During the course of our travels, we have forborne many euphoric moments… but there have been some nightmarish experiences as well. But the one that towers over them all is the one we experienced at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport. It is harrowing enough to make us never want to visit that country ever again.
Nepal is a beautiful country. Its people are some of the friendliest in the world. It has stunning locales, fabulous food and a towering giant in Mount Everest residing there. Kathmandu, despite its densely populated chaos, is home to many hard-working and honest people except for a few rotten eggs who tarnish the beauty and serenity of this tiny kingdom.
It all began towards the end. We were leaving the country. We were happy to have had a good trip. Nepal had gladdened us with its culture, sights and people. We were still basking in the joy of having seen Mount Everest up close and personal and were going back with wonderful memories. Little did we know what lay in store ahead!
The immigration line was not too long and we soon found ourselves in front of the immigration officer. We were still in the process of cheerfully wishing him a good morning when he abruptly cutting us short and looking directly at me asked me why I am boarding a Malaysian flight on an Indian Passport!?!
And this is what followed next…
Me: (Still smiling) Uhh sorry I don’t seem to understand the question.
Him: Why are you going to Malaysia?
Me: I have a visa to that country. I flew in to Nepal aboard Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur.
Him: How did you get a Malaysian Visa?
Me: (A bit amused) Well my wife is Malaysian and though I work in Singapore, I also have a Malaysian visa (and thought it was very important… silly me was explaining that we got a better deal on Malaysia Airlines tickets and therefore choose to fly from KL rather than Singapore). He glared at me with an animosity I never experienced anywhere.
Rosemarie: (Who was with me at the counter as well) Is there a problem officer?
Him: No, you can go. He cannot!
Him: Why? Because you have an Indian passport and you are going to Malaysia! (He had not even bothered to look inside the passport).
Me: I have a valid visa, its on page 28. I can open the page up for you if you would like.
(The moment I said that, the chap flung the passport at me, literally threw it, yelling at the top of his voice ARE YOU TRYING TO TEACH ME MY JOB??)
Me: (Flabbergasted) Listen officer, I am not trying to teach you your job. I am merely offering to show you the visa because I understand my passport is full of visas of different countries I travelled to and sometimes it’s difficult to spot the right page on where it’s endorsed.
Him: HEY YOU DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! You cannot leave!
Rosemarie: What do you mean he cannot leave? You haven’t even checked his passport.
Him: No madam, you can go, but he cannot.
Rosemarie: He is my husband, I won’t leave without him.
Him: (Signalling to some bunch of officers and pointing fingers at us) you see those officers there, you go there and explain to them.
We left the counter and went to the officers who were grinning at us as we walked towards them.
Officer 1: Yes, what’s the problem?
Me: He is not allowing me to leave.
Officer 1: Why?
Me: (Almost exasperated) I have no idea; he doesn’t seem to explain the reason. He questions me as to why I am going to Malaysia on an Indian passport and he doesn’t even check to see if I have a valid visa to go there.
Officer 1: So why are you to going to Malaysia?
We went through the whole story again explaining why…
Officer 1 to Officer 2: Check his passport.
Officer 2: (After 10 whole minutes!) Yes there is a valid Malaysian visa.
Officer 1: But the question here is why does he have a Malaysian visa?
Rosemarie: He is my husband and though we live in Singapore, he is entitled to a Malaysian visa since he is married to a Malaysian.
Officer 2: (Chuckling) Yes madam but how do we know he is married to you? Do you have your marriage certificate to prove it?
Me: Officer, we don’t carry our marriage certificate around when we travel. The Malaysian government had granted me a visa and I don’t see what the problem is over here.
Officer 3: (Suddenly joining the conversation) But we have to investigate why you were granted the visa.
Officer 2: (Making a stupendous discovery) He also has visas to USA, Singapore, Australia and other countries.
Officer 1: See… we have to investigate this further. Madam you can leave but we cannot let him go until you show us proof of marriage.
(By some providence of good luck, stapled on the last page of my passport was the receipt of the visa payment made when I got the Malaysian visa for 5 years endorsed. It clearly stated the reason the visa was given and the date it was issued. We remembered that and took it out and showed it to them)
Officer 1: What is this?
Rosemarie: This is the receipt of payment for the visa given to my husband by the Malaysian Department of Immigration and it clearly states that we are married.
(Another 15 minutes passed as they went through the receipt. Slowly checking the names on the receipt alphabet by alphabet.)
Officer 1: OK you can go we are satisfied.
Me: Thank you sir, what next?
Officer 1: Go back to the same immigration counter to the same officer and tell him we let you go.
We went back to the same counter.
Me: Sir, the officers sent us back to you. They say they are satisfied.
Him: BUT I AM NOT SATISFIED! (He again flung my passport but this time to my face).
Me: I don’t understand.
Him: GO BACK THERE. TELL THEM I CANNOT CLEAR YOU.
We went back to the officers.
Officer 1: Why are you back?
Me: He sent us back to you.
Then the officer accompanied us to the counter. The chap at the counter had yet another animated discussion and then finally after another 10 minutes reluctantly stamped the exit stamp on my passport and let us leave. Our flight was about to board in a few more minutes.
We sat in the exit lounge deflated and nervous. We were anxious to leave. Those guys wanted to detain me at all costs for reasons unexplained. Detain me in a country that I am not even a citizen off. The animosity was thick and real.
This was harassment at its peak. We could have got into a big argument with these chaps but knew that it would only make matters worse. They clearly were looking for any excuse to detain us. Why? God knows and I wouldn’t want to speculate here. As soon as the plane took off and we were were no longer in Nepali air space, we breathed as sigh of relief.
We have let the matter rest and felt it was prudent to write this off as a learning experience. There was no point making complaints at the Nepali visa office in Singapore. This had nothing to do with Nepal or its people or its government. This is just the mischief of a bunch of officials who we speculate exploit their powers for perhaps personal gains. Hope Nepal realizes that these kinds of officials paint an ugly face to a beautiful country. A face every tourist will see when they make a visit.
As for us, we were glad to land in the KL International airport and see the welcoming smiles of the Malaysian Immigration officers. We swore never to return to Nepal. Our love affair with Everest and the Himalayas continue and we will find another route to pay them a visit again… but never again through Nepal.
It’s been more than a year since this incident happened. We have been contemplating whether to write about it or not. But we finally decided to express our feelings.
We share this not to influence our readers against travel to Nepal. The country attracts over 500,000 tourists a year. We just hope to pre warn you about some of the uncouth officials at its entrance and exit. Here’s hoping you never encounter one.
Ever been detained by Immigration officials for no valid reason? Share it with us.
Part of this article got picked up by a news website. Read it here: Is TIA turning into a “hassle spot” for foreign tourists?