FLYING IN THE HIMALAYAS

The Nepal trip was one with meany memorable moments, a couple of near death experiences, a lot of waiting and, most importantly, a lot of flying. And what better place to fly than the peaks of the world: the Himalayas.

In what follows I will focus on three separate flights we did that involved the Himalayas. Especially for those who wish to do the same, but also for those who want to read a story. So here goes.

Flight 1: Namche Bazar – Lukla

I already wrote about the adventure of flying to Lukla Airport and I wrote about going back out. So some parts will overlap. But in between touching down in Lukla and leaving again in the helicopter we went hiking in the Himalaya. We walked up to Namche Bazar, which in itself isn’t much of an accomplishment, but for the inexperienced hikers like us it was a small victory. Instead of trying to walk back a two day hike in one day, we booked a helicopter from Namche to Lukla (don’t judge!).

The helipad at Namche is just a short, but steep, walk from the sherpa town. The setting is just beautiful, with prayer flags all over the place and mountain tops all around. When you stand on the pad it feels like you’re standing on a cliff. Helicopters going out look like they’re going down instead of up, disappearing behind the edge of the pad. The pad itself is the perfect photo spot because you can almost lay under the helicopters to shoot them.

We waited on the pad for a while, watching the helicopters come and go, when finally our helicopter showed up. The Ecureuil from Summit Helicopters, with a dragon livery, took us around Namche and the helipad for some photos and then went in the direction of Lukla. This gave us a stunning view on some of the mountaintops including the Mount Everest.

We hiked for two hours and a half the first day and 7 the second one, but the flight took us back in 6:30 minutes. It only made us realize the absurdity of what we were doing. The landing gave a good look at the Lukla approach. A look we barely had when we landed in the plane three days earlier. It also made me realize why they call it the most dangerous airport in the world. Feet back on the ground we had our first real taste of flying in the Himalayas and a first peek at the Mount Everest.

 

Flight 2: Lukla – Kathmandu

This is an excerpt from a previous blogpost about flying to Lukla. You can read the entire blogpost by clicking the photo.

TUTORIAL 11 Lukla

I’ll fast forward to the day we should have been flying back to Ramechhap. Our guide had fixed us one of the first flights out of Lukla. Again around 6:30 we found ourself in a terminal building. The owner of our hotel (who also seemed to be the boss of the local school) knew the right people and got us on an early flight. Just like before the security check was a joke and soon I found myself sitting in a more than full terminal building with people who hiked the Mount Everest and fucked up their lungs in the process. It felt like a hastily formed quarantaine you see in a disaster movie about a pandemic disease. Soon after check in the clouds crept upwards and reached the end of the runway. Every now and then they moved up and then disappeared just as fast as they had come. Still, on the way to Ramechhap the fog didn’t go anywhere and all flights were cancelled.

Blogpost8

The restaurant area of our hotel was filled with flags and t-shirts of groups that had reached base camp of the Mount Everest. Most of them had inspiring quotes or thank you notes. On said: ‘I came, I saw, I shit, I spew’. And that is exactly what one of our crew members was doing the day we had to leave Lukla. In case you are not familiar with the toilets of Nepal, picture a hole in the ground. So now try to imagine being sick, stuck at an overcrowded airport and only having a hole in the ground where a lot of people had lacked the skill of aiming. After 7 hours of waiting we were done! Our guide decided to book a helicopter instead, so we all went back to the hotel to wait. I didn’t even have time to drink a coke because as soon as I entered the hotel a plane passed by the window. Lukla was open again…

Back to the airport and this time there wasn’t even anyone at the security check. I just walked in. The people who looked sick were now alive and well, trying to make their way to the apron, hoping to get away from this place. But not one plane left the airport. In a couple of minutes the fog had come up again. Helicopter ride it is!

 

 

The helicopter platform is on the other side of the airfield but there is a small path that leads around the runway to the helicopters. We just sat there for a while, watching helicopters come and go. Our ride arrives, we get in and we fly over the runway of Lukla heading towards Kathmandu. A flight that saves us another 4 hours drive from Ramechhap to Kathmandu. We think back on the past few days and one of the things we can agree on is that Lukla is a special place, but not as deadly or dangerous as it is often portraid. On busy days there’s constant flying and there are also a lot of helicopters coming and going. An accident every few years doesn’t seem to be that bad.

The next morning I make my way down to the hotel breakfast when we hear the news that a plane crashed in Lukla. Slowly pictures start to appear and we see the the plane of Summit Air that we saw at Ramechhap earlier. The one where they were changing the right tire. It apparently just skid of the runway on take off and flew into the helicopters that were parked at the spot we were standing 12 hours earlier. 3 people died, including some police officers who are stationed next to the runway. The same guys who had let us take some pictures on the field two days earlier.

Flight 3: ‘Mountain Flight’ by Buddha Air

The third flight we did was the ‘mountain flight’ with Buddha Air. The last day of our trip in Nepal we went to the airport early in the morning. Driving in Kathmandu before rush hour is a completely different experience than driving at any other moment. Usually you’re stuck in traffic for hours while scooters and motorcycles are maneuvering between the cars and busses. Now we just drove to the airfield in 20 minutes without seeing much traffic.

The security check for domestic flights is as much of a joke like on Ramechhap or Lukla. So in no time we were at the gate ready to board our flight. Buddha Air operates ATR-72’s  and uses the same type for the ‘mountain flight’.

Let’s first dive a little deeper in the concept of such flights. As you might expect it’s a flight that takes off from Kathmandu and flies along the peaks of the Himalayas. While one side of the plane gets to enjoy the mountains the other side gets a visit to the cockpit. Again, security wise I couldn’t understand this, but at least we got to chat with the pilots and got to see the Himalayas from the cockpit. On the way back the other side got to see the mountains and after an hour we touched down again at Kathmandu.

Now the flight itself was quite interesting. After boarding I noticed the interior panel of the cabin on my side was loose, the windows looked like someone washed them with motor oil and the seats looked like they were used once too much. On the other hand the cockpit visit was surreal considering the usual safety procedures, but most of all it was pretty cool to experience this from the cockpit. The view on the Himalayas was simply beautiful. We got to see all the tops from up close in stunning weather. A perfecte ending to an eventful, but memorable trip to Nepal!

Thoughts, comments, questions? Let me know in the comment section below.

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