Any arriving or dear departed passenger at Kathmandu Airport will have noticed that after Nepal was selected to be one of the top ten most popular destinations for tourists in 2019, the authoritarians have made a real effort to spruce up the country’s one and only aeronautical gateway.
Improvements are visible from the moment one lands to the time one’s flight out is cancelled. At a time when there is so little good news to cheer us up, it is especially heartening to note that the airport is not congested anymore. This is because of the grumblement’s well-executed strategy to make the terminal building so inhospitable that Tribhuvan Unintentional Airport was voted the world’s worst airport third year in a row. The ploy worked: people just stopped coming. Voila! The over-crowding problem was solved.
Similar ingenious tactics have been employed to resolve the problem of smelly loos. Readers with a nose for news will remember a time when, invariably, passengers using toilets in the terminal became terminally ill. The concentration of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide inside the euphemistically named ‘rest rooms’ were designed to closely approximate the atmosphere of the planet, Uranus. (An appropriately named planet, I might add.)
There has been a huge improvement in the toilet situation, as we discovered during a recent inspection. Large signs have been placed at the doors of urinals and arsenals: ‘Closed For Repairs’. In one bold stroke, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAN’T) has cleverly removed the stink. “We figured that if no one uses the toilet it will not smell,” explained the CAN’T Spokesperson speaking from behind a surgical mask on condition of complete anonymity.
There have been other visible improvements. Recently, arriving passengers must have noticed that private parking has been moved from just outside the arrival area down to Ringworm Road. This entails passengers having to make a steep descent down a 30% incline with luggage in tow to get to waiting vehicles. The Spokesperson said this was to provide arriving tourists an authentic first impression of Nepal, and to ensure that their trek begins the moment they get out of the airport, thus giving them more value for money.
Great care has been taken to maintain Nepal’s international brand as a top adventure destination. Arriving visitors are provided no assistance at all and have to figure out the deliberately-complicated arrival formalities for themselves. This is to test your survival skills, emotional maturity and patience and to separate the wheat from the chaff. For instance, if you lose your temper after a two hour wait at immigration, let’s be frank, Nepal is not for you. If you can’t handle that, how do you expect to survive a one week wait in Lukla for a flight out?
It is to preserve Nepal’s unique heritage that while all other airports in the world have metal detectors before you get on a plane, here we check for metal after you land. A new Metal-Free Zone has been declared recently in the arrival area after immigration, and this is to deter anyone wearing gold rings and/or bangles from smuggling such contraband into the country. Those with 33kg of gold in their false bottoms can bypass this x-ray screening and be whisked away straight to their waiting armoured SUVs outside.
Another test is to see whether you can wait in multiple lines without blowing a gasket. After your plane had to wait in line for one-and-half hours to land, and another hour waiting for a parking bay, you have to queue up for the e-visa line, the visa payment line, the immigration line, the gold smuggler detection line, the baggage line, the line to have your baggage tag verified, and the taxi line.
And you have to get into the same lines in reverse order to get out of the country: 1st x-ray line, check-in, escalator line, immigration, 2nd x-ray line, line to enter the pre-departure sauna chamber, the x-rated pat-down line, the full body massage line at the ramp located 6” above Nepali air space if you are flying to India, and your plane has to wait in line for start-up clearance giving you the chance to earn more ground miles.
All these queues are designed to give departing visitors a lasting impression of just how disciplined we are as a nation. And don’t you dare come back: we don’t want the congestion at our airport to give the world a bad impression about Nepal.