travel

Lukla: The World’s Most Dangerous Airport

September 13

Hand stamped plane tickets.

Finally doing it, and it’s amazing! I still can’t believe that this is actually happening. Had another delay for bad weather but finally made it to Lukla, the starting point of most Himalayan expeditions. We were supposed to arrive yesterday, but that didn’t go as planned. Instead we spend the day waiting around hoping the weather in Lukla would change, but it never did.

The day started at 4:30am, approximately the time I fell asleep the previous morning. Packed all my things, some in my bag, some in the bag that our porter was going to carry. I wasn’t really sure how much to put into the porter’s bag. I feel bad having someone else carry my stuff, if I’m going to hike a peak I should be able to do it myself. But Astini (my guide) told me to make sure my bag was light. He picked me up at the hotel and we made our way to the airport.

The Kathmandu airport, Tribhuvan International Airport, is the craziest airport. In the domestic terminal you basically go through an old school metal detector, get a pat down from someone of your same gender, get your tickets from one of the 5 ticket counters where they hand stamp which gate you want and that’s it. You then head to the departures area and wait. Once you’re there, the flight leaves through one of two gates and may or may not leave when it’s supposed to. I nearly fell asleep waiting, but revived myself with an over priced cappuccino and cookies and then our flight was announced.

We headed through the gate to our waiting bus, basically a school bus with bars on the windows, then blasted across the runways to possibly the smallest plane I have ever been on. But first we got to wait on the bus, sweating, then get on the plane for what felt like 30 minutes. The plane is small enough that there is one seat, the aisle and then another seat. It’s awesome.

Smallest plane I’ve ever been on.

To my surprise there was a flight attendant, who handed out candy and cotton for ear plugs. Then we were off, a rattling, shaking, bumpy run down and then we were up in the air. It’s an amazing brief flight as we are quickly told the weather in Lukla is too dangerous for us to land. So we take shelter at an airstrip in the middle of nowhere.

I think that it may have been one of the more sketchy incoming to a runway ever. We made a sharp turn, basically skimmed the mountains on either side, it felt like I was looking straight down to the tiny strip of pavement we were to land on. Pretty sure the plane banked like a fighter jet, but with some excellent piloting we made it safely to the airport in the middle of nowhere.

We got off the plane, walked across the tarmac, through some grass and into the single room airport guarded by a very bored looking guy with a machine gun. Not sure why he needed a gun, but oh well. We were all told that we were going to wait here until the weather in Lukla cleared, or if not we would go back to Kathmandu at 2:00pm. Which we did. The weather never got better.

The emergency landing airport we stopped at. Photo taken from the airstrip.

I did get some solid naps in, chatted with a lovely English couple, some really nice Israeli guys and a not so lovely American couple and another American who of course was full of himself. And had some really good lunch, rice (different rice than in Vietnam) and a veggie curry thing with delicious sauce. So good.

Our little plane on the airstrip.

Then we were back to Kathmandu, on possibly the hottest plane ride ever. It was a flying sauna. I sweated the whole time.

Back through the minimal airport security then shared a cab with the nice English couple back to my new hotel, The Blue Horizon. Tucked down a quiet side road, the rooms used skeleton keys which was really cool.

I chilled in the hotel room for a little bit then went out for dinner at the hotel. Got a ginger tea, a whole potful, chicken tikka masala with roti, which was delicious. I am a huge, massive fan of Indian/Nepalese food. I also ordered a mango lassi, which was absolutely amazing. There was shredded coconut on the rim, fresh mango chunks, I could have inhaled like 3 or 4. So good! Then I was back to bed for another attempt at getting to Lukla.

So today (September 13th) was the real start!

Walking across the back of the Lukla airport.

Awake at 5:45 and out to the airport by 6:30, and then to my amazement on the plane not too long after. I didn’t even have time to finish my over priced coffee. Luckily, I could take it with me, so I didn’t have to waste an expensive coffee. We were whisked out to the plane, immediately boarded and were off. This plane was a bit bigger, 3 seats across, but some how just as rattley. But we were on our way (finally) to Lukla!

The world’s most dangerous airport!

The runway is on a 12% grade. Landing you ride the grade up, taking off you ride it down and have to pull the plan up before the runway ends at the edge of a cliff. Our pilots were great, had mostly cloud free path to the runway and we had made it.

Taking off from Lukla Airport at the end of the trip

Lukla. Where every Everest expedition begins. Where so many adventures start. Home of the World’s most dangerous airport, where they don’t have any devices to read the weather, just the good judgement of pilots and the people on the ground.

Landing was an experience, to watch this little town nestled in the side of a massive mountain range peek through the clouds. It was something straight out of a movie. It was something I had been excited about for months and it was finally happening! I was actually doing this. And at 2840 meters above sea level.

Breakfast spot for the morning!

We started with breakfast, coffee and fried eggs and toast. Then Astani set about finding a porter. It seemed like we had once then a different one showed up, so I’m not really sure, but the guy we paired up with seems really nice. Still haven’t gotten his name though.

After some hanging about, we were off. This whole thing was actually happening.

Super cloudy day, so not many mountain views, but very foresty, almost fairytale like. We crossed a few streams, my shoes got wet, and the porter helped me across, basically dragged me from one side to the other, but neither of us fell in, so it worked well. Saw some cow/yak looking animals, a lot of them really. Met a really amazing lady carrying a mountain of things up. She was blind in one eye and two fingers on one hand were permanently curled, but doesn’t let any of that stop her. Back home it would be seen as a handicap, but here life just goes on.

Stopped at a tea house for lunch, instant noodles, but so good. Then not much longer later we arrived at Mera Lodge for the night. I got a pretty awesome room. The bathroom overlooks a tree strung with prayer flags and dinner looks like its going to be in a stonewalled drafty kitchen. And it’s awesome.

Mera Lodge, first night out!

The Nepali language is so soothing compared to the Vietnamese language, I feel as though I could fall asleep listening to people talk. It is so much softer and gentler, they don’t shout at one another, it’s all hushed tones, no needing to yell. I already want to come back.

Still find myself wishing I had someone to travel with, but I’m not sure who that person would be. Doing things alone is nice, I need to be braver though. It seems like I am literally scared of everything.

Maybe I want to run a hostel up in the mountains. Maybe I’ll want to get a job and save up for another trek. Which I might definitely want to do. Sitting in the kitchen listening to Astani, our porter, and the lodge owner talk, watching the fire, watching dinner being cooked, drinking hot chocolate while bundled up in more clothes than I have worn in the past 12 months is just perfect right now. This is just what I needed, get away, breath some fresh cold air, be surrounded by people who are not like me. It’s magical.

The kitchen at Mera Lodge

Also I am currently at 3500 meters, which is the highest I’ve ever been.

Fuck the tropical areas, give me places where you can get bundled up and feel cozy not sweaty. I think I would much rather be cold than hot, the idea of being cozy and have layers and ayers is so much more appealing than sitting on a beach somewhere.

It’s a kitchen like this that you could have some deep conversations over a cup of hot coffee.

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