. But it was an interesting change to be once again aboard a pristine airliner with English spoken. I can't imagine how amazing it would be for the Nepalis who had never been in the air before. So I bought a $7 sandwich (perfect amount of money, thankfully), and watched as the lights of Nepal were tucked in under a blanket of cloud as I soared upwards.

Farewell, Nepal.

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