>> Sunday, July 13, 2008
By Ajay Pradhan | July 13, 2008
My journey to Nepal started with much excitement, yet with one uncertainty. I purchased air ticket for Cathay Pacific through a travel agency in Surrey. The agent could not secure me a seat on the return flight on the date I needed. I needed to return to Canada on March 6; the best the agent could do was to get me a seat for March 11. The agent said, "Don't worry, Sir, you'll easily get the seat in Kathmandu." Boy, was he wrong or, worse, disingenuous. I had much problem getting a seat to return on the desired date. But I'll tell you about that later. I had to return to Vancouver on the 6th at any cost; I had a duty to fulfil, a promise to keep, an important reason to come back to. It was a promise I could not, would not fail to keep. There are certain things a man driven by promise has got to do. Despite having not seen my beloved mother for ages, for me the promise to return to Vancouver was an important one to keep.
The Cathay Pacific flight took me from Vancouver to Hong Kong on February 17. The flight from Vancouver International Airport departed on time around 10 PM. The economy class was crammed with passengers. The seats had little leg room. When I was awake, the seat didn't feel bad; but when I was sleepy and wanted to stretch my legs, I felt tortured. On more than one occasion during the long flight, I dreaded at the prospect of having to endure the crammed seat for the rest of the flight and doubted that I'd reach Kathmandu in good enough shape.
The economy class of Cathay Pacific was a microcosm of ethnic diversity. There were Punjabi-speaking people, there were Caucasians, there were people who, to me, looked like Chinese. In the beginning of the flight, I tried to entertain myself by flipping channels on the tiny video screen in front of me. For a first few minutes, I fiddled with the remote control, not being able to do what I wanted to do. I felt foolish but pretty soon I managed to learn how to use the remote control and flip the channel back and forth. There were channels showing movies and other programs, but nothing really caught my interest. At some point, the stewardesses brought dinner. I ordered a drink of Chivas Regal. After dinner, I ordered a Hennessey and sipped the cognac as I flipped the channels some more and when I found nothing really interesting enough, I decided to catch some sleep.
In the middle of the night (well, at least according to my watch that still showed the Pacific Standard Time), I woke up to see some Chinese-looking passengers around me gobbling steaming Ramen noodle from Styrofoam mugs. Now, I had never been too keen on Ramen noodles before; for me it was too bland. But, when I saw these passengers hungrily enjoying the noodle, I decided that I'd give it a try myself and ended up ordering one. For the first time, I didn't hate the venerable Ramen, which, I hear, is as much a staple for many students in North America on limited money as rice is for people in much of Asia. I finished the whole little mug and I didn't make a face.
Two Punjabi-speaking gentlemen two rows in front of me caught my attention. It looked like they were ordering every kind of alcoholic beverage that the plane had on board--Scotch whisky, brandy, vodka, beer. When the stewardess was not around, the gentlemen would walk to the stewardess station and come back with more alcoholic beverage. I began to wonder if they'd not pass out on the plane.
After 13 hours or so of being airborne, the airplane landed at the Hong Kong International Airport early in the morning (local time, of course) of February 18. I felt like a VIP when for an interesting reason I was surprised to be greeted by a cute-looking young airline staff, holding a cardboard with my name on it. I smiled at her. She asked with a disarming smile, "Mr. Pradhan?" I confirmed, "Yes." I did not know why she was there waiting for me, but I didn't want to look silly by asking. Then she told me herself that she was there because I had ordered non-beef Hindu meal. Well, I hadn't ordered a Hindu meal (I'm not that religious); I had only ordered meal with no beef. Anyway, apparently based on my meal preference, the airline had assumed that I needed assistance at the airport. Did the airline think that because I ordered non-beef Hindu meal, I was illiterate? But, I was not in a mood to pick my brain thinking about it; I was grateful the young lady was there to help me. God bless her; I did not have to stand in long lines to clear the immigration.
