#48 Day 24: Lukla – Kathmandu, Nepal

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Our lodge was next door to the airport, in fact the helicopters took off from what seemed the backyard, so we had the pleasure of waiting on comfy seats until our Sirdar (the Head of the Sherpas) called around 8am to say we should come. 5mins later we were at the airport. For such a tiny airport, basically two rooms, one for check-in and one to wait for the plane, check-in was just as much as a palaver as it was in Kathmandu but eventually we were all approved and walked down the stairs to the ‘departure lounge’. There we found the other groups, but they were soon whisked off and we were hopeful for a speedy departure.

There are only a few airlines that fly between Kathmandu and Lukla, and apparently only four planes can be accommodated on the airstrip at any one time. Once the planes are allowed to start flying each day they basically make the half hour trip back and forth until the clouds roll in and they have to stop due to poor visibility. Bearing in mind the planes only carry 19 people, and as they navigate by peering out the cockpit’s beat-up Perspex (hence the need for a cloudless sky), there is a narrow window each day to transport everyone. If the day starts off cloudy, or it rains or snows, there are no flights at all so you can imagine in bad weather the queues start to build up. People have been known to have to wait up to 5 days for a flight out, by which time you might as well have walked …

After many days without seeing any television, there was a small TV on mute hanging from the ceiling showing wrestling, and then BMX-ing; we were mesmerised by the sight. We were jolted out of our reveries by an official shouting that we were needed on the tarmac with our (handwritten) boarding cards. By now we had been waiting quite a while – a good two hours – and the rumour mill was rife about the delay. Was there another wild animal on the runway at Kathmandu? No one was sure. We were excited to see our plane and had duly lined up and had our boarding cards torn in half. 5mins later we were given half a boarding card back and ushered back into the waiting area. Huge disappointment, what had happened?

Our Sirdar (he was still there because he wanted to see us off) got on the case and found out that all planes had been suspended at Kathmandu because the Indian President was flying in that morning! Nothing was allowed in the air space until he had safely landed, so of course that had delayed everything. But now that the flights were operating, we asked, why couldn’t we board? Oh, the pilots are having a tea break was the answer! We obviously wanted our pilots in tip-top condition so didn’t begrudge them a cup of tea, but after sitting through another episode of BMX-ing and seeing the clouds steadily rolling in we started to get worried.

Eventually we were allowed outside, lined up, the half boarding card collected and off we went. As it was now about 12 o’clock there were quite a few clouds around and the flight was quite bumpy, one nervous flyer spent the whole time in a high state of anxiety thinking that we were going to plummet to the ground at any moment. De-mob happy from having completed the trek, I enjoyed feeling like I was on a rollercoaster and if we had gone down I would have died happy.

It was very strange seeing concrete, tall buildings, smog and roads containing cars/buses/bikes/tractors etc. We prepared to be assaulted by the cacophony of blaring horns on our way back to the hotel and placed bets on how many we would hear. I said 263 and someone else 300-and-something. As we pulled out of the airport and onto the main road it was strangely quiet. “One!” someone shouted, we listened for more but heard nothing. We then noticed signs tied to every post along the road with the sign of a horn with a line through it – while we were away they had passed a law banning the beeping of horns! I’m sure it was hard for the Nepali’s to break the habit of constantly beeping, as a beep tells everyone you’re overtaking/undertaking/cutting in etc., but the traffic still seemed to work and this simple change improved the last part of our journey and eased us back in to Kathmandu.

The plane journey had made poor Amanda feel quite nauseous so she had a lay down. The rest of us relaxed, sipping a glass of wine with an early dinner and then bed.

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