Extreme Nepal: Lukla Airport

Last week Suraj Kunwar forwarded to me a link to a video that documents thrills of flying in and out of Lukla airport of Nepal. The film, made by History Channel, rates Lukla number one in the list of the most extreme airports of the world. The film also contains video footage of 2008 Yeti airline crash at the airport that Suraj had captured almost live. From a reporter’s perspective, he was almost in the right place at the right time. I was pleasantly surprised to spot a familiar face in the film. Arpan Sharma of nepa-laya reports about the airport in the documentary.

Lukla! I have always wanted to go to Khumbu (the Everest region) of which Lukla is considered the gate thanks to the short take-off and landing airport there. Last time I was close to landing at Lukla was in 2005. That didn’t happen because the weather wasn’t good enough for a plane to land at Lukla that day. After making us wait for about six hours at Kathmandu’s airport the airline, Yeti, rescheduled the flight for the next morning. But I canceled the trip that evening because I wanted to be in Kathmandu to witness important political developments (the royal regime attacked Kantipur FM that evening).

While watching the History Channel film on Lukla airport I couldn’t stop thinking about my own desire to go there. But more than that I kept asking one question: Do I really want to fly in to Lukla? It feels so dangerous to take a plane to Lukla when you hear Captain Bijay Lama telling why the airport is so risky to land at. There’s no question of NOT landing once you reach a certain point, he tells. Also the structure of the runway and the notion that you will be landing there scared me. I have landed at several STOL airports in Nepal, some of them without paved runways where cows and buffaloes are seen grazing. At one point, while watching the movie, I felt good that I didn’t fly to Lukla then!

But the video didn’t kill my desire to go to the Everest region. Now I plan to go to the region old way. Partly like how Tenzing and Hillary did! Before the airport was constructed in Lukla people used to go to Khumbu via Jiri. Drive up to the beautiful town (for which I am no stranger) and start the trek. Not that I haven’t contemplated about this Jiri-Khumbu itinerary before (I have done that several time and I have been to Bhandar too) but from now on this will be not an option! However, I still have no problem with the possibility of  flying out of Lukla once I complete the trek. NOW, when’s that going to happen is a 5360 meters question!

Next:: Extreme Nepal: Karnali Highway [in a couple of hours, expect Rautes as well 🙂 ]