No sooner Ramesh Prasad Aryal arrived at the arrival lounge at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) last Thursday and had a cursory glance around, he said he instantly felt very much 'at home'.
"How/why," asked a fellow passenger and Aryal replied, "The huge statue of Buddha and one-horned rhino outside installed there reflects Nepal's culture and natural heritage!"
The other Nepali foreign returnees like Ramesh were excitedly saying that the one-horned rhino's idol there looked so animated to them as it was akin to the magnificent mammal roaming around Chitwan National Park while the sight of Lord Buddha had given them the impression that they were strolling around Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
The foreigners were all agog and taking pictures with the idols, including the one of Garuda, a mythical eagle, with the hands joined in the 'Namaste' position, welcoming the guests in a Nepali style of greeting and taking a leave.
Pictures of temples, shrines, sceneries and artifacts and such items among others vividly seem to have caught their attention. One passenger remarked that the new façade of the only international airport in the country had brought him back the memories of the international airport in Bali in Indonesia.
"The international airport in Bali was also dotted with various materials and posters showing with multi-cultures and varied festivities celebrated by the people there and interestingly had pictures of Hindu God and Goddesses," he said, comparing the similarities between the interior of both airports.
The similarities between the two airports had a lot to do with the Bali being a Hindu majority island as, according to the 2010 census data of the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) of Indonesia, the Hindu population made up more than 80 percent of the total population there.
Passengers at TIA were also seemingly fascinated by the pictures of some famous tourist destinations in the country such as the highest mountain in the world-Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) and other Himalayan peaks, trekking trails, Pokhara and Mustang among others.
The concept of converting TIA into a 'boutique airport' was introduced from the government level in the past and the airport administration was effortful to materialize the concept.
According to TIA Spokesperson Devchandra Lal Karna, its utmost effort is centered on offering information about diversities and features of Nepal to any foreign tourist arriving here at a mere glance of the pictures as the country is celebrating the Visit Nepal Year-2020 campaign.
Besides, other several aspects such as its cleanliness, security, support for passengers, construction of infrastructures meant for the convenience of passengers, its further development and smooth information flow system are the priorities of the TIA administration as these issues are directly linked with the image and identity of the country's sole international airport.
As passengers step into the arrival lounge they will be greeted by a glittering gold-coated 11-feet-tall Buddha idol weighing around one ton. Upon seeing the idol, visitors can feel that they are landed in the country where the Buddha, the epitome of world peace, was born.
An image of Garud and statues of other deities also adorn the room. An image of rhinoceros is placed in an artificial park giving the reflection of Sauraha, the major touristic site in Chitwan which is famous for rhinos.
These structures have turned out to be attractions for tourists. TIA's cleanliness is also noteworthy. Innovative HR JV Solution has owned the responsibility of the airport's sanitation and for over the past two years.
It may be noted that the Khem's Cleaning made the media headlines for its move to clean the airport voluntarily around one and a half years ago. The Non-Resident Nepalis Association had supported the campaign.
The Khem's Cleaning had been provided cleaning workers by the Innovative at the time.
The company's service is based on foreign technology and criteria, said company's Chief Rohini Prasad Bhattarai. Besides, workers are given advanced training time and again for their skills enhancement.
One hundred sixty employees of the Company are assigned for cleaning works at the airport at present. They work round-the-clock on a shift basis.
"The airport is the first place where any foreigner comes face-to-face with the country. So, the airport gives the first impression of the country to the visitor. We want the foreigners to take a good impression of our country and therefore we are ourselves involved in the cleaning works," he said.
The Tribhuvan International Airport has changed its form from the improvements and cleaning done there to develop it as a boutique airport. Unlike in the past, the floor, toilets, bathrooms, walls, and chairs are clean. Special attention has been paid to the cleanliness.
The cleaning staffs say they have been able to keep the airport neat and clean as they have been employing international standard technology and standards in cleaning.
According to them, not only the airport but hotels, parks, tourist spots, and other infrastructures should also be kept clean, neat and tidy as the country is observing the Visit Nepal Year 2020 campaign with the objective of welcoming 2 million tourists.
Another important aspect is security arrangement. Spokesperson Karna said the airport management has pursued security along with the new system. He said security has been tightened and a new system put in place in security checks keeping the passengers' convenience in mind.
- Yek Raj Pathak