The young lady zipped me through all the counters and led me up an escalator, then down another escalator, and further down a third escalator to a just-arriving shuttle bus that took us from the arrival terminal to the departure terminal, all in the same massive airport building. Once in the departure lounge, she took me to an airline counter, told me this is where I should ask any question that I may have, and that the departure gate number would be announced only around 1 pm or so, and until then I had time to do whatever I pleased, and left me there to fend for myself. It was early in the morning, probably around 6 or 7 AM Hong Kong time. I had the whole day ahead of me and could have gone to the city for a quick visit, but, because I was tired from a long cross-Pacific plane flight, I decided to just stay in transit at the airport.
Because I had time to kill, I did everything that a passenger in transit could do at an airport--sat down doing nothing, rested, caught a nap, went online on the laptop, checked emails, found no new emails, read online news, found no interesting news, walked the length of the terminal, got tired, rested more, checked out duty-free stores, bought two bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label for my brothers, window-shopped almost all the haute couture franchises, took hundreds of photos (ah, the wonders of digital camera), waited, and waited for the huge video consoles to display the departure gate number for the Dragon Airline flight from Hong Kong to Kathmandu.
While I lounged, sitting on a plush, comfortable sofa chair, reading a newspaper and waiting, a group of Indians walked by me towards the sofa close to where I was. One guy from the group came over to my lounge table, stared at me with no hint of smile, grabbed a plush sofa chair without a single word of courtesy to me, and pulled it away to his group. Fortunately, almost at the same moment, the video console in front of me displayed my gate number. I quickly got up and walked away from there. When finally I arrived at my departure lounge, I felt like I was already in Kathmandu; there were about a dozen Nepalis waiting in the lounge and more started trickling in as the departure time approached.
I felt that the Dragon Airline jet plane was surprisingly more comfortable than the Cathay Pacific jetliner. But, I'm sure I felt so because I was increasingly excited that I was in the last leg of my journey. The plane didn't have the video screens, but I couldn't care less. The time to arrive in Kathmandu was 5 hours away. Not surprisingly, the plane was filled mostly with Nepalis. After the airplane dinner, I dozed off, woke up and dozed off several times. When the captain announced that the plane was approaching Kathmandu, I looked out the window and saw the city below with not much light coming into view.
When the plane landed and taxied to a halt, a group of young Nepali passengers from the far back seats of the jet pushed, shoved, and jostled their way to get ahead of everyone, obviously determined to be the first ones to get ouf of the plane. When I finally got my turn and descended from the plane, I felt exhilarated, elated. I was on my native soil after ages. During the flight, I had told myself that once I were on the ground, I'd bow down to touch the ground with my hands. But, in my moments of exhilaration, I completely forgot to do that.
Once inside the arrival lounge and in a hall with immigration counters, my heart sank. I didn't know if it was how the lighting was, but I found the lighting far from being sufficient. The hall looked dark to me, in fact, quite dark. When I was handed an immigration form to fill out, I could barely read the form in the dim light. I found those at the counters curt, less than pleasant, unfriendly, and less than helpful.
Once I cleared the immigration, I arrived at the luggage collection area. Two porters grabbed my luggage, put on a cart, and whispered in Nepali, "Hajur, thulo swor le bhanna mildaina, tara hajur bidesh bata aunu bhako, esso 10-20 dollar dinuhos na hai, hajur." (Sir, I cant say it out loud, but you've arrived from abroad, please do us a little favour and give us $10-20, sir). I gave the guys a 20 Canadian dollar note; their faces beamed. It felt good that I made them happy. I wanted to reward them not because they deserved it, but because I was excited that in just a few seconds I was going to see my family.
As I walked towards the exit, I saw almost 2 dozen of my family members waiting to greet me. I burst with joy. After years, I saw my beloved mom, standing, waiting, approaching me with a face consumed with emotion. When I hugged her, we both burst into tears, we both sobbed, and I didn't let her go from my embrace for several minutes. I had finally arrived home, to my mother, in my motherland. I felt blissfully at peace.
[End of Part 2]