My scariest and most spectacular flight

The start of my trek to Mt Everest in Nepal began with a 4am wakeup call in my hotel in Kathmandu. In my half comatose state I managed to pack my bags and head down stairs to check out and catch a taxi to the airport. The streets of Kathmandu in the early hours of the morning are such a different site to the chaos that would occur later on in the day. There were few cars on the road, people were just starting to get up to do their morning chores, and even the stray dogs and goats seemed only half awake. There was a strange calmness to the city that I hadn’t seen yet, and I actually enjoyed the drive to the airport.

The terminal at the airport was entirely different, packed full of other trekkers, guides and equipment that were also all heading off to my intended destination. Thinking this would make getting on the correct plane a more simple endeavor was a mistake, as each counter was for different flights, even though they all headed for Lukla. Taking a lucky dip I managed to go through the right one, and after asking after every announcement, I managed to get to the correct queue for my flight.

There were separate lines for men and women going through security, and I soon found out the reason for that as I was patted down from head to toe and had my bag searched through. The domestic airport security seems to be a lot more thorough than the international security, where I was able to walk through with basically no checks.

Taking a bus from the terminal out to the plane, we passed a stray dog out for a casual morning stroll along the runway. Getting off the bus I got to inspect my ride to Lukla. I had never been on such a small propeller powered plane before, so really wasn’t sure what to expect.

plane at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal

Waiting to get on the plane

The plane seated no more than twenty people, with one row of single seats each side of the center isle. After picking a seat, the stewardess went along the isle holding a silver plate with cotton balls on it. Everyone grabbed two so I did the same, not actually knowing what I was supposed to do with them. After the door was closed and the plane got into take off position, the engines really started up, making me realize that the cotton wool balls were ear plugs to help with the noise. The other reason is because such a small plane is not pressurized.

As the little plane raced down the runway I was hoping that there were no more stray dogs or goats or cows or in fact any animals in the way, and soon enough we were in the air. The flight to Lukla was spectacular, with views of forested mountains, rivers, villages and rice paddies out of the right side windows, and the magnificent Himalayas out of the left side windows. It was without a doubt the most beautiful flight I have been on.

Before long the small airport at Lukla came into view. Originally constructed by Edmond Hillary, the tiny airstrip practically sits on the edge of a mountain, and is only around 450m long with a 12% gradient. I had no idea how we were going to land safely, but comforted myself by hoping that the pilot had done this hundreds of times before.

Gliding towards the airstrip, the pilot had to fight with the turbulence to keep the plane steady and on target. As we all dug our fingers into our seats, the plane hit the asphalt and raced towards the solid wall at the end of the runway, before making a sharp right turn at the last minute to come to a halt at the terminal. Once I was able to pry my fingers from my seat, a got off of the plane and was glad to be safely in Lukla.

The airport is aptly named “Tenzing-Hillary Airport”, after the first two people to have climbed to the summit of Mt Everest.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal

Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla

At 2800m, you get spectacular views as soon as you get off of the plane. Lukla is surrounded by beautiful forested and snow capped mountains, and is the main starting point for trekking to Mt Everest. After leaving the airport I made my way to my first tea house, where I sat and enjoyed a nice cup of tea before beginning my two week trek to Mt Everest Base camp and Kala Pattar.

view from Lukla

A view from Lukla

*Note – I had camera problems during my trip to Nepal, so was unfortunately unable to take many decent photos. But this just gives me another excuse to go back.

Everest Base Camp Adventure Series:

  1. My Scariest and Most Spectacular Flight
  2. Following the Dudh Kosi River to Namche Bazaar
  3. Trekking to a Buddhist Monastery in Tengboche
  4. Snowed in at Dingboche
  5. Going Face to Face With Mount Everest

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9 comments… add one
  • Jason Jun 14, 2011

    Dean, Sorry to hear you had camera problems in Nepal. I couldn’t think of anywhere else on earth worse for this to happen. Your post brought back a few memories of my own of my trips to Nepal in years gone by.

    I’ve seen photo’s of the Lukla airstrip as it is today, and can’t believe how it’s changed. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe only 15 years ago it used to be just rock and gravel. No tarmac to be seen at all.

    I’m sure you also flew out of Lukla as well, which is even more stressful than flying in.

    Safe travels mate….

    • Dean Wickham Jun 14, 2011

      Hi Jason, yes I was cursing my luck with my camera. There were so many amazing photo opportunities along the way and I had to make do with a cheap disposable camera that I bought in Namche Bazzar. At least I got a photo of myself in front of Mt Everest on top of Kala Pattar though

      I can imagine what it must have been like landing on a gravel airstrip. Yes the flight out was probably even more hair raising, there is no turning back once the plane goes off the edge of the mountain!

      I definitely want to go back on a photography trek. Next time I think I will trek from Jiri instead of flying into Lukla, I hear it is a nice walk through forests and rice paddies etc.

      Cheers

  • Bipin Oct 19, 2011

    Hi Dean,
    enjoyed reading your experience…i love it when people enjoy nepal so much..and it’s quite impressive that u can remember names without making mistakes , Jiri for example..:)..Apart from the chaos of kathmandu, hope everything else was serene and enjoyable for you. Blogs like these always brings back memories and I start missing my place..

    • Dean Wickham Oct 19, 2011

      Hi Bipin, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      I like to make sure that I get names and facts right when I travel. I had an amazing trip all up and I will definitely go back to Nepal. If you are interested you can read more of my articles from Nepal here.

      Where in Nepal are you from?
      Dean Wickham recently posted..Temples of Thailand: Wat Phra KaewMy Profile

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