<The story so far: Our hero, tempted by the prospects of bagging bushels of bullion, has bribed and begged his way into Nepal, without any photo id at all and no passport. He stands now inside the arrivals terminal at Tribhuvan International Airport with wuthering wit and seething senses.
It was a bright clear morning in the fall. The leaves were turning, somewhere in the world. I wasn’t too concerned with them. I was calm. As calm as a person can be who has just landed in a strange city for the first time, has no means of support, knowing no one.
Somewhere in the city there lived a person who had my hotel reservation.
Somewhere in the city lay a warm soft bed.
Somewhere in the city someone had my airline ticket in his pocket.
I wasn’t somewhere in the city. I was in the Arrivals lounge at the airport, the cogs in my head turned first this way, then that. Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the internet, there were no cell phones, Lotus cc:mail still needed you to enter a string of text commands before it would even connect to anything, like another PC dedicated to cc:mail. A telephone call back to Calcutta would just have freaked out my Beloved Bangalan, so I was left to work it out for myself.
Ah, but what’s this in my pocket? Mr S’s business card. Hooray! I can call him and he can take care of the rest. I headed over to the public phones and dialed the number.
“Who is speaking?”, said the disembodied voice from over the “hills” and far away.
I explained who I was and asked for Mr S.
“Mr S is on holiday. He left no instructions. Is he expecting you? He won’t be back until tomorrow. I don’t know what I can do. Who did you say you were? What is your business with him? Is it personal?”, the voice was asking a lot of questions in a very disinterested manner.
As I replaced the phone, I saw the bank of ads of hotels in the city. I walked over to the Tourist Information desk and asked for a recommendation. Called the hotel. Made a reservation. Walked out. Took a cab and checked in to the hotel in downtown Kathmandu. Dumped my bags and walked down to reception. Asked for the city office of Royal Nepal Airlines.
After 15 minutes of walking and strange directions, I stepped through a courtyard type of thing and there it was. RNAC.
“Do you have space on the flight to Simra tomorrow?”
“Let me check, sir. Yes, we do”, she showed me the reservation chart. Seats 1 and 2 were marked reserved.
“For the royal family, sir. We keep them until the last minute”, she was not at all apologetic. It was normal.
“Please book me a seat. One way. What time is the flight?”.
“It could be 2pm or 3pm. It depends.”
By now nothing was going surprise me, and this wishy-washy schedule did no more than make me blink. Minutes later I had the ticket in my hand. I took a deep breath and said, “Is there a reservation in my name already on this flight?”
“Yes, see there it is. Right behind the seats held open for the royalty” She looked up, very puzzled.
“Ok! Where is the ticket?”
“It was booked by Everest Travels. They picked it up. You’ll have to talk to them”, she said.
<Note: everything in Nepal is named Everest this or Yeti that with a Yak thrown every once in a while…>
I took down the name and address of Everest Travels and headed out to meet the day. By now it was getting past noon. On a Saturday. Kathmandu shuts down at 1pm on Saturday. When I reached Everest Travels, their glass doors were firmly shut and would not budge. I could see people in there, but they waved me away.
I gave up and turned to survey the street. On either side of the street stretched travel agency named Everest, Yak, Yeti and combinations of that, offering trekking, adventure, mountain climbing and other fun stuff for the well-heeled western tourist. Across the street was another travel agency, whose doors were open. I stepped across and walked in. There was a young man all alone in there and he wasn’t working. He was playing Digger on the computer.
I tapped him on the shoulder, gently. He never lifted his hand from the keyboard as he dug his way underground looking for diamonds while avoiding the bad monsters.
“Sorry to disturb you, but I have a problem. Would you by any chance have a friend or know someone who works across the street at Everest Travels?”
His game to a crashing end and he turned towards me.
“I do have a friend there”.
“Would you please call him, right now? I need this thing sorted out today”.
He was a good lad, followed instructions perfectly, made the call, spoke to his friend, replaced the telephone.
“They’re closed. He knows nothing. His boss might bit he’s left for the day. You’ll have to come and see them tomorrow. They open at 9am”
There was nothing to be done, bit have lunch, stroll around a bit, have dinner and go to bed.
Tomorrow, the game would be afoot. Kickoff at 9am.
<What will the morrow bring? Wondering? Really? Then come on back, for it ain’t over yet. This is just the beginning of this horrendous trip.>