Mittwoch, 29. Februar 2012

February 29 - Travel Day

We flew 6 hours from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi (time difference to Germany: + 3 hours) and arrived at Abu Dhabi at 7 a.m. local time. At 9:50 a.m. we continued our flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Abu Dhabi has a really nice and clean airport:

 but it was obvious that we were on the way to a 3rd world country. Passengers to Nepal and Bhutan were "collected" at a small gate without any chairs to lay down (as we had in the duty free zone before) and without any loudspeaker announcements. Suddenly some passengers started lining up (I didn't know how they knew) and when we asked one of them the boarding to Kathmandu had just begun. Our plane was parked at the very last parking lot of the airport and so we spent about 35 minutes on the airfield before we finally took off. 3 hours and 25 minutes later we arrived in Kathmandu, local time 3:35 p.m., time difference compared to Abu Dhabi: +1:45 hours. The meal that was served on the plane was my first experience with Nepalese food (some rice with chicken and saffron) and it made me feel worried at least a little bit, because it was so hot and spicy that I couldn't eat it (by the way: I love trying and eating food from different countries and I've already tried a lot but the only thing I don't like at all is hot and spicy, it always causes stomach ache and I can't get used to it).
When we arrived at the airport everything was relaxed. We walked from the airplane to the arrival hall and there was even time to take a first picture. A security guy was sitting next to the door, very relaxed, smiling at and welcoming us.

The immigration procedure
I really need to describe the immigration procedure because it is that strange compared to all other airports I've been so far:
First we had to fill out 2 immigration forms. They wanted to know things like your name, birth date, profession etc. (nothing special so far). But the most important information was the lenghts of our stay because the visa fee depended on it. We had to pay 40 USD each and the fee had just doubled within the last years. Especially for that visa fee we brought USD but it wasn't necessary at all because meanwhile one can pay in lots of currencies (EUR included). We also needed a photo for the immigration which could be taken in the arrival hall. The photos could only be paid in rupees so we first had to exchange money, then the picture was taken and we lined up. Christoph had brought photos so did most other passengers but I didn't because of my new haircut. I thought this might cause problems with my old passport pictures but for those, who wanna travel to Nepal soon, let me say: they don't care about it, only the visa fee counts. It is an easy way to get rid of your old passport pictures anyway.
When we reached the immigration officers counter there were 4 of them sitting right next to each other in a row. The first one collected the visa fee. I received 2 receipts from him: one for me and the other one for the person sitting just next to him. Then I went 1 step forward, handed that receipt, my passport, the 2 immigration forms and 1 photo out to that 2nd person. He took it, kept the receipt and piled it up, looked about 1 second into my papers and handed the other items out to the 3rd person (sitting next to him). The 3rd guy piled my 2 immigration forms up and gave my passport to immigration officer no 4. He took a look into my passport again and put a sticker into it (containing the information about the visa fee I had just paid and the date when to leave the country).
=> But the good thing about the procedure is: 4 people less who are unemployed!!!!

We continued to pick up our luggage and because there was only one luggage belt our luggage had already been removed from it and placed on the ground (another plane had just landed so they needed the luggage belt:-)
When we came out of the airport I was lucky that we had arranged our pick-up service in advance as well as our first night in a hotel in Kathmandu. In retrospect I would say we were ripped off: we paid 15 USD for the taxi ride (we had to pay the fee in the hotel) and 22 days later we paid for an equal distance 350 rupees ( 1EUR are approximately 100 rupees).
Anyway, at that time, after a long flight without any sleep, the climate change, the impressions of a new country we were happy that we had arranged that service.
In front of the airport perceived thousands of people were awaiting "us". Everybody grabbed for our luggage and finally we saw a guy holding a sign with our names on it. We waved him but he gestured us to cross the road and join him there. I thought he would take us and our luggage to the taxi and drive us to the hotel, but this guy was only the sign-holder. He showed us the way to our taxi and three other guys were carrying our 3 pieces of luggage to the taxi (so in total 6 people approached the taxi). Because the taxis in Nepal are really small (brand = Suzuki or Tata Nano) the trunk was already full with Christophs backpack.
Taxis in Nepal
So my backpack was "parked" on the front seat, our suitcase was thrown onto the roof luggage rack (of course there were no belts to strap it) and Christoph and I were seated on the back seats (I think I don't need to mentioned that no seatbelts were available:-). All of our 4 helpers asked for a tip (one said: 10 Euros:-), and we struggeled to find a adequate tip in our huge bunch of ruppee-bills. After paying the helpers the 30 minutes journey with our taxi begun and Christoph and I didn't hardly speak:
At that point I'd like to mention that I don't wanna offend anybody and that I really enjoyed our time in Nepal and the people over there. But during our ride to the hotel the 2 of us were suffering from our first cultural shock:
It was my 2nd time in a 3rd world country (my first time was a long time ago at the age of 12) and Christophs first time and in my opinion/perception the people over there live with/in the garbage. It is hot, dusty and there are no traffic rules. People drive, where they want (left-hand traffic), pass on the right and left side (depends on the space) and the worst thing is all that honking: they honk when they wanna pass, when they drive towards the middle of an intersection (without looking), to say hello to others and for much more reasons I don't know. Everywhere between the cars are scooters and motorbikes, the driver is always wearing a helmet but neither the co-driver. Cows are standing in the middle of the road and eating plastics. Sometimes (at very big intersections) they have traffic lights or policmen who regulate the flow of traffic. Lots of people are wearing masks around their mouth because of the air pollution, the dust and the sickening smell.

 Some impressions of Kathmandu
All of these pictures were taken later, but to get a first impression of the city and to explain our cultural shock they might be useful:

For our first night we had booked a 4-star hotel. When we arrived it didn't really look like such a hotel for me but in retrospect and for Nepalese circumstances it really WAS a 4-star hotel:-)

Entrance of our hotel

We were warmly welcomed, got a welcome-drink and checked in. Then we went to our room and wanted to arrange our upcoming journey but we weren't able to search the internet with Christoph's laptop because we couldn't open any single internet page. So we went down and the hotel clerk explained that the hotel employs a guy who could make all the bookingsfor the guests. We asked him to book our bus trip to Pokhara for the next day and paid 20 $ each for the trip with a deluxe bus (!) (one meal was included). In this context I asked the stupidest of all my questions during that vacation: "Does the bus have toilets on board?"
The trip were supposed to last 7 hours for 200 km!!!!(why, I'll describe tomorrow in my next blog)
After finishing our booking I asked the hotel clerk if I could use the computer room for guests and I recognized that I had just received an email from our trekking organization, saying that the bus trip to Pokhara were already paid and arranged by them (super....) We deceided to take the bus we had just booked in the hotel lobby because for the other bus we would have gone out again to pick up our tickets in the office of the bus company.
After a short walk in front of the hotel (the hotel was located in the backyard, far away from the main road. It wasn't as loud as during our taxi trip and we enjoyed the last shafts of sunlight in the hotel-owned garden.
For the dinner we tried the restaurant within in the hotel (we chose the buffet) but except plain rice everything was too hot and spicy for me again (Christoph liked it very much but I went to bed hungry).
Bedtime was at 9 p.m. and first we slept very good but after 2,5 hours I had to go to the toilet and then neither of us could fall asleep anymore.

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