Departure lounge

Hanging out in Kathmandu's international airport with soon-to-be migrants.

The speckled marble tiles sprawl underneath black metallic chairs, which hold a few bored-looking passengers. This way to the immigration, says one sign. Another warns that littering will cost you 200 rupees. In wheels a trolley bearing an oxygen cylinder; in the distance, a German shepherd roams around, sniffing for non-permissible objects. And while officials dart around holding tea in plastic cups, a lone escalator pauses now and then to listen to a worker drill a hole on the wall in front. Add to this mix of sluggishness and frenzy large arrows pointing up towards the ceiling to mean 'straight forward', and the ground floor of the international departure lobby of the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu can be overwhelming, confusing and a bit daunting – even for old hands, and certainly for first-timers.

For Tirtha Bahadur Pokharel from Pyuthan district in midwestern Nepal, leaving the country is not a new experience. Although only 26, he has already spent ten years working in India: three in Chennai, five in Gujarat and two in Mathura. But none of these trips involved taking a flight. This Friday evening, however, he is heading to Doha, in Qatar, via Dubai, on a two-year work contract. Yet with only a rucksack and a plastic bag for luggage, he seems poised more for a school trip than an international flight. The mandatory labour stamp on his passport, though, indicating another outbound labour migrant, quickly clears up any confusion an onlooker might have about the purpose of Pokharel's journey.

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Himal Southasian