The number of mountain flights that take off from Kathmandu every morning is a pretty good indication of how Nepalâ€™s tourism industry is doing. Last Saturday there were 35 mountain flights. And, 42 more flights were headed towards Lukla on the same day.
All this means is that we are well on our way to hitting the one million visitor target for Visit Nepal Year 2011. But with the state of Kathmanduâ€™s airport, one shudders to think how it will cope with triple the passenger load it has now.
The other day the queue at the security check for men snaked all the way back to immigration. The womenâ€™s line had no one in it, still not a single cop on duty had the presence of mind to allow the men into the womenâ€™s side to speed things up. Tempers were frayed, a brawl broke out half way down the line, and the riot police had to be nearly called in. Some passengers waited an hour and 15 minutes just to clear security because of queue jumpers. There are four x-ray machines but only one works.
Officials behave like extortionists and harass those applying for visa on arrival. They â€śforgetâ€ť to give back $5 change after taking the visa fee. At what point will a visiting tourist decide the visa queue by itself is not worth the trouble to go into Nepal? Until recently, there was a poster in Japanese at the x-ray machines giving departing Japanese tourists numbers to call at their embassy in case they were extorted or hassled by cops in security duty. They should put those up again.
It’s not just the tourists. Bearing the brunt of the callous and rude treatment are the pillars of Nepalâ€™s economy: the migrant workers on their first flight lining up nervously in their uniform caps and tracksuit jackets. When they return, they are squeezed and fleeced by fellow Nepalis. Students travelling alone are detained on the pretext of invalid visas right until their departure call and have to slip in a few notes to be able to fly out.
The endless wait in the dingy, smelly airport leaves a lasting impression as passengers depart. You donâ€™t want to go into the toilets in the euphemistically named â€śsterileâ€ť holding area on departure: the overpowering odours may actually knock you unconscious.
Overseas Nepalis addressed the woeful lack of baggage trolleys by donating 50 â€śNRN trolleysâ€ť, but these have been captured by the porter mafia, who create an artificial shortage of trolleys so you have to hire them.
None of this need happen. For an indication of just how scrubbed and efficient this airport can be, one need only to climb to the restaurant upstairs that is managed by the Radisson. The contrast between the clean and bright restaurant (ok, a bit of a ripoff) on the upper floor and the dark and dank cave of the government-run departure area below couldnâ€™t be starker. Those are two different worlds.
One million visitors will just include tourists, there will be another 500,000 Nepalis, diplomats, businessmen, so you can bet TIA will be even more of a hell on earth next year. The word will go out: avoid Nepal in 2011.
One million tourists, or one million sworn enemies?Go back to previous page