About Me

My photo
"Harmony & Contrast!! - all beauty comes from these two"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arriving In KTM Airport in Nepal

Arriving In KTM Airport
tarmac is no bigger than your average grocery store parking lot - i am not kidding.
and since there are no elevated gates that directly connects the plane to the terminal
like the ones you see everywhere else in the world
you have to get off the plane via long set of stairs down to the tarrmac.
but hey....... that is how v i ps and heads of states get off the plane
waving people with cheer as they come out of the plane 'n all
i say you do the same - get off the plane with a style!!!
but the funny thing is
they got these shiny new shuttle busses now
and they are determined to use it
even though the freakin terminal is 20 feet or so away
you actually spend more time waiting for the damn bus to arrive
it's rather comical -
it feels like i can just take a big hop  - i will be there already
then you walk though this long alley way
and come to a rather dark looking hall
you will see few wooden booths down in the back
and see some guys with pointy hats behind them booths
well my friend ...
those are your immigration booths
and the guy in pointy hat is your immigration officer
you need to fill out arrival card
they are scattered across wooden tables shoulder high
and half of which are discarded with partially filled
good luck finding a blank one
be sure to take a pen with you
otherwise finding a pen will be a challenge
and almost always you will find some people (mainly migrant workers)
who will say
"eh dai mero pani yo faram vardinus na"
(hey bro can you help me fill out this immigration form for me??)
you wonder how come these morons make it to overseas
without even knowing
how to fill out a freakin' arrival card
but since they will follow you around like a long lost cousin
(as you are busy looking for an unused arrival card around the hall)
you are better off filling it out form for them
as is the damn immigration line is not going to move any faster
as you will come to notice
and talking about these immigration form
it is little bigger than a postage stamp
and they want you to fit your name, and your entire life history
in these little boxes that they have
not sure if they are trying conserve paper
or just trying to be plain "silly" to see how small one can write
and while you wait in line
holding your passports and filled out forms
you will come to realize that
the "personal space" that people give elsewhere
(while waiting in line or in public places)
does not exist in Nepal
shall we say,
like to be very "cozy" with each other over here
everybody gets so close to you
you will get to full brunt of their body odor
and some cheap perfume they have doused with in place of a daily shower
every once in a while the person behind on the line will stretch his neck
over your shoulder
as if he is hoping to see his freakin' uncle at the immigration booth
to see if the officer is waving at him to skip the line and come up or something
and while you wait in line
for no apparent reason.
he will manage to kick your bag a few times
as if it is going to move the line any faster
even if it hasn't moved an inch in last half hour
few minutes of kicking later, you notice
he ditches the line altogether and is gone to the immigration both
cutting off all the people in front of him while waving his passport
and you realize - low and behold - it is his uncle!!!
on that damn booth - with a pointy hat and a thick mustache that is
now that the "pele" behind you is gone
another dude who was behind him in line closes up the gap
and you notice that it is now his turn
to practice on his kicking skills on your poor bag.
you will go insane
.....well my friend...I say ..let him do it and to get even
you do the same to the guy in front of you.
welcome to Nepal after all!!!
now on to the baggage claim
which is down the escalator on the ground floor
which by the way has stopped working since
jimmy carter last took office
and no scene is more chaotic than this baggage claim area
it looks like a triaz center right in middle a big hurricane disaster
well .......they got those moving baggage carousel
but not the kind you see in major airports
these are like serpentine belts move across the floor in jig jag pattern
they wind across the floor and exit out the wall back to the tarmac
i am not kidding
and if you are lucky to find a luggage cart
first you will notice that
there is so much mud on the wheel
you wonder if they were used inside the airport or
some kids took it out for a joy ride in some muddy field somewhere
and because of the mud and dirt
nine out of ten times those wheels on the cart will not turn
you just drag the damn thing across the floor
and if you thought people didn't have the idea of "personal space" upstairs
you get a whole different level of “closeness” of humanity here
people will not hesitate to step over you to get to their bags
and if they miss to grab their bag on this serpentine conveyor
you better get out of the way or they will drag the cart
right over your toe (with the wheel that won't turn... mind you)
as the luck would have it your bag always seems to arrive dead last
all the hustle bustle you did upstairs to get through immigration
seems meaningless
and if you miss your bag on the belt
it will head back to tarmac through the wall
and wont come by for another 20 mins
so either you jump over people to retrieve it
or wait until it enters the room from other end
in such case some guy will have already managed to take it out of the belt
and toss it on the floor
among the pile of luggage slated for "Everest exception"
(although incident of theft and lost luggage are rare occurrences)

Departing from KTM Airport - November 2011

I have to add “Departing from KTM Airport” to this blog after noticing the endless check points during my departure while flying back to BKK this last August.

How many times you go through either security screening or check points through KTM Trivuban Airport before you get in the plane and you are finally seated?? 15 to be exact!!! Read on…….

