Nepal – Why We Shall Never Return

by Joseph Ellis on February 10, 2014

Nepal6-RJohn

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!

Me: Why?

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?

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Muza-chan February 10, 2014 at 9:35 am

Interesting…
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Rosemarie John February 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

It was a frightening thought to be separated from each other in a foreign land.

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Brenna February 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm

If I were to never return to every country that gave me trouble at immigration, there would be a lot of countries I would never return to. I hope you give Nepal another chance and don’t let one unpleasant encounter at immigration deter you from ever going again. There’s a lot more to Nepal than just its immigration officers (as you know), and I don’t think it’s fair to denigrate a country for one bad experience at the airport.
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Joseph Ellis February 10, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Dear Brenna, thank you for leaving a comment. Nowhere in the post have i denigrated the country 🙂 Nepal and its people are simply fabulous and our other posts on Nepal are proof of the fact that we loved our stay. This post is written to echo a painful memory which I would never ever want to relive. We went to see the Majestic Himalayas and experience the culture of the people who live below it. But that experience was nerve wracking. The world is a large place and there are many more roads to take in a short life. I feel its pointless to go via that airport again unless its absolutely necessary to go. And should that ever happen, God knows I shall tread with trepidation and fear.

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Brenna February 10, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I was just struck by the title – why we shall “never” return. That’s where I got the sense that Nepal was being defined by the one experience as opposed to the other lovely (and plentiful) experiences you mention here and in other posts. I totally understand that the memory is a painful one, but I just hope you can think past it and remember all the amazing things about the country! There are trains and buses into Nepal, too… 😉

Thanks for clearing it up for me a bit further.
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Joseph Ellis February 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

There are definitely other modes of transport into Nepal. I saw buses going to New Delhi from Khatmandu, but I don’t plan to go there in a hurry 🙂 The Pacific Ocean beckons me these days.But hey, I don’t mean to discourage people going to Nepal, they should know that there are some bad eggs in the immigration who can harass them. I am certain there are some good immigration officials too. But we just ran into some bad ones and this is our tale…
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Amber February 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

We had something similar happen when entering Cuba. I went through immigration first, with no problem. Each immigration lane had a full on door, with no windows. I went through to the other side and tried to wait for my husband, and he never came out. I kept waiting. The door would open and someone else would walk through. I would try to peer in but I just could not see Eric, and he is 6 foot 4 inches and blonde, so he sticks out. The customs officer on my end kept asking me to move along, towards baggage claim. I tried to explain to him, in Spanish, that my husband was in there, I could not see him, there must be a problem and he doesn’t speak Spanish. I speak Spanish so can we see what the problem is. He replied with a “no hay problema.” I just stood there longer and he asked me again to move, I repeated that there was a problem and he said no worries they all speak English back there. But for a good 15-20 minutes, or what seemed like an eternity, I was in Cuba, and he was not, and we are American, so for this to happen there, out of all countries, was troubling. Eventually they let him through. He had no idea why he was detained, as virtually no one spoke Spanish to him. They just asked him to stand there while a supervisor came through and asked him for an address in Cuba. He honestly did not know as I had made the arrangements and had everything written down. He had trouble communicating to them that his wife had the information and I was on the other side of the door. Eventually, they let him go, but they just made him stand there waiting for so long with no explanation. I am so sorry this sort of thing happened to you guys, how stressful. I can totally understand.

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Joseph Ellis February 10, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Hi Amber, we can relate to you. The experience can be very unsettling to just wait there without knowing whats happening on the other side. Hope you had a great time inside Cuba though. Heard it is a gorgeous place. Hey thanks for sharing. Your comment may prepare someone else better and we shall definitely keep this in mind when we plan a visit there 🙂 Cheers!
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Rhonda @ Travel? Yes Please! February 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Wow, that’s quite the story. You really were being harassed for no reason. It must have been scary to think that you possibly could have been separated from each other.
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Joseph Ellis February 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

It certainly was Rhonda, as I think about it now, I realise we were in a pretty scary situation. We can still remember the sneering and chuckling of those officers . I shudder to think what would have happened if we did not have that receipt from the Malaysian Immigration office to prove we were married. Phew! Thank you for the comment. BTW your article on Prague is simple awesome.
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Raphael Alexander Zoren February 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm

A couple of Bolivian officers gave me a lot of hassle when it was time to leave for Peru. They quoted some BS rule about me not having declared my electronics upon arrival (who in God’s name declare that they have a laptop and a photo camera with them?) and that they suspected that I was trying to smuggle out pirated/stolen electronics.

Being from a Third-Country myself, it was easy to spot that they wanted a bribe. Since I only had Peruvian soles with me, I was afraid that they would take me to an ATM so I could withdraw money. To my surprise, they just asked for a “voluntary donation”, I tried testing the waters by giving them the equivalent of one USD each and they were happy with that.

