17th April 2011
By now it seemed like I was jinxed. I and roomy were left in the hotel while the rest of them had left to the airport in the bus. We reached the airport by a Maruti 800 arranged by our tour organizer. My guilt for the delay was lessened however by the fact that we carried eleven sleeping bags with us stuffed into the little space around us in that matchbox like vehicle.
We were 29 of us in all. The first chartered flight had left with half the people in our team. The rest of us would be taking the 2nd chartered flight leaving at 8 : 40.
I was not even asked to show my passport or any other ID card /proof as I entered the airport. A word by our tour organizer was enough to get us in.
This part of the airport looks like a railway station. With the exception of yours truly, everyone checked in their luggage. I would carry both my bags with me. (Paranoid!)
After collecting our boarding pass, we moved to a lounge.
There were a few shops. I wanted a travel guide book on Everest region. It cost 2000 Nepalese Rupees and another, 3000! I put it down and decided to buy one after returning to India.
Currency Conversion: 100 INR = 159 Nepalese Rupees.
So when they gave you the price of something in Nepalese, you knew through quick mental calculation that it was less than 2/3rd the number in INR. 100 Nepalese Rupees = less than 66 INR
That was easy.
I noticed while driving to the Airport that all the shop names were of Sanskrit origin except Suzuki and the like.
The flight to Lukla was a narrow small chartered plane – Sita Air. No one at the airport seemed apologetic about the one hour delay. Apparently, this was the plane the first batch had taken to Lukla. It had to drop them and come back for us.
The interior was worn out – yellow brown leather/rexin covered seats that bent forward and backward limply as if they were broken at the hinge. There were 2 rows with a narrow passage in between.
But they were certainly more comfortable than those Kingfisher seats!
We were welcomed with Mango candy and cotton pieces (meant to be used as earplugs) by an air hostess who wore a lot of make up and cream coloured thick stockings. Her legs looked like extensions of her hands.
After some dozing, I opened my eyes and lo! there were snow covered mountains on our left, one of which we hoped was Mt Everest, camouflaged among the other mountains. We were not sure which one but we fixed our eyes on the one that looked fancier than the rest.
Something as high sounding as ‘the tallest mountain in the world -above all the world and eternal’, had to be something very fancy looking as well.
It would be quite sometime before we realized how mistaken we were.
Then suddenly we came closer and closer to the green-brown mountains below and before I knew whether to feel thrilled or to panic, we crashed into what must have been a mountain slope. I shrieked. For all of us. We were thrown forward towards the seat in the front. Our plane continued moving and then came to a sudden stop.
Well, that was the dramatic landing.
Lukla is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Perched on a hill top it is really small. The runway must be less than a hundred meters long. The gradient of the runway or the slope acts as the breaking mechanism for flights during landing. Because of this, the landing feels like crash landing! You crash and before you know what next, your plane takes a right turn and stops.
I was told later that our pilot had been a woman. And that too a trainee! God. We must be lucky. The guys in the seats close to the cockpit - which happened to be an open cockpit - were taking pictures of it and the hundred different controls.
Another thing we learnt about the Lukla airport was that it is one of the busiest air routes in South Asia. You miss a plane and you have to wait for a week before you can get a seat on another plane or trek to Kathmandu (or was it take the road) which takes seven days! They fly only in the morning due to weather conditions.
The picture that awaited us when we landed in Lukla, although quite ordinary in retrospect compared to the spectacular ones we would see day after day for the next 15 days to come, seemed refreshingly clear, stark, bright and breathtaking after the distant, elusive, nebulous mountains in the midst of clouds that we saw while flying.
We were to start trekking to Phakding the same day or our stay at Likla was for a few hours to help us sort of brace ourselves for the trek – have lunch, make small purchases from the bazaar, change into warm clothes, etc.
Our station was the very first building of the long narrow strip of bazar that was made of buldings that housed restaurants, shops, rooms for stay, bakery that lined both sides of one straight road that merged in the end with the forest trail that all tourists eventually vanished into.
We couldn’t believe there was a Starbucks shop in this remote village. Don’t think it was original.
I bought a second hand chadi for 300 Nepalese 180 – Indian Rupees.
Althought I had a cap, I bought a hat for complete protection from sun on all sides.
The next was an orange scarf. Two ends of a rectangular piece of cloth stiched together to form a silken cylinder, it was not tied but pulled down the head to neck where it remained a crumpled band. When the cold winds started hurting your lungs, you slipped the band up over your nose so only your eyes and forehead were exposed. This was really useful.
The dining area.
I put on my woolen inner wear which I would keep on for the next 15 days. The porters were ready to carry our burden. I saw that my baggage was the lightest of all. I was carrying very little – no energy bars, chocolates, biscuits – only 2 sets of clothes, a pack of walnuts, paper roll, and such… the rest was in my backpack which itself must have weighed 2 kilos.
I had coffee cake at a bakery for 190 Nepali Rupees. It was good looking but tasted just OK.