Fasten yourself seatbelt it’s going to be a bumpy ride or There is literally nothing that duct tape can’t solve.
Dawa picks me up at 5 am sharp and we make it to the airport by 5:15 for our 6:15 flight to you know where! There is no traffic to speak of. It is really foggy outside and they announce that our flight is delayed. Then delayed again. And again. This is quite normal since Lukla airport is a bitch and the last thing they want is a crash. Tourism makes up a huge slice of Nepal’s GDP. At least 8% to be exact. Their service sector and agriculture make up most of the rest.
By 8:30, with the airport packed with people scrambling to find a flight to somewhere in Nepal, our turn finally comes and we are rushed on a bus that would take us to our plane. There are 16 passengers. A full load. All local with one exception, me! The bus weaves through the tarmac and finally stops next to our tiny plane. It may as well be a crop duster! The inside is 5 feet high. Great for Dawa and most of the passengers but not for this guy. The seats look like the back section of a 1955 Montgomery Alabama bus. The overuse of duct tape is alarming. Duct tape on the seats, on the walls, around the cockpit door. There is a constant drip from the ceiling that apparently the duct tape has failed to stop. The flight attendant hands the person under it a paper towel! One more cursory look and you realize that they have yet to discover the magic powers of soap and water. Or just anything wet frankly. They can make good use of that drip for instance. This plane hasn’t seen a wet rag since the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. Nothing about this plane gave me confidence. With one exception, the attendant, who stays cool as a cucumber for the entire 40 minutes of this flight, even keeping a straight face while giving safety instructions in case of a crash (yeh right!). She would repeat everything to me in English with a smile. No one paid attention. Everyone knew that this plane would fall apart at the slightest trouble and we’d all die. Why bother learning stuff you’ll never use. There were several moments during the flight where we came alarmingly close to kissing the Himalayas. Her plan will have to wait another day.
The dreaded landing into Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla (named in honor of Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary the two submitted Everest in 1953) turned out to be a piece of cake. The plane came to a complete stop with a few feet to spare. Most of my adrenaline was used up in the air while flirting with the mountain side. The landing strip is hilarious though. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood on the edge of a cliff with kids playing tag inches from the plane.
I unfold myself out of the plane, stretch my body and take in the fresh air and what’s left of the sun rays before the clouds steal them. At 6500 feet this is the highest point I’ve been on earth! No nose bleeds, no headaches, no dizziness. I am told to be patient, that may come later! For now I will enjoy breakfast in Lukla at a tea house overlooking some gorgeous snow covered peak and will hit the trail moments after.
Hope you come along.