“Seat belt?” I asked the taxi driver, not seeing anything to clip into. “Not necessary” he answered, “just for driver.” Well–okay then.
The drive to Tribhuvan Airport was the usual game of dodgem cars, but I’ve become desensitized to it all, a bit like the cow lying in the middle of traffic, ignoring constant honking horns and near misses. Colorful tents and tarps filled open spaces along the way, ever a reminder that 100,000′s of people have lost their homes and belongings.
The driver, who had told me his home was gone, was nice enough to find a cart for me so I gave him 800 rupees (about $8.08), almost all I had left, as a tip. I was leaving and didn’t need it anyway. He tried to return it, saying he had already been paid by Ngima, the trekking owner, before we left. “It’s okay,” I said, “to help fix your house.”
Waiting in a Qatar check-in line, I looked around the huge open area. For this time of year, there ought to have been tons of climbers and trekking tourists at the airport, but all I saw was a mass of brown Nepali and Indian faces. At immigration, the multiple lines for Nepalese and Indian departures were long. At the sign that said “Foreigners”, there was no one. (It’s always weird to think of myself as a foreigner.)
The officer matter-of-factly stamped my passport, not like three years ago when my visa was expired by three days and pulled me aside. And told me I couldn’t leave the country. And asked me if I understood I could go to jail. But that’s a whole other AnnieUpHigh adventure story. I liked the ka-chunk sound the stamp made – it meant I wouldn’t be going to jail.
After security check, passengers for all flights wait in a holding area. Again, I looked around at the mass of brown faces. Am I the last tourist to leave Nepal? Finally, the loudspeaker announced something about Qatar, and a lot of people got up, so I just followed them down the hall. Sure enough, after a bit of a walk, I saw a Qatar jumbo jet waiting on the tarmac.
Tribhuvan doesn’t have jetways, passengers walk across the Tarmac to stairways positioned against the plane. I paused on the way, to gaze up into the mountains surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, now about a meter higher. The sadness I felt for my beautiful, hurting Nepal was as deep as anything I have ever felt. And climbing the stairway into the plane seemed a harder effort than for any mountain trail I’d ever been on.
The pilot announced we’d be delayed a bit as planes bringing aid supplies were just arriving. Fine with me–I was in no hurry to leave at all.