Part 1: Kathmandu to Lukla
Continuing from …. Day Zero at Ground Zero
Nilesh, the Trek Company’s representative called on me at 5:30AM to take me to the Airport, for a flight that was to depart at 6:15AM! Of course the previous day when I was making lofty plans, I had agreed to this in my moment of weakness. I hardly had a choice anyway, owing to the dependency on the fickle flights to Lukla.
I was to take the first flight of Sita Airlines, or was it Tara airlines, maybe Sita Airlines owns Tara, or is it the other way round, maybe I am talking about Yeti airlines … maybe… oh chuck it ….did it matter?
Just then, Nilesh stuffed a page of computer printed ticket that said it all. Yeti Airlines. What lovely names for an airline? But then names did not matter. All it mattered was how well they manoeuvre the propeller aircraft and land safely in the so called one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
After clearing X-Rays successfully, where my only bottle of water was taken away, I found myself in the check-in hall which was only slightly crowded. The staff at one of the checkin counters directed me towards check-in counters of Tara Airlines. “Its ok they said, Yeti owns Tara”, clearing the mystery. That said, Tara did a great job in checking me in about 5 minutes and asked me to proceed through another security check and x-ray to the waiting hall. There is check-in baggage weight limit of 10KG but a couple of kilos more is generally ok. My big rucksack was 12kg and the on board day sack was 5kg. I was just settling in when boarding announcement was made. Wow! It was almost the time for pushback.
Oops, unlucky number for some
All the thirteen (omg!) of us were herded into a van and were soon deposited near an airplane which, in a manner of speaking was not much taller than my car. It was a Twin Otter with 2 seats on the right and 1 on the left side. There was a tip I had read that you should try to get a first row, left window seat. There was a mad scramble for that seat and unfortunately I was the last to get in to plane but I got the next best seat. An empty double seat on the right side opposite to the door with its window. I had access to two windows, Yayyy! So much for the window seat because the windows were all scratched and stained. While there were audible ooohhs and aaahhs at the sights, it was quite difficult to get a good shot.
After the mandatory safety announcements the air hostess distributed some sugar candies, of which I got myself a fistful. She was looking quite morose as if resigned to her fate. I wanted to ask her questions but her expression was such that I kept quiet. Why am I reminded of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” ? There are more air accidents in this route than any other. While, Lukla is not the highest airport, it definitely is a dangerous one. Well I was not going to let these statistics take charge of my mind, there were better things to look at and look forward to. So I settled with my fistful, enjoying the 30 minutes short flight.
From the ever increasing noise of the twin engine it was apparent that we were steadily gaining height all the time. Then it happened. We hit an air pocket and dropped few metres uncontrollably, only for a moment but enough to get our respective stomachs in our respective mouths. Then in a few minutes we landed! Yes, we just climbed to a height just a few metres above the Tenzing-Hillary Airport and landed. The pilot gets on to the 300 metres or so of sloping airstrip to land and do a quick right turn. The pilot had to avoid the wall on the north side, at all costs! During landing, Prayers and OMGs replaced the ooohs and aaaahs 🙂 and then, the applause :). All is well 🙂 🙂 !
Lukla, Look, here I am!
It was still early in the morning and quite misty, windy and chilly. The airport was very small but busy. As expected, with an apron that could hold 4 planes. Nothing to complain when you realize that prior to 1973, people had to trek right from Jiri! Another 6 days’ worth of trekking.
My Man-Friday, my Sherpa, my porter-guide, Sonam, met me at the arrival room and we went to the designated hotel to have breakfast. The markets opened early to cater to flights that landed early in the morning when the weather was good. I ordered my breakfast quickly. I was excited and wanted to get going as soon as possible. We left at around 8:10AM. I had to buy my first bottle of water for NPR 80 at Lukla. Boy! Did it burn a hole in my pocket?
We quickly made our way to the police check post, who asked questions like where we were going, how long and what all electronics items we were carrying, the serial numbers of those etc. Probably for our own safety?
We went through an arched stupa, rolling the many prayer wheels and then after descending a steep set of steps we were on the trail!
Lukla Altitude 2828M
Kathmandu to lukla flight 30 minutes
Kathmandu to Lukla 148 KM
Click on this interactive map to play around!
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