after one last night of dining and carousing in kathmandu at tom and jerry's and the rum doodle with my trekking friend andrea, and one last morning of souvenir shopping, it was time to leave town and catch my flight to delhi, and the onwards flight to dubai. these flights had been purchased months ahead of time, carefully (and painfully) reconfirmed in kathmandu weeks ago, and so i thought i was all set to leave town.
my guidebook emphasized very strongly that i should arrive at the airport 3 hours before my flight's departure. i had all the best intentions of arriving at this time, but one things led to another, and i ended up only arriving at the airport a little over 2 hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. thus began my Longest Travel Day Ever. (to be fair, my guidebook did warn me that kathmandu airport would be slow, but i'd been to a lot of airports by this point in my trip, and figured this couldn't be much worse than what i'd encountered to date in other places. i was wrong.)
first off, there was a mandatory ticket check at the front gate of the airport before they would let my taxi in. (and my taxi had his meter on! this was a first for me in nepal, since i'd usually use my "meter on" request as a opening point for a low fixed-price fare negotiation)
second, there was a 20-minute line outside the airport terminal to have my ticket checked (again), and my checked baggage x-rayed and a useless plastic tamper-proof belt wrapped around one of the 3 zippers on my bag, leaving the other 2 zippers open to tampering.
third, there was a 15-minute wait in line (not helped by the fact that the "Exit Fee" window was also a currency exchange window, which could lead to long transactions) to pay the rapacious US$20 exit fee. This wait was in the "Foreigner" line, even though the "Nepali" window was open with two cashiers, and sat empty of customers most of the time.
then I finally got into the line to check in, which was massively long, with tons of people cutting in line and engaging in shouting matches with other people trying to cut in line, but i was checked in with my boarding pass at last.
at security, there was a ridiclously long line (we're now at about 30 minutes before my flight's departure time). There were actually two security lines, but one was for "Women Only", and sat empty half of the time, so half of the security scanning people and equipment just sat unused most of the time (most women in line were travelling with men, so there was no advantage to them using the empty line and waiting 20-30 minutes for their companion to emerge from the long line). finally i got to the front (thanks to some irish trekkers who helped move me up to the front when i started running short on time for my flight), was pawed over by security's search, had my bags frisked (and my roll of scotch tape seized for some reason), and then finally approached the gate.
at the gate, I ran into a friendly couple that also happened to be from san francisco, and was chatting away with them for a few minutes before the announcement came over the loudspeakers that our flight to India had been cancelled, but that people interested in getting on an alternate flight that day could go to the front of the gate and get booked on a flight leaving right no to calcutta, which would then have a connecting flight to delhi. (keep in mind that most people hearing this announcement also knew that almost all of the flights on all airlines out of kathmandu into india were already booked for many days out.)
suddenly there was a massive scrum pushing towards the gate to get those few tickets on the calcutta flight, with me near the lead, and somehow i ended up only a few people from the front, as people shoved around me, and one guy even bear-hugged onto the stranger in front of him in order to get pulled ahead in line. my ticket was grabbed from my hand by the agent "in charge", and within the space of a few minutes, i was reassigned to the new flights, hopped on a bus to the airplane, IDed my checked bag lying on the tarmac to be transferred to the new plane, and got on the jetway stairs to board the flight to calcutta.
home free? not quite.
at the stairs up to the plane I was greeted by another security checkpoint, where I had my carry-on bags rummaged through for a 2nd time, got frisked again by a very enthusiastic screener who took way too much of an interest in checking my butt, and then i finally boarded the plane.
at calcutta, i cleared immigration quickly, grabbed my bag off of the carousel, took a bus to the other terminal for domestic flights, waited an hour or so for the delhi flight, and voila -- i'd made it to delhi!
once at the delhi airport, i'd already missed my original connecting flight to dubai. so after a bit of wild goose chase trying to get into the indian airlines offices at the terminal, i finally found the indian air office and they put me in limbo there for several hours while they tried to find space on an emirates flight heading to dubai sometime around 3am.
while i was waiting in limbo with a few other passengers, i couldn't help but notice the mouse (similar to several that i'd seen previously in streets, restaurants and stores in india and nepal) roaming around the office floor, and at this point i was way beyond reacting in any way to the mouse. why bother? he's just a mouse. and this being india, the office staff considerately arranged for us to have excellent tea and samosas while we waited. it's one of the things i love about india... if you don't sweat the discomforting things that inevitably occur, you will get rewarded by all the great things that india and the indian people do that just don't happen in other countries.
and so after running down my indian cellphone chip credit by making long calls to harass my friends at home in the united states, i was at last summoned to my flight, and at 3am i hopped on board my plane for dubai.
and THAT is the story of my escape from kathmandu.
special thanks to indian airlines for their handling of the situation -- at the transfer points in calcutta and delhi they handling everything quite nicely. even though none of the staff we met were really expecting me, they always got me on the soonest possible planes, were polite, and didn't lose my luggage. it seemed chaotic, but it always worked as promised. kudos to them.