My Nepal Airlines flight from Kathmandu(KTM) to New Delhi was scheduled to depart at 5.00 pm.
I arrived near Prithvi Chowk in Pokhara to catch a micro-bus (Toyota Hiace) to Kathmandu, after having left my guesthouse at around 7.30 am. As luck would have it, there were none and thus had to reluctantly get into one of those small buses which hardly have any leg space, also known as mini-buses.
The one I got into was empty and so grandly plonked myself in the front seat. But the driver and crew were unhappy that the bus was empty. So even though the bus left Pokhara immediately, the driver decided to stop every 10 metres of the way to solicit any potential customer. The bus began stopping at bus stops, street corners, any group which had more than two people on the road and I was sure that the bus would not reach Pokhara at the promised hour which was 2 pm. But I had no option to pray that some sense would come into the driver. There were no micro-buses on the road to provide me an alternative mode of transport.
At 10am, the first disaster struck. There was an accident on the road due to which all traffic stopped. The sad news was that the accident was like three buses in front of us, so if we were even one minute ahead of time, we would have passed the spot. I had a tough time staring at the accident and wondering if I would reach the airport in time.
At 11.00 am, the traffic started moving. The deadline to reach KTM was becoming a moving deadline. I hoped to reach KTM at 2 pm and then reach the airport by 3 pm but now everything was relative.
At 11.30 am, I made my move. We had stopped at some town and the driver was again looking for passengers when a Toyota Hiace stopped in front of us. By now, I was very nervous about missing my flight and thus got down, picked up my bag, asked for a refund of money which was only partially done and sat down in the Hiace. The good thing about the micro-bus was that it was full and thus I had the confidence that we would not waste time looking for passengers.
The driver promised me that we would reach by 2/2.30 pm.
At 1 pm, my heart sank again. The driver stopped for lunch. Inspite of all the thoughts running in my head, I surprised myself and had lunch. At 1.45 pm, the bus started moving again. The volume of thoughts that ran in my head were incredible. Would I reach the airport in time? What if I missed my flight? How much money would I lose? Could I call the airline guys and delay the takeoff? All this while I goaded the driver to go faster and faster.
By now the remaining ten or twelve passengers in the bus knew I had a flight to catch. The driver kept giving me looks as if to assure that he would do his duty. A co-passenger started giving me information as to how much time the taxi in Kathmandu would take to reach the airport. At 2.30 pm, I began to give up hope. The driver had stopped for a cigarette. We were on the outskirts of KTM and now, most of my fellow passenger were telling me that it would take one hour to reach the airport and after the bus reached KTM. I had never missed a bus, train or flight in my life time and that was what still gave me some iota of confidence.
But disaster struck a sweet fourth time. There was at traffic jam on the outskirts of KTM because a truck had broken down. We were at the bottom of the hill and I could see a winding road full of vehicles. On top of the hill was the checkpoint into KTM. I was constantly getting down from the bus to see if I could get a ride on a two wheeler. Soon a 5 minute journey on this hill became a one hour journey.
At 4 pm we crossed the checkpoint. At 4.20 pm, the bus stopped in Kalanki in KTM. I got down running and approached a taxi. He quoted 1000 NC to reach the airport. Even in this dire situation, I had to bargain and ultimately hailed another taxi for 700 NC. I would not be cheated just because of a dire situation. My flight was at 5 pm.
The taxi I got into turned out to be a tortoise. And even if the car could go faster, the driver did not seem confident enough to overtake other cars. After having been overtaken by other vehicles multiple times, I castigated the driver, pleaded and cajoled him to drive faster. The time was 4.45 pm. There was no way I could catch the flight. I was thinking about where to stay in KTM for the night.
And then the strangest thing happened. There was a dust storm. The driver mentioned that these storms were common in KTM. I asked him to keep quiet and floor the accelarator. I saw a directions sign to the airport. I was excited. We had reached. The taxi chugged into the airport and I jumped out of the car and reached the entry door into the airport.
It was 5 pm. A 6.30 hour journey to the airport became a 9+ hours journey. The check in time was long over and this was the time for the flight to take off. The security guard looked at my ticket and said that flight had taken off. I persisted and he allowed me in. I went running to the Nepal Airways counter. The attendant saw my ticket and smiled. That was the first hint of good news.
Apparently the dust storm had delayed all the flights that evening. I was elated. There was no way that this was happening. I had caught my flight. This was an absolute miracle. After checking in my baggage, I reached the departure lounge to find it chaotic. There was no protocol or procedures anywhere. I thanked myself for this infrastructure. If the airport was more modern, my flight may have taken off at 5 pm. To end the story, the flight back to Delhi was one of the most comfortable flights of my life and no one on the flight understood why I was beaming so much.
After I reached New Delhi, my backpack which I had checked in went missing. After two excruciating days, during which I even wrote to the airline CEO without response, my bag came back to New Delhi. I did not receive a single apology. I guess the bag itself was the apology and my check-in on that day in KTM airport was the bonus.
Disclaimer – The photos of the bus displayed on this page are not owned by me. In fact I was not in any state of mind to shoot photographs that day.