ONE USD!!!! People actually sell their dignity and their profession for ONE USD!
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Joseph Ellis February 11, 2014 at 3:59 am

Hey Raphael, thank you for leaving a comment. I guess the sense of shame doesn’t exist anymore. And people in power always abuse it. Come on 1 USD is the price for a persons dignity is ridiculous. We have seen such things happen continuously and can empathise with your irritation.
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Lesley Peterson February 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I think it’s quite reasonable to consider never returning to a country that does not have any professional standards, proper training or supervisors to oversee what goes on at borders. Most countries are rightfully more concerned with who is coming into their country, bringing what, than who is leaving. It sounds as though these ‘officers’ were looking for a bribe or more likely were simply enraged/jealous of people who have the means and ability to travel. They had their pathetic little, unprofessional grinning fun with you. Sorry to hear Nepal has such lax standards. Thanks for the heads up!
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Joseph Ellis February 11, 2014 at 4:05 am

Thank you Lesley, from the time the ordeal started I sensed immediately that these guys have some agenda up their sleeves. For the love of God, I still can’t figure out till today what that agenda was though ! They tried to provoke and ridicule but i kept telling myself to remain calm and not let them get what they want.
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TT February 11, 2014 at 12:19 am

Air Travel is a generally civilised process. If you have any such hassles with immigration, you can easily throw the ball back into their court by saying that you will take their name, and that you are contacting your embassy to report their behaviour.

That usually is enough for them to start behaving nicely. 🙂

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Joseph Ellis February 11, 2014 at 4:10 am

TT, I mulled about the thought of getting the embassy involved. But looking at those chaps I did not feel they would care one wee bit. If I threaten them they would simply have asked me to wait until some embassy official would come by to start some official machinery working. Finally they would have just said they need to do this in the name of security or some lame excuse like that. Thank you for taking the time to read, empathise and comment.
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Heather February 11, 2014 at 1:42 am

Wow, that would have been scary. Good for you for keeping a cool head. Like you say, I’m sure they were just hoping you’d give them a reason to detain you. I’ve never had any trouble at immigration (knock on wood) but I was denied a Vietnam visa at the consulate in Shanghai – and I completely lost it. We’d already paid for the trip and a guy I was telling me I couldn’t go and wasn’t giving me a reason. I left the office in tears, then found out I could apply for one online and pick it up at the airport when we got to HCMC. There are jerks everywhere 🙂
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Joseph Ellis February 11, 2014 at 4:15 am

Heather, I didn’t know Vietnam visa can be applied online. Thank you for the info. I don’t have to wait at the Vietnam embassy anymore. I think this entire machinery that services tourists sucks. Everyone is out to steal a buck from an innocent traveller!!!
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Laura February 28, 2014 at 11:01 pm

This sounds so horrible! It’s amazing how power can corrupt some people. I wonder if that one officer was just looking for a bribe. And what business does the Nepal immigration officer have determining whether you’re allowed into Malaysia anyway!
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Joseph Ellis March 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Hi Laura,

He did not ask or even hint for a payment. So can’t accuse him on that front. He looked terribly upset with me and I could sense his animosity. I have been traveling for 30 years and met all sorts of officers. The intentions of this one in Nepal I cannot fathom. It beats me
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Dennis Kopp March 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm

That is really a crazy story Joseph! I have been in and out of Nepal a few times, but never had any trouble. Ok, having to leave the airport to get Nepali rupees and having to exchange them for US Dollars to finally pay for the visa was always a time consuming nuisance, but that is nothing compared to what happened to you. Did you ever find out what the relation was between the Indian passport and the Malaysian visa? It’s strange because I actually met Indians in Nepal who entered without any form of passport, all they had to do at the border was speak a few words in Hindi…

So it definitely sounds like a rare exception and you clearly should give Nepal a second chance. By the way, if your wife is from Malaysia, can’t you apply for a Malaysian passport as well? Maybe that would give some peace of mind when entering Nepal next time… 🙂
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Joseph Ellis March 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Hey Dennis,

Thank you for leaving a comment.i am glad to know that you have had no problems with Nepal immigration and customs. And I sincerely hope no one goes through the trauma of being harassed. It’s not worth it to go for a holiday and get stopped by people who have the power to detain you without any cause. I saw the Everest, enjoyed lovely food, saw some great temples and shopped for a lot of handicrafts and textiles on that visit. I guess I won’t return. There is still a lot of world to see 🙂

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Hendric March 31, 2014 at 2:50 pm

OMG. I was just checking out ideas for Nepal and stumbled upon this horrifying experience you guys had. Been pretty lucky to not have been harassed at airports so far but anything I should look out for while going through immigration?

Anyway thanks for sharing on congratulations on the Skyscanner Travel Awards.
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Joseph Ellis March 31, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Hi Hendric,

Thank you for the comment. I did not seem to have any problem when I entered Nepal. The airport is cramped and dingy and the lines to immigration were large. It was only when we were leaving that we had this experience. I can’t say or would wish anyone and everyone would have a bad experience. But this happened and it was not pleasant at all. The country and it’s people are fantastic. The locals are simple and helpful. So I hope you go visit the place and come back without any incident.

Regarding any advice or tips, I don’t have any because I don’t think we did anything different.we were cheerful and not overtly overbearing or annoying. So I don’t know why those officers targeted us. My only piece of advice is to ensure when you enter or exit a country see what they chopped on the passport. Even if they write down the flight number on your passport (some countries do) check whether the flight number is correctly noted.

If you do go, I would love to know if all went well. Cheers man. Go see those mighty mountains if you can.
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Chiranjivi Paudel December 5, 2016 at 7:07 am

I can give some connection between Indian passport and Malaysian visa…
There is an informal agreement between the government of Nepal and India to prevent illegal trafficking of labour to countries like Malaysia, Dubai , Quatar etc.. Nepalese citizens aren’t usually allowed to fly to most of these country easily from India and the same goes with people with Indian passport flying from Nepal. There will be good amount of scrutiny but your case sounds a little more tougher than usual. I presume the officer wasn’t a good communicator which caused the issue. Sincere Apologies!!

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