Your first view of Nepal will be from the airplane window as you land at Kathmandu airport, and it’s a view not to be missed. It takes in the mountains that surround the Kathmandu valley, the terraces used for farming that cover the hills, small villages and isolated farms, as well as the smog covered chaos that is Kathmandu.
Unfortunately, this view is only visible from one side of the aircraft, and which side depends on the approach the aircraft takes when landing. Flying in from Europe, the view was visible from the left hand side of the plane, flying in from Australia it was visible from the right. But don’t take this as gospel — the pilot may decide to change landing direction for one reason or another. The only advice I can give regarding the view is to ensure you have a Window seat, and to hope for the best regarding the landing direction.
Where you sit on the plane is important for more than just the view. Passport control at Kathmandu airport is antiquated, like something from a black and white movie from the 1950s. The staff are old, the facilities are ancient, and the pace is glacial. Only a small number of international flights arrive each day, and it takes them a good hour and a half to process the visitors from each one.
Sit as close to the front of the aircraft as possible so that you are one of the first off the plane. And when you disembark, do not stop for a toilet visit until you clear passport control. That early toilet break could easily add an hour to your time standing in line.
Most airlines allow online check-in 24 hours prior to departure. You should avail of this to book a Window seat as close to the front as possible.
You will need a visa for Nepal, but this can be purchased on the ground as you approach passport control. To speed up the process, and to get you through the bureaucracy faster, you should download the visa form from here, have it filled out in advance, and ensure that you have a passport photo and the appropriate currency to pay for it. Australian dollars or Euros can be used ($30 and €22 at the time of writing). You’ll also need to fill out a landing card that will be passed out on the aircraft, which duplicates much of the information on the visa application form.
Make a note of the hotel you’ll be staying at in Kathmandu, as this will be required for both forms — your Take on Nepal information pack should have provided you with this.
As you disembark the aircraft, make sure you keep your boarding card, and the associated luggage sticker that is usually attached to it. Passport control often ask for your boarding card, and after you collect your baggage and head for the exit, another official may stop you to compare your luggage number/bar code with the one attached to your boarding card. Kathmandu airport is the only airport where I’ve encountered this final check.
There is a currency exchange booth to the left as you leave the baggage reclaim area. You may wish to change a small amount here, just to have some local currency in your pocket. I’d recommend changing no more than $50, as they are generally more expensive than money changers in the city.
The airport is small — tiny by international standards — smaller than a mid sized train station in many countries. This means that before you know it you’ll be outside, in the open air. In most airports, those waiting for passengers do so inside the airport — not so in Kathmandu, where they are forced to wait behind a railing immediately outside the arrivals exit.
You walk out the door and in front of you will see a line of people waiting. Some will be holding up hotel signs, some will have people’s names, others will be taxi drivers looking for fares. Ignore them all and look for the Take on Nepal sign, complete with the colourful logo you’ve seen on the website. At least two Take on Nepal guides will be there to meet you and your flight. It doesn’t matter if you arrive late, or what time of the day or night it might be — your guides will be there waiting.
As soon as you see them, head in their direction, but DO NOT allow anyone to help with your bags. It’s common at Kathmandu airport for ‘helpers’ to approach tourists, pretend to be one of their party, and help with their bags in the expectation of a tip. Your Take on Nepal guides never ask for or expect tips. If anyone asks you for a tip or stands around you waiting for one at the airport, they are not Take on Nepal staff. Ignore them and keep moving towards whoever is holding the Take on Nepal sign.
Once you’ve reached the Take on Nepal guides, they will load your baggage into a waiting vehicle for the trip to your hotel. They may wait for another passenger or two, as it’s common for more than one volunteer to arrive on the same flight. The trip to the hotel is all covered as part of your package, so you should never have to pay anyone or tip anyone from when you step off the plane to when you reach your hotel room.
© Take on Nepal 2019