Trekking to Everest Base Camp has been one of those ‘wish I could do’ things which has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. I swear I’ve mentioned it in passing to a few friends, some of which have also been keen on the idea whilst others have made it pretty clear that trekking for two weeks isn’t their cup of tea; each to their own.
What really got the ball rolling was when I visited the Melbourne Travel Expo with my friend Gary in 2012.
At the Expo, I picked up a whole heap of brochures, one of them from the travel company, Intrepid. Even though I had heard about people trekking to Base Camp, reading their brochure was the first time I’ve read into any detail about it.
Fast forward to 31st December 2013 and I randomly went to check the Intrepid site for some ideas on places to travel. It just so happened that Intrepid were having a sale ending that evening! Factoring in the time it would take to get ready, other trips I had planned etc, I made my booking for Everest Base Camp for April 16th. With flights booked later that day, I was committed… Nepal here I come!
According to the Intrepid Trek Notes:
We give this trek our highest physical rating. Get ready for a heart-pumping adventure with plenty of challenges and some extreme conditions. You’ll be required to be seriously fit for this trip as difficult activities are included.
For the trek on this trip the general rule is you will need to be very fit, and the more preparation you have done for it the more you will enjoy it. You will be walking at altitudes of up to approximately 5545 metres above sea level and it will be demanding trekking. You will be walking with your day pack, with the possibility of extreme variations in temperature. We recommend that you undertake regular aerobic exercise in the months before you travel, particularly if you are not in the habit of regular exercise. Doing mountain walks or climbing long stair cases with a pack is good preparation (try putting a few bricks in your pack for real training). Walking, jogging, swimming or riding a bike are all good ways to increase your aerobic fitness, which will allow you to enjoy the trek to its fullest.
Now there are plenty of blogs out that where people describe their training regime and many of them talk about exercising 4-5 times during the week, with a major walk on the weekend to prepare them for this trek.
As I was planning to travel around up to 3 weeks before the trek, it was going to be rather difficult to establish some sort of consistent training pattern leading up to my departure to Nepal. The best I could do was an occasional run, plenty of walking and a some bodyweight exercises, including the much hyped “7 minute exercise” routine which has recently made waves across the internet.
In total, my training diary leading up to the trek is summarised below:
- 8th: 3.5km run… first run in months. Felt absolutely terrible, didn’t help that it was in below 0 conditions!
- 11th: 3.5km run… A bit better, average speed 10km/h. Frustrating… Only 3.5km.. Again, bloody cold with ice on the path
- 13th: 2.5km hike up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh – easy. First time wearing new hiking boots.
- 15th: 3x 7 minute exercise cycles, followed by 60 burpees
- 16th: 3x 7 minute exercise cycles
- 17th: 3x 7 minute exercise cycles
- 18th: 3x 7 minute exercise cycles, followed by 100 burpees
- 21st-31st : 2x 7 minute exercise cycles each day, 100 burpees on the 24th
- 5th: 20km bike ride – road conditions, slight gradient
- 17th: 2x 7 minute exercise cycles
- 20th: 5km run on Cocoa Beach
- 21st: 2x 7 minute exercise cycles
- 22nd-28th: Average10-12km of walking each day, flat and carrying 10kg camera bag
- 1st-6th: Average 10-12km walking per day, flat and carrying 12kg camera bag, 1 short bike ride – Chicago Lake Trail
- 7th: Manitou Incline: 1.4km, 600m rise from 2000m above sea level (ASL). Aboslute killer.
- 9th: Lower Yosemite Falls, 2km at 1200m carrying 12kg
- 10th: Nevada Falls Trail (Yosemite), 8.7km, 620m rise from 1200m ASL carrying 12kg
- 11th: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail- 15km, 823m from 1200m ASL carrying 12kg
- 12th: Four Mile Trail and partial Valley Floor Loop, Yosemite (15km approx, 350m rise from 1200m ASL) carrying 12kg
- 13th: 1.5hr snowshoe walk.
- 14th-16th: Average 10-12km walking per day, reasonably flat and carrying 10kg camera bag
- 27th: 2.5km run
- 28th 2.5km run
- 1st: 7km run
- 3rd: 7.5km run
- 6th: 14.5km hike up Arthur’s Seat and surrounding hills carrying 10kg camera bag
- 9th: 7.5km run
My last run on the 9th April, one week before my trek started was completed in 42 minutes, 50 seconds and at an average speed of around 10.46km/h. I’m stating these figures to show that I was in no means “seriously fit” as what was described in the trip notes. I mean, a couple of years back when training for something like the City2Surf or the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon, I was running 7km in around 32 minutes… So I was definitely below my ‘peak’ in terms for aerobic fitness.
However, in terms of being conditioned to walking long distances for multiple days in a row whilst carrying some weight on my back, I think I was covered! Either way, in a week’s time, I was going to find out.
Arrival into Kathmandu
With the shortest connection times and the second cheapest flight (Air India was the cheapest), I ended up booking my flight from Edinburgh to Kathmandu with Qatar Airways. This was my first time flying Qatar, but I wasn’t too concerned as I have had some good experiences flying through the Gulf using Etihad in the past.
However, flying Qatar was a totally different experience for all the wrong reasons. I won’t blabber on about them, but we were approximately an hour late landing into Doha. Big deal you say, but a lot of passengers on board had short connecting times (<1hr) and so the Captain broadcasted a message over the PA asking that any passengers who feel they will be impacted by this delay to press the call bell to speak to the crew who will help out. One of these passengers was an old-ish lady sitting two rows in front of me. Her conversation went along like this:
Lady: “I’ve got a 45 minute gap between now and my next flight, I just heard we are an hour late, will I make my flight?”
Attendant: “I think so, you just need to make your way through the airport as fast as possible…”
Lady: “Are there many lines? Can you help me do this?”
Attendant: “Yes, there are many, many lines… They don’t move very fast… Maybe you could try being assertive? (Pause) “Good luck”
So much for the “World’s 5 Star Airline”… Ah well, it could have been a lot worse (especially in light of MH370)…
After a transfer in Doha (if you fly through here, be patient whilst they construct their new airport) it was a 4hr 15min flight to Kathmandu.
Those visiting Nepal need to have a visa before entry is granted. A visa can be applied for and granted at your local Nepalese Embassy or Consulate prior to arriving in Kathmandu (30 day visa for $40USD) and the visa is valid for entry up to 6 months from date of issue. As I happened to be in London in January, I was able to sort out my visa before arriving; and I’m really glad that I did!
Upon entering the border control area, there were two lines. One for those who wish to apply for a visa on arrival and a second for those who already have a visa. The first line had 200+ people lining up to have their photo taken in order to lodge their visa application and the second had two. After filling out the passenger landing form and exchanging a bit of money, I walked straight up to the passport desk, told the officer I was here for trekking, received my stamp and then proceeded downstairs to collect my bag. All in all, this took less than 5 minutes.
Ah, some of you might say that I probably spent a long time lining up in London, but this wasn’t the case. I printed off the form from the Embassy website, took the tube to Notting Hill Gate, walked to the Nepalese Embassy in Kensington Gardens, walked straight up to the counter as there was no line and picked it up two days later. Okay, it might have taken me a couple of hours to do this but at least I wasn’t stuck lining up…
In the past, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport has had a bad rap for lost and stolen baggage. Potentially in an attempt to curtail this, you have to walk through a wall of security guards before you exit who cross reference your baggage tag stub (you know, the tag that is stuck to the back of your boarding pass when checking your bags in… make sure you don’t lose it!) with the airline tag stuck to your bag. When I mean check, I mean they seