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Traveling Abroad

Issue 06, February 05, 2012

Siddhi B Ranjitkar

On February 02, 2012 we had been very busy with completing everything for traveling abroad. Our flight schedule was 8:40 PM but we needed to arrive at the Kathmandu International Airport at 5:00 PM for completing the arduous custom clearance and then check-in with the Gulf Air. We had four bags and two hand carries. My spouse and I pushed one cart each loaded with our luggage through the airport departure gate showing our passports and the e-tickets to the gate police.

We pushed our carts to the custom checking. I put one bag after another on the conveyer that took the bags through the screening to the Custom Official. He noticed two smaller bags heavy and pulled them to check. I gladly gave him the keys to the bags and he opened one bag after another. He pulled one Buddhist shrine about 15” high out of the bag and demanded the clearance certificate issued by the Department of Archeology. I took out the certificate from my wallet and turned it over to the official. He took a look at the certificate and looked back to the apparently higher official sitting behind him and said, “He has a certificate of the Department of Clearance?” “Let it go,” came the answer from the higher official. He then dug in the bag but did not find anything unacceptable to him. He closed the bag and pushed it aside. A man assisting us took the bag out of the desk of the official and put it on the floor and closed it.

The Custom Official opened another bag and pulled out one of the brass plate from it and showed it back to his high official. This time a women voice came out of behind the custom official, “Is it made out of silver?” My spouse simply laughed. The Custom Official put the brass plate back into the bag and pulled the zipper and closed the bag and pushed it aside. The man helping us to mange the bags at the Custom Office firmly locked the bags and someone put the security clearance stickers on all the bags including hand-carry bags. We were off to the check-in desk at the Gulf Air.

I turned over our passports and e-tickets to the Gulf Air Official at the check-in desk. The man assisting us put one bag after another on the weighing machine. Two bags have few hundred grams over weight and two others had less than allowed weights. The official asked us to transfer some items from the over weight bags to other bags weighing less than allowed. I told the officials the over-weights were too small to take big troubles from transferring the items to other bags, and requested him to pass the bags. The officials warned me, “Virgin Atlantic Airlines might make you trouble.” I said “O.K., fine.” He passed the bags. He asked us to put the hand-carry bag on the weighing machine. It was 230 grams over-weight. He again asked us to transfer some items to the smaller hand-carry bag apparently having less weight. We agreed on what he said.

The official took our passports and the e-tickets to the next counter. We were relaxed. I just looked at the counter the officials had gone and saw “Economy Class”, and I check the sign over our heads saw the ‘Business Class.” The official took some time and finally brought our tickets and passports and four boarding passes: two for boarding at Kathmandu and another two for boarding at Bahrain.

I was not for transferring the items from over-weight hand-carry bag to another but my spouse insisted on me to do so. At the same time, a smart lady came out of the Gulf Air check-in desk and told us, “We have put you in the business class but you will receive the food of the economy class.” We said to her, “Thank you very much.”

It so happens whenever they have more passengers at the economy class and less at the business class. The airlines guys just fill in planes with passengers. They over sell the tickets at the last moment and then they put someone they like to the business class from the economy class.

After completing the check-ins, we came back to the custom-cum-the-security checks just to say bye to our dear relatives and the driver that had come to see off at the airport. We waved our hands hardly seeing them through the thick glass panes; we kept on waving until they waved us back to make sure that they knew we had checked-in at the airlines counter.

We filled out the custom declaration forms: one for me another for my spouse. Holding our passports and the forms, we asked the police on duty, “Where to go for immigration check-in?” He said to us, “If you were to stand in the line it would take you hours; you are senior citizens; you go straight to the check-in for foreigners.”

We were standing at the entry to the immigration check-in for foreigners. Immediately after completing the immigration check-in to a person, the official called someone from the regular line to come in but we rushed to him saying we were senior citizens. He just glanced at us and took the passports and forms from me. He flipped pages of our passports and asked, “Are you traveling to America?” “Yes, we are,” I replied. He put the departure stickers on one of the pages of our passports and wrote dates on them and put office stamps on them and returned us our passports.

