Date – 18th October, 2016. Time – IST 7a.m. Location – The Domestic Terminal, Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. That was where the actions were really at. The place was packed by trekkers, all for Lukla bound flights, the tiny airstrip of which is infamous as one of the most dangerous airport of the world. But it is the busiest airport in Nepal for one reason; it’s the gateway to Mount Everest!
Lukla is the starting point of all routes to Mt Everest. Though there are other trekking routes to Lukla but they all require additional 6-7 days. This is why most of the trekkers to Khumbu region choose the scary 30 minutes flight to Lukla.
The flight is also infamous as it gets delayed most of the time due to bad weather. So well before you fly to Lukla, here at the Tribhuvan International airport, you get the first opportunity to test your patience for those longs days of the Everest Base Camp trek. As expected, the announcement came; our flight was delayed by 3 hours!
It was only at 11 a.m., a small bus took few of us trekkers and Nepalese guides to the ground where a Dornier 228 plane of Tara Airways was standing. Well, the few of us on the bus were the maximum number of passengers that this small plane could carry and for many of us it would be the smallest plane we had ever travelled on. The excitement began!
Lucky to board first on the plane, I occupied the left window seat in the front row. This is the best seat as it allows you looking out the cockpit window and also offers the great Himalayan views on the left side. These low height planes have the sitting arrangement of all single seats, one on the left and other on the right, in between there is a narrow passage to walk through.
Priti, the air hostess, served the boarders candy and returned to her seat on the last row. She never returned for briefing safety demonstration and the plane took off. I realised, the safety was now in the hands of pilots! Oh God, may we land safely for my two little kids at home!
The blue sky was alluring but the noise of plane was too disturbing. I didn’t have any earplug, so, I turned around and asked the air hostess with signed language for some cotton balls. Priti came and gave me the cotton balls with her pretty smile.
Now, I settled properly on my seat, camera in hand and eyes looking out the window gazing amazing countryside and tall mountains. As the airplane was flying low and through the alleys of mountains top, I wondered how precious it is to be alive! But being optimistic was the only choice I had and believing that they were the experienced pilots who had flown on this route hundreds of times, may be during that month alone.
Suddenly I felt the flight descending. Rather tightening the seat belt, I made it little loose so that I could look out the cockpit window, the airstrip of Lukla. How mad I am, you might be thinking! The airstrip came into sight and my anxiety stepped up. The white line of the runway appeared and it looked no bigger than a two lane highway. The runway ended on a hillside and I knew it would be the testing time for the pilots. Before it was too late, I clicked once. Then I glanced at the pilots, they had no worry on their faces. For them it’s seemed to be just another landing on this tiny airstrip. Believing firmly that they would get it right, I held tightly my seat belts. A jerk! Big bounce! The wheels hit the ground. The plane bounced once more and the engine growled. The plane was then moving fast ahead! The hill end of the runway was getting closure. Turn right and stop, I murmured. With no time thereafter I lunged forward as the hard brakes ceased the motion. Everyone on board smiled. Smiles of relief!
I followed everyone on board to the exit door. Priti, the air hostess with folded hand was greeting everyone. Namaste Sir, mind your head! Welcome to Lukla!
Ascent to the Everest Base Camp began!
You can read the day to day account of my Everest Base Camp Trek here-