First check point is just to enter the vicinity of the airport when you reach there with your car or taxi. Traffic police, at the bottom of the hill before turning on to the road that will lead to airport, will stop and ask you– Where are you going?. I never quite understand why is this silly question is even asked?“Where are you going?” as in “to the Airport – hello??”. Or “where are you going?” as in “going to Tanzania” – is there a list they ban you to go or something?? He may ask to see your passport as well. Roll down the widow and flash your passport my friend. The endless check in process has just begun.

Second check point is after you get off the cab on the curb side to get inside the airport. The police at the entrance to airport will look for your paper or e-ticket and passport. As you know sometimes people don’t bother to print out the e-Ticket thinking the airline counter will have the info in their computer - as you and I have occasionally done in the past. But he is not letting you in without it. Consider 15 mins of yuck yuck with him at the door. As if you are trying to just get in the airport not to fly out anywhere but to hang out by the stupid check-in counters for some good times

Third check point (this is a new one that I noticed from my last trip) is to get through the second set of doors before they send all your luggage through scanner. The distance between first door (check point) that you just cleared and the second set of doors is about 10 yards. In fact the second checking dude can see the first checking dude laterally at arms length. And yet the second checking dude will still want to look at your passport and verify e-Ticket. Either the second dude does not trust the first one or he must think that within the few seconds of walk time to second gate travelers decided to forge all the documents and trying to sneak in just to the ticket counter – again like I said above - to have a good time there.

Fourth check point is to send everything through the scanner. But the inspecting dude is never looking at the screen. He is usually busy chatting with a guy in pointy hat.

Fifth station (not really a check point but non-the-less one more place to stop) is to go and get an “airport pass” by paying a fee. Don’t make a mistake of directly going to the counter. People waiting in line there have just paid for this “airport pass” and are pissed off and wont tell you that you need one until you stand in line for 20 mins and find out only when you are at the counter. Airport Pass stall will be next to a “souvenir shop”. Pass fee will be some odd amount like Rs 1325 or Rs 1405 and No the airport will not have the change to your render of Rs 2000. You need to stroll over to the souvenir shop – he exactly knows why you are there – and will only give you the change if you buy something – usually people settle for an over priced desktop “2011 Himalaya” calendar instead of that pack of hanging “Frito Lay” collecting dust .

Sixth place is of course the airline counter to check in and get your boarding pass. In all fairness airline counter people here are not all that rude compared most of the airline employees in the US who act like jerks in the name of safety post 9/11.

Seventh check point is at the escalator – to go upstairs to the immigration area that is. There will be security guy checking your boarding pass. No fun rides here – only the people who fly get to go to the escalator. You wish - I made this up!

Eighth check point is to go though the immigration. Lines will be long. You will need to have filled out the departure card. Card is a size of a postage stamp – better know how to write in infinitely in small letters. Good luck finding the one that is not partially unfilled already. Not sure if they even bother to check if it is filled out correctly or not – as long as you have one that is scrupled with something you are good I think. You will see foreigners standing on the line that says “Nepalese” and Nepalese on the line that says “foreigners”. It doesn’t matter. Just get in any one of the line and wait for your turn.

Ninth check point is the main security check after you go through immigrations. You will get frisked in more amicable manner than you care to by a guy who is in no hurry.

Tenth is to have your bags thoroughly checked over at the table after the scanner. Here too - I have to say they are little bit considerate than the TSA idiots in the US and will at least help you close your bags properly. But she will go through everything – guaranteed!!!

Eleventh is to exit the security area as they stamp your boarding pass to say that you have cleared the security check. For them to have this (un)necessary stamping their thinking must be that the security chick and scanner dude are slackers. And unless your boarding pass is stamped people downstream will not believe it.

Twelfth check point is at the waiting area near tarmac after walking through a narrow alley with closed walls with glass on both sides. There will be a police officer by the door. He will check your boarding pass and the stamp. I think the thought process here is that between the main security area and this place which is about 30 yards or so people (who have no business being there) will sneak in through closed glass doors somehow like ghosts and want to go to the waiting area and have some good time there – the waiting area by the way is filled with tired and sweaty foreigners back from their trek looking like zombies and you can smell the urine from the toilet across the hall that last got cleaned few weeks ago sometimes.

Thirteenth check point is to exit to waiting area and to be on the tarmac. They may frisk you one more time (occasionally, not always – but for sure if you look fidgety after all of this so far) and give you the boarding pass stub.

Fourteenth check point is on the tarmac before taking the stairs to get on the plane. Some (not all) airlines have their own little security/frisking point. This can be for two reasons I must imagine – One could be that Airline people say “screw you – we don’t trust you KTM airport people!! we are doing our own security check before we are letting these nit wits in. Other thought process could be that they think that you are in cahoots with the” tarmac” people to cause some havoc now that you have cleared thirteen check points.

Fifteenth check point is of course in terms of greeting with a grin by an airline chick at the aircraft door – saying you made it sucker!!!