Then, we were on the way to the custom and security checking again. My spouse passed through the security and custom checking immediately, as none of women passengers were there at that time. I had to wait for some time, as a few people were standing ahead of me. As usual, I took out my wristwatch and belt and passed them through the security screening along with my hand-carry bag and computer.

Taking look at my hand-carry bag, the official at the custom checking asked, “Do you have an idol?” “Yes, I have,” I replied. Then he asked me to open the bag. I did it gladly. He took out about 12” high brass Ganesh idol and asked me, “Is it gold plated?” I said, “No, it is not.” He took a close look at the idol and asked me, “Do you have a certificate of clearance from the Department of Archeology? I said, “Yes, I have.” I took out a blue certificate of clearance from my wallet and turned it over to the official. He looked at it and asked me, “Do you have a purchase bill?” I said, “No, I did not carry it, as I have already shown it to the official at the Department of Archeology when I went for the certificate of clearance; I did not know that I need to show it at the Custom, too. Then, he started off quizzing me, “Do you live in Bhaktapur?” “Yes, I live there,” I replied. “What do you do there?” he asked me. “I am a retired person,” I replied. “O! You were a government official, where did you work? “At the Department of Mines and then at many other places,” I replied. He was satisfied with my answers and then asked his boss next to him, “he was a government official, and could I let him go?” The official simply nodded him. I was free to go to the waiting hall for boarding on an aircraft.

My spouse had been waiting for me and obviously watching me how I was quizzed by the Custom Official. After completing the custom clearance, I joined my spouse to go to the waiting hall. On the way, my spouse told me that seeing her waiting for such a long time, the policewoman on duty asked, “why are you standing there for such a long time?” “I am waiting for my spouse,” she replied showing me at the custom clearance desk, “he has a brass idol; so they are taking some time to clear him off. The policewoman said, “These custom guys might not let your idol go.” “In that case he would throw it into a trashcan,” my spouse told the policewoman. “Why do you need to do so, you can give it to your relative,” the policewoman said.

Then, we were relaxed and slowly moved to the waiting hall. Some passengers were already there. We had sufficient time for relax and rest. We took the seats facing opposite to the passengers watching the information screens. We had nothing to do but to chat. Then, a young lady looking very familiar to us passed by us and then came to sit next to me.

I have no habit of talking to anybody unknown to me. So, I simply ignored her presence next to me. She also did not dare to talk to me. However, my spouse opened a talk with her. She had nothing but complaints about the shortage of water, power outage, and shortage of gasoline in Nepal. She is a naturalized Nepali American. She came to Nepal because of her father’s death for a month. She was mad at the Immigration Official and the Immigration Office, too. Her visa for Nepal had expired one day before she was to leave Nepal for America. She had gone to the Immigration Office in Kathmandu; the Immigration Official had told her that one-day overstay was okay but the Immigration Official at the airport had charged her $ 33 for one-day overstay in Nepal.

Our flight from Kathmandu to Bahrain was supposed to take off at 8:40 PM but the Gulf Air officials were nowhere to be seen for boarding on the aircraft. The Nepali American lady was concerned with not boarding; she was also worried about the short layover at Bahrain and we might miss our flight from Bahrain to London. I assured her of the Gulf Air boarding us on another plane if we were to miss one flight we were supposed to fly to London, as the Gulf Air has a number of flights from Bahrain to London. We had almost eight hours layover at the Heathrow Airport.

At about 8:40 PM, the Gulf Air officials showed up to board us on the plane. The same lady that had told us that she had put us on the ‘business class’. She did not bother to check our passports, as she already knew us. Then again, we were under security check. A man passed his hands through several body parts groping all along. Finally we were on a Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) bus that took us to the aircraft.

