Going to Katmandu

Katmandu       Bells were jingling at 5 AM.  My window opened to a street that abutted a pond where a Hindu prayer space sat in the middle and on the other end were Buddhist stupas.  Were the bells a kind of call to prayer or a melodious bicycle moving in the early morning to work?  I’ll never know.

I was in the Patan district, an older section, of Katmandu.  Waking up from time to time with jet lag, the city seemed so quiet.  Other times the silence was pierced by dogs barking, singly and in packs, perhaps below me or maybe a kilometer away.  I knew I was in Katmandu, but it felt like India, except when I listened to the different language cadences.  I could be fooled though.  Everyone understood the Hindi that my colleagues spoke.  Indian rupees were taken as freely as Nepalese rupees.  The fast food shops served roti.  Signs advertised tandoori.

I knew I wasn’t in India, since I had been unable to renew my 10-year Indian visa successfully for the last three years.  Renewal in the time of Prime Minister Narenda Modi and the BJP, the rightwing communalist party, ruling on a hyper-nationalist, anti-Muslim agenda, made it seem like politics, given his attack on nonprofits and any foreign ties, other than the ones worn by his buddy, President Trump, but it could have as easily been incompetence since he privatized the visa process and had taken it out of the hands of consulates in the USA.  (Listen to Wade’s World where Vinod Shetty and Suresh Kadashan talk about India under Modi). Katmandu had not been on any sort of list of places we sought to organize or had short listed to visit, but when violence and unrest wracked Sri Lanka, where we had planned to all meet with the Organizers’ Forum, it became the alternative location where I might be able to meet for several days with the principal organizers of ACORN India in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru.

Bob Seger and his 1975 song was ringing in my ears on my journey to meet the ACORN India team.  Some may not remember parts of the song where he sang,

I know my plane is due
The one that’s going to Katmandu
Up to the mountain’s where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here
That’s what I’m gonna do
K-k-k-k-k-k Katmandu
Really, really, really, going to
If I ever get out of here
If I ever get out of here
If I ever get out of here
I’m going to Katmandu, oh

Take my word, I didn’t remember every word of the song either, but I lived that song, and it was in my head thanks to Qatar Airways.

My trip had started well enough.  Jet Blue got me squared away to JFK.  I boarded Qatar Airways to their hub in Doha, and all was well until arriving at their five-year-old, $17 billion-dollar airport.  My flight reservation, booked through Expedia, had me leaving at 5:15 PM and landing at 1AM, so I had about an hour to make the plane, so I needed to hustle.  There was nothing on the departure board at all.  A security guard pointed out the information desk.  They couldn’t have been more helpful as they told me for the first time that, no, my flight left in eight hours at 12:40 AM and didn’t arrive until 8:15 AM!  As Seger sang,

I know my plane is due
The one that’s going to Katmandu
Up to the mountain’s where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here

It doesn’t end there.  Once Qatar spent $17B with six years of overruns on their airport mall monstrosity with its wide and nearly empty concourses, it seems determined to make Doha the Bermuda triangle of air travel.  They sent me a note Friday night in Katmandu telling me they had also unilaterally changed my flight time from 2AM Monday morning to 8:50 PM Sunday evening so that I could land in Doha at 11:45 and spent the night walking through desolation row at Hamad International Airport.

Make that more of a travel warning, than a travel tip.

Please enjoy Bob Seger’s Katmandu (Live).

Thanks to KABF.

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Random Travel Tips – Part #4: Don’t Make Assumptions about Lodging

            New Orleans       A breaker fuse at the house blew this morning under pressure from the coffee pot, microwave, and a space heater all singing their songs at the same time, which reminds me that when booking lodging on foreign travel, read the offering carefully and make no assumptions.

            In 2016, the Organizers’ Forum journeyed to Douala, Cameroon in west Africa.  We used the meeting to also bring as many of our affiliated organizers together as we could afford in order to have a historic first face-to-face meeting.  We had staff on the ground detailed to locate housing.  I laid out the minimal requirements for our work and the costs:  Wi-Fi in the rooms and breakfast provided.  Of course, we needed meeting space and some other things, but we have learned that those are the two necessities in making these meetings work.  We ended up in a place where the price was right, the location worked well enough, the staff was attentive, the Wi-Fi was spotty in places, but that happens everywhere.  Sadly, we had forgotten to ask a key question, mainly “Is there hot water?”  Whoops, big mistake.  We were lucky to be in an equatorial location, so most could suffer through a cold shower, and some swore they preferred it, but at the same time some of our frequent Organizers’ Forum delegates asked before the 2017 and 2018 trips, whether or not the hotel would have hot water.    Like I said, don’t make assumptions about lodging.  Check the website thoroughly, and ask repeatedly.

            Closer to home, traveling in Mexico, it is unbelievable how difficult it is to verify whether or not heat is provided in the private, and many publicly available lodging options.  Admittedly, many areas of Mexico are also on the warmish side, but Mexico City is a mile-high, like Denver, and many other cities and towns are on the high plateaus.  Night time can be air-ish, as one of our great New Orleans organizers used to say. 

            Staying in Kampala, Uganda, hard on the equator, the hotel was run by a Catholic family-related NGO, which is just the kind of place that we like to support since they are companionably allied with our work.  No air or heat there, but extra blankets were provided.  The issue in Africa that is more central than air or heat is whether or not mosquito netting is provided in the sleeping quarters of each room.  An extra blanket is inadequate protection against malaria, and mosquitoes were buzzing around in December after the rains in Nairobi as well.

            In other countries, especially if you are using one of the travel websites like AirBnb or other room and housing shares, as you are making your way from place to place, city to city in a rental car, make sure that parking is provided.  In Auckland, nothing was a bargain, unless it provided parking since that situation is impossible in New Zealand.  Comments on websites helped us there, when owners were being forced to go out of their way to assure potential guests that they had fixed the parking situation for visitors. 

            Staying outside of the offerings of the big local and global lodging establishments is usually a better experience and of course more budget friendly to those of us working for dues-based membership organizations, but there is a reason they are successful.  They check the boxes on the all of the basics.  Going around them, don’t make assumptions, and make sure your checklist is equally thorough or you’re not going to be happy and could be miserable despite having saved some precious dollars.

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