There I go again, freshly arrived in Kathmandu and in the excitement of it all, I completely forgot to leave my corporate haste at the Dubai departure lounge.
My flight landed at 18:00, which meant that any chance of catching a connecting flight to Pokhara disappeared as quickly as the setting sun. For whatever reason, the last domestic flights from Kathmandu leave at seventeen-hundred hours – some say it’s because of visibility, others the proximity of the flight path to mountains – I don’t buy either story.
But it never gets tired, the experience of crossing over into another world. Like a gentle slap on the face — hard enough to generate the required attention, yet light enough to be relished and wanting for more.
The world of my yesterday, the last minute dash to finish projects and hand them over to others, the mad scramble to pack, prepare and squeeze all the remaining procrastination into the night before departure; yes, such is the dynamic of modern adventure.
Not surprising at all then, that my taxi driver, who was now 45 minutes late, bore the brunt of my fast paced expectations immediately after I’d cleared immigration.
“Traffic very bad, at airport 15 minutes, Sir,” he tried to reassure me of his late but eventual arrival. No matter the rhetoric, I wasn’t happy waiting another 15 minutes on top of the three quarters of an hour already wasted. But my luck was about to be tested.
I called three other drivers, all of whom said that they were busy, at which point I resentfully accepted to wait longer. The difficulties in finding a driver should have told me two thing from the very beginning: (1) my driver probably isn’t on the top of anybody’s list and (2) there must be a pretty good reason why the other three drivers were busy.
Uncharacteristically, I didn’t bother to ask the pertinent questions and in the end suffered dreadfully for it. Let me explain.
The traffic out of Kathmandu was running dismally slow — apparently some big festival had people flocking from surrounding areas — and today happened to be the day of their return journeys. My driver, although young and very polite, reminded me of some geriatric Volvo driver, totally oblivious to the world around him and the prescribed minimal speed. Our modern sedan was being overtaken by fully loaded trucks and overcrowded buses — all eager to let us know their frustration by indiscriminately blowing their horns.
It was night and probably his first long distance trip, so I’m not going to crucify him today. But I need to mention that driving a car as though it is an automatic isn’t conducive to making good time, nor an efficient way of reaching the top of a hill — master the clutch and move out of third gear.
His driving skills aside, the young man was the embodiment of everything I love about the Nepali people. He was genuinely apologetic about being late, he smiled at the world at every corner, and when I said that I didn’t have enough cash to buy dinner, he pulled out his wallet and paid for both our meals. The old ways of welcoming, showing generosity and warmth truly live on in Nepal.
We didn’t get into Pokhara until after 2am and the whole lakeside was fast asleep. Luckily, I remembered the way through the winding streets to land us squarely on my brother’s doorstep. A few minutes later I was sharing a celebratory swig of the Ballantine’s I’d brought from Dubai – good to be back and start flying again.