Really, we were on the ‘business class’. The ‘business class’ cabin has 16 seats; the seats are larger than the seats in the ‘economy class’ cabin. After completing the boarding, the flight attendants immediately started off serving us with juice, soft drinks and water. Then, one of them served us with the menu for on board meals. However, the lady flight attendant confessed that she had nothing stated on the menu; so, she would serve only the vegetarian food. She served the regular our household food called ‘dal bhat’ means rice with lentils and vegetables.

I asked my spouse, “Do you know why we are in the business class?” “No, I don’t know,” replied my spouse. “Because I had had a nice dream last night. The dream was I had a plate full of rice to eat. When I was about to eat the rice, a Nepalese sweet called ‘jerry’ fell down on my plate. Then, I woke up. I thought that the dream must bring me some gains. That is the ‘business class travel in the Gulf Air,” I told my spouse.

The aircraft was full of Nepalis going to work in the Middle East. Some of the passengers were flying on the aircraft for the first time. One of the crewmembers made announcement first in Arabic and then in English. Majority of passengers even did not understand English not to mention the Arabic. It would have been better for the passengers if one of the crewmembers made announcement in Nepali, too.

The flight from Kathmandu to Bahrain was smooth except for riding on turbulent air for some time. My spouse enjoined the shaking of the aircraft. We landed smoothly at the Bahrain airport. We passed through the security checks again and finally came up to the airport lounge. The man standing at the main entrance to the airport lounge directed us to the ‘gate 11’ for boarding on a plane to London.  We did not have much layover. After just going to the restrooms, the boarding on the aircraft started off.

We were back in the ‘economy class’. We had nice window seats but we could not see anything except for the occasional night-lights, as it was the nighttime flight. Our flight to London was smooth. The flight attendants served us with hot cheese sandwiches. We thought that was the breakfast they served us. In the e-tickets, it was mentioned that only breakfast would be served on board. However, one hour before we were going to land they served us another full meal. The aircraft took some time to land. It went around before landing. This time we were not worrying about the delay in landing, as we had long layover at the Heathrow.

At 6:30 AM, London was still dark. The aircraft gradually came down and landed. We came out of the aircraft. As we were passing through the tunnel, an old Nepalese lady with mongoloid feature was walking ahead of us. After some time, she slowly fell down and urine came out of her body. She was unconscious; so we abandoned our efforts on making her stand on her feet. She was apparently traveling alone. The airport attendant said that he was calling an emergency people to attend her. We left her behind.

We landed at the terminal 4; we needed to go to the terminal 3 for reaching the ticket counters of the Virgin Atlantic Airlines. We walked to the ground floor where a bus picked us up to take to the terminal 3. The bus took us to the terminal 3. Then, we walked to the counters of the Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

A lady with the strong Asian accent checked our passports and visas in them. She put a security check stickers: one each on our passports. And then let us go to the counter of the Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

At the counter an English lady took our passports and then the e-tickets. She checked our passports and visas. We have machine-readable passports. So, it was easy for her to do all sorts of things simply pressing the passports on a machine. She checked our luggage receipts. Then, she printed out boarding passes for us. She turned over our passports, e-tickets, boarding passes with two US visa forms and one custom declaration form. We were set to fly to Boston in America.

We still had more than five hours of layover at the Heathrow. What to do? The Nepalese American lady flying to Washington D.C. ahead of us showed up again. I bought two bottles of mineral water. It cost me more than $ 5. We drank the water and chew some crunchy snacks we brought from Kathmandu. After some time I got sleep sitting upright. My spouse and the lady continued to talk. After some time, my spouse lay down on the airport seats and slept soundly. We did not move out of the seats for the whole period of the layover except for going to the restrooms.