Take your seat my friend – you have gone through most thorough and manual screening process on the planet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Delhi Airport

Just flew via Delhi Airport few days ago. Had to transit there for 6 hours or so both ways. Last time I was there was some 25 years ago so can't tell you what is new and what is old. But looking at new stores and shiny floors it seems like they have done some recent upgrades. And while I know that there is a new terminal being built right across the tarmac this so called "international airport" in the capital city of second most populous country looked "comically" small. Don't know if they have less number of traffic here or they are extremely efficient at managing the flow but the whole terminal is as big as your average Walgreens store...I am not kidding. There seemed to be 10 to 12 gates in total all jammed in the crowded lobby with 5 to 6 duty free shops scattered across it. My overall impression of airport was that the staff (mostly young college aged Kids) are trying to work as best as they can with what they have. With proper training and better facility (newly built airport) they can offer world class service soon.

I will give you the good, bad and so-so from what I saw -

There is no transit/transfer desk for travelers with international connections. So if you need to connect to another airlines after you get off the plane you will need to somehow spot a guy who will be yelling "all transit passenger this way" on top of his lungs. You need to figure this out on your own - no one tells you so. He will gather up all the transit passengers in one corner near the entrance of the terminal and will ask to people to come to his make shift desk one by one while jotting down the ticket, destination, and luggage information on a sheet of paper. No computers...nothing. (All the IT guys from India you hear about I think are too busy answering CISCO calls down in Bangalore - and are too busy to install one measly desk with computer in transit area). Then you wait until he is done with entire transit passenger that got off the plane. You will wait longer if another plane that arrives during processing of your group. He then will take you one flight of stairs (literally 30 yards from where you were waiting) to a transit area which is slightly bigger than your average doctor's clinic's waiting room. He then will disappear with the list clutched in one hand and walkie talkie in another. You wait on this tiny area until two to three hours of your departure when someone will come around asking who is going where and then hand you your boarding pass. And once you get your boarding pass you are allowed in the main area of the terminal ......for which by the way....you have to clear one layer of security - where guard will frisk you top to bottom. Everyone transiting is subjected to this ritual. I have two dozen questions and endless suggestions about improving this transit process but will keep it to myself since I am not planning to go via DEL for quite some time to come.

Finding a place to charge your phone and laptop is hit or miss. There were two places in the whole terminal where there are power outlets but the power sockets had two round pin holes - not the slotted type you have in US - so unless you have an adapter you are out of luck.

This did put some though into this and did put three to four charge stations for mobile phones with 10-12 different type of charger chords - and luckily none woked for my I-phone . So depending on the model of phone you have chances of charging your phone is hit or miss. They could have easily taken care of this problem for good by just having power outlets because most of travellers will have their own charger chord if they are treavlling with mobile phone anyway.

The very "manual" transit process that I talk about above can be viewed as equally good as well - especially for less frequent/less savvy travellers. You go and sit in the transit area and person will show up with your boarding pass, tells you when and where to board and assures you of your luggage transfer ...all of this...while you sit and sip on masala chai. He or she will even sit down and answer any other questions you may have, go through security procedures and then wave you off with a smile wishing you of pleasant flight. But for someone who travels more frequently this uninvited personal intervention could be irritating.

Another good thing about this airport is they have few of these lounges available to any traveller on pay per use basis. These are similar to airline business class lounges, and here you can have beer, use free internet, charge your phones and laptop (yes they have US type power outlets too!!!) and sit and rest on comfy chair while enjoying cocktail "Samosas" all for 20 to 30 bucks. And I also heard that you can even negotiate if they are not as busy. I have not run into this kind of lounge in any other other airports I have been to - usually you have to either pay an annual lounge fee or be travelling in business class to have this kind of access.

There are free foot massagers (yes Free!!) downstairs by Gate 1 and 2 - kind of ones you find in Boorkstone and Sharper image in the malls. I have to say they do provide quite a relief from long travel and you wonder ........how come other airports don't have it - even if it is on a paying basis. But then even here..... assessing the situation ....these massager may not last though...because I saw these "buffoons" sticking their foot with their shoes still on in the massager and complaining how come they don't feel anything - Idiots!!!

Internet is free but apparently one has to first enter the phone number in the computer and then they will send you the password to your mobile phone for free access. That is all fine and dandy but there is one mirror detail.......most of the international transit passenger may not have a mobile phone that works in India you see. But then....I thought not me....becasue I had an iphone -which supposedly worked in 200 countries.....no sweat right? Wrong!!! It did not work. And to my dismay there was this Israeli dude with a mobile phone with a size of old TV remote..... which apparently worked just fine. Thanks a lot for nothing.. AT&T!!!

There is a restaurant upstairs by the transit lunge. They've got a Hindi movie playing in a full blast (and no .....the waiter won't turn it down because he just paused to see this musical scene where whole village is singing and dancing on a mountain side). The decor is dismal but food is edible even with limited choices.

In summary gone are the days of rumors of people getting harassed at this airport. If anything they are very helpful and make the best of what resources they have available. They all seem young and energetic. So all in all you will have a unique experience transiting through this tiny airport.