An unplanned visit to the US Embassy.

Kathmandu Travel Blog

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Now, I'm fairly new to this world travel game so I though I'd test the water by travelling with an organised group. I'd been on a whistle stop tour of SE Asia with my wife, Debbie, in November 07 with the Explore tour operator so I figured that I'd give them another go. On this occasion I was travelling with my Brother, Brendan, who was to mark his 50th birthday on April 5th in Kathmandu. We'd arrived in Kathmandu on March 26th as a starting point for our trekking in the Himalayas. I'll write the details of that elsewhere but for now I want to focus on the Embassy. We stayed at the Hotel Mountain on Kantipath, just down the road from the Embassy. We had walked past the embassy and spotted some signs saying "no photography" and commented on the number of Nepalese soldiers stationed outside. Then we went off trekking and came back to the Hotel Mountain for a couple of days before leaving for the UK. So, April 5th came and I decided to treat Brendan to lunch and we did a bit of shopping for souvenirs. As we made our way back to the hotel Brendan commented on the traffic congestion at the junction of Kantipath and Tridevi Marg, a crossroads outside the Royal Palace (opposite the US Embassy) - I'd recounted tales of the traffic madness in Vietnam to him and this was very similar. Oh, I forgot to mention that as we walking along Tridevi Marg we were accosted by one of the many Hindu holy men (see attached photo of Brendan and similar holy man) who walk the streets sprinkling dried flowers in your hair and placing a red dot on your forehead. Brendan managed to dodge him but I wasn't quick enough and he nabbed me, did the business and then held out his hand for payment. We were leaving the following day and funds were a bit tight so I gave him 5 rupees (66r to the $) which, in hindsight, was a bit tight to say the least. So back to the junction - Brendan got out his camera and took 2 photos. No sooner had he put his camera away than we spotted a soldier, complete with Kalashnikov, walking across the road towards us. He motioned with his finger that he wanted to speak to us and then it dawned on me, we were outside the Embassy and there were signs saying no photography, SH*T. We'll be ok won't we, there's a 12 foot wall surrounding the embassy, we couldn't possibly have taken photos of anything significant. "Come with me" he said in fairly good English and go with him we did, over the road, past his colleagues in the sentry's post and into the Embassy. Oh my God, what have we done? Are we going to extend our holiday with a trip to Guantanamo Bay? We were in some sort of Reception area, with a doorway scanner, the sort you have to walk through at Airports. A Senior looking army official came to speak to us and asked for the camera, then we had to walk through the scanner and then we had to hand over our passports. This is getting serious, "we only took a couple of photos" Brendan said, meanwhile I'm thinking, there's no "we" about it mate, you took the photos not me so you can take the rap (of course I wasn't serious, how could I be? This was my Brother and he's celebrating his 50th birthday in custody at the US Embassy). So, the 'Major' or whatever he was had gone off with the passports and another soldier took us into another room which appeared to be the soldier's locker room. Looking around there were various dents in the lockers most of which I was convinced were head shaped. So then, maybe we'll get roughed up a bit and they'll let us go? Maybe the 'Major' will come back with a couple of CIA agents and a set of electrodes to apply to our genetalia? It's amazing what goes through your mind and for some reason I kept thinking of the film Midnight Express. The 'Major' returned with our passports and the camera still in tact and no photos deleted - yet. Then the questions began, where do you live? what is your Father's name (what's that got to do with anything)? Why do you have Irish passports? Then he pulls out his own camera and says he wants to take our photos, odd, is this for his own personal collection or is for the FBI database? Then it dawned on me, I've still got a red dot on my forehead and some not so dry flowers in my hair (come on, it was a serious situation and I had a sweat on). Enough is enough, time to protest. "Why do you want photos?" says I, " you've already got our photos in the passports". I sensed Brendan's concern, keep quiet you idiot he was thinking, let them have the photos and we're out of here. He's right I thought and so I relented and let him snap away. Then on to Brendan's camera, oh look, 2 photo's with lots of traffic in and a 12 foot wall in the background, hardly a major terrorist threat me thinks. Nonetheless we had to delete them and that's it, we were free to go. Brendan sought reassurance that our names and photos would not be held on a data base and that we would be able to leave the Country OK and also that we would be able to enter the USA in the future. They reassured us that the detail they took was for their use and that we would be able to travel anywhere at anytime in the future. Having said that, Brendan is due to fly to Washington soon and I get a sneaky feeling that he may find himself being grilled again. As for me, I should be ok as long as I don't travel to the US with a red dot on my forehead.
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photo by: sharonburgher