We became impatient for boarding an aircraft after some time. We started off checking the information screen for finding out the gate number for boarding. The boarding time was 13:25; the flight was at 14:40. To our disappointment, the flight information screen did not show the gate number until the last moment. As soon as, the gate number was shown, we went to the gate and the boarding has already started off. Again, we gave our passports and boarding passes to the lady at the boarding counter. She checked our passports and visas, and tore the boarding passes and kept the larger portions giving us the smaller portions for finding out seats in the aircraft. We needed to wait in the hall for actually boarding on the plane. In the boarding hall, we found newspapers and magazines for passengers to take for reading. I took ‘The Economist’ of Jan 28-Feb 3, 2012 issue for reading. It has very interesting articles on the development of China.

Boarding started off for the seats at the tail cabin of the aircraft. So, we got the first chance to board on the plane. We got window seats. We enjoyed looking out at the airport field. We saw some private planes parked nearby. The weather was so good; we can see things at miles away.

Again one of the crewmembers made an announcement. This time, the announcer must be a comedian. He made an announcement in a strange funny way. He said that we were flying to Canadian coast and then down to Boston. Then, the safety video followed the announcement. We fastened the seat belts and waited for moving the plane. It did not take much time for moving. We were on the way to the runway. We saw some planes waiting for their turns to take off.

We found the large body Airbus was smooth in taking off and landing. We were on the Airbus from Bahrain to London. Then, we were again on the Airbus flying from London to Boston. The large-body Airbus took off without much trouble.

Once the plane reached the regular flying altitude. The cabin attendants started off serving drinks to the passengers. Some came with headphones, others with bags containing socks, pen, toothbrush and toothpaste. Everybody seemed to be busy with one thing or another. I read the remaining articles on China in ‘The Economist’. My spouse watched the beautiful natural scenes outside the plane.

One of the cabin attendants brought a cabin food menu. It gave a nice choice of food on board. This was the first time we had had a menu on the plane. It gave four-course meal. We enjoyed the meal but the amount of the meat in the dish was minimal. Anyway we enjoyed everything such as sandwich, chocolate and other food served on the plane. We thought that the Virgin Atlantic had improved the food on board.

The plane landed well before the schedule at the Logan airport in Boston. We had still natural light. Again we were coming out of the plane for the immigration. Blue line was for the visitors. We stood on the blue line. After some time we got our turn to present our passports, visa forms and the custom declaration forms to the Immigration Official. The Immigration Official was very polite. He checked our passports, and the visas on them. I missed to write the date of issue of the visa on one of the visa form. The Immigration Official wrote it down.

After the immigration formalities, we came to the luggage collection hall. We saw our luggage had already arrived and moving on the conveyer belt but we had to let them go around, as we couldn’t reach them, yet. I picked up two pushcarts: one for me another for my spouse. When our luggage reached us I picked up one bag after another and loaded them on the carts. Then, I pushed one cart and my spouse another. She was holding the custom declaration forms. On the way we saw the Custom-checking Officials. One of the officials took the forms from the hands of my spouse and asked us whether we had fruits, livestock products and so on in the bags. We answered negatively. Then, she wrote something on the forms with a red marker, and returned them to my spouse. Then, we came to the next official. She also asked the same questions to me. I answered properly but my spouse failed to do so.

I put one bag after another on the conveyer to pass through the screening. My bags passed through the screening without stopping for further checking but the bags my spouse pushed had been taken aside and asked my spouse to open them for further checking. The Custom Officials were seriously concerned with fruits, seeds, and livestock products bringing in. They thoroughly checked the bags to see whether such items were in the bags or not. We had no such items. So, our bags passed through the custom clearance.

We were so early we did not find our sons and the daughter and son-in-law to receive us at the airport. We were standing with the carts loaded with our bags. After some time, our second son showed up. Then, he made a call to our first son. He was on the way with his daughter. Our daughter, son-in-law and their two-year old daughter were also on the way but they were still far way from the airport. We asked them to come to our home rather than to the airport to receive us.

Thus we arrived USA on February 03, 2012.

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