Friday, February 01, 2008

Nepal: the coolest country in the whole freakin' world

Katti ramro ho!
Kathmandu, Nepal

At least, that's how I feel every time I touch down in Kathmandu. So genteel. On a smaller, more human scale than its big-butted, loud-mouthed neighbor to the south.

Then you get out of the airport and start trying to actually do things. It's all the same inefficiency and lack of professionalism as India - but in a softer voice and with a bigger smile.

Petrol (gas to you Yanks) has gone up, again - when it is available at all. It now costs about 300NRs ($5) to get to Thamel from the airport. It was less than 200NRs just last year.

Yesterday, 50 people were injured in a bombing at a political rally in Birganj, the border town near Bihar. This comes quick on the heels of a bombing at a pro-monarchy rally within Kathmandu itself a few weeks ago.

The Ongoing Indian Currency conundrum continues in a new form. Previously, you couldn't bring in Indian 1000Rs or 500Rs notes, but could change them at the airport money-changer or the land border. This is thanks to all the problems counterfeiting.

Last year, big Indian money was further demoted - they stopped changing the big notes at the airport, even. You had to find someone in town to do it subterfuginally. (look ma, a new word!) A classic subcontinental catch-22 was created in which the Indian airport moneychangers don't like to change Indian for Nepali currency, and vice versa. Where the hell are you supposed to change the money?

Now the airport official moneychanger won't even
change the small 100Rs Indian bills (equivalent to about $2.50 US). This, despite the fact that they are considered hard currency on the streets and in most Nepali shops.

If you could just get OUT of the
airport, it wouldn't be a problem - since everyone outside takes the Indian 100Rs. But Nepali Immigration refuses to take them for the $30 visa fee. It is also beneath the duty-free shoppe or the official money changer to countenance these notes.

As for my fellow passengers, all the foreigners had either US Dollars (remember those??) or Euros. Indians are not required to purchase Nepali visas so they don't face this problem.

Finally, just to be let out of the airport, I had to get the three-day "gratis visa" (I guess that sounds more important than "free visa") and promise to report to Bhrikutimandap Immigration office in town on Monday to get the proper visa. Unless of course there is one of the 9 jillion holidays for which Nepal is so justly famous.

It reminds me of that old Seinfeld routine: "Do the people running the airport just think they are in their own little galaxy or something? $12 for a tunafish sandwich - hey, if you don't like it, you can go back to your own galaxy, Buddy."

In addition to having its very own time zone, Nepal is definitely in its own little galaxy.


c said...

Apart from being the coolest fricking place in the whole world, nepal also gets fricking cool some places . (sply this time of the year).Stay warm Sirensongs.

Lekhni said...

I didn't know Rs 100 was big Indian money ;) Anyway, isn't it easy to make out if it's a counterfeit note?

Sirensongs said...

@Lekhni: It's not, and I didn't say it was. :-) what I did say was:
--Now the airport official moneychanger won't even change the small 100Rs Indian bills (equivalent to about $2.50 US). ---

As the sitting PM of Nepal recently confessed to having counterfeited Indian currency his very own self, I think it's not so easy.

@C Drake: Thanks for your concern! not so cold here in the Valley...just a bit gloomy.