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!
Part 2 of day 1 trek in the next episode
Lukla Altitude 2828M
Kathmandu to lukla flight 30 minutes
Kathmandu to Lukla 148 KM
Click on this interactive map to play around!
Note: You may want to read the previous articles in this series.
How the journey started.
Day Zero at Ground Zero!
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That sure is a short run-way. But I love the look of that airport – with the mountains in the backdrop. Pretty amazing. And I definitely would love walking through that quaint town of Lukla…it looks so colorful and nice. Lovely pictures Nisha.
Thanks Ami. You must visit this area and trek up Namche bazaar at least, even if you dont want to go to the whole hog.
Lukla is a village ? by which angle ? I know its a village but the houses , the streets and the way is very much different from the other villages of Nepal. will remain with you in the entire journey .
Yogi :). I think tourism has been good to this and some of the other villages along the way.
Oh my! Although the runaway looks scary as hell, we are sure the journey was totally worth it. Lukla looks so beautiful !! Eagerly waiting to read more about your adventure in this town. 🙂
Thanks. I can assure you that it was worth every minute of the journey.
Oh my gawd!! That airstrip!! The drop off at the end would have me shaking in my boots. And I do love the name Yeti airlines.
Sara, hahaha! I guess the drop is deep enough for the plane to regain confidence and start flying! 🙂 🙂
Wow that runway is short! I think I would have been pretty nervous landing or even taking off at that airport. Lukla looks like an interesting village and seems to cater to tourists. Do they get that many muggings that the police want the serial numbers of your electronics? Or do you know why they needed that info?
Rob, Lukla is nice and warm. I think this is one of the safest regions, however there may have been a one-off case of theft which must have prompted the police to collect this information.
Those mountains look fabulous. I love finding out about new places and Lukla looks like a lovely spot to explore. Was the trek difficult?
Christina, this is not the most difficult of the treks. All you need is grit and keep your nose to the grindstone.
Congrats on making it there! I’ve always been a bit terrified of Lukla airport, although I have a close friend who is a mountaineer and she travels there multiple time a year to lead treks up the mountain. I hope you enjoy the journey from here on. It will be totally life changing no doubt!
Ali, The pilots, I think, are some of the most skilled. At the time of landing you dont feel anything. It is only when you see the size of the runway from outside , you get the jitters, but by then it is all over.
I looked at your pictures and remembered my Nepal experience 🙂 It’s one of my favorite countries in this world. Thank you for sharing!
P.S. Sounds like lucky 13 trek. 🙂 🙂
Natalia, Ha Ha Ha! Yes, I am here to tell the tale. Have you written about your Nepal stories?
Short and scary runway. I have never been on a twin engine airplane before, but Lukla looks like a beautiful little town. On to the trail then.
Yep. My first twin-engine flight was in Kazakhstan, but then thats another story (Wink! Wink!) .
On to the trail. Lukla is the starting point for many treks.
Nope. No. Uh uh! No way would I get in that tiny plane!! lol Oh the things we do for travel and adventure though, am I right!?
LeAnna, hahaha. The track record is quite good. Of course once in a while …… 🙂 🙂 🙂
That is a pretty wild air flight. I wonder how comfortable I’d be with it after looking at the runway photo. Lukla looks like an interesting town.
Rhonda, I am given to understand that these pilots are extremely capable and I am here to tell the tale! 🙂 Lukla is also the gateway to all the treks in the everest region.
Wow, jumping over to read part II! I had to laugh when I read your first line about the 5.30am flight – we’ve just done an around the world trip and there’s such a difference in opinion over early morning flights when you’re booking them to when you have to actually wake up to take them 😀 Can’t wait to read about your trek!
Absolutely! When yo are planning , these things seem insignificant. When you actually have to get up early morning for the flight , well, it is a different story!
Wow that is one terrifying runway! Must have been a cool experience though
Yes, Claire, it was one of those experiences that one remembers a long time.
Very interesting write up! So we all felt the same on this journey 🙂 After my last journey during Oct 2016, I now wish to visit more and more to Khumbu region. The best place to go real close to the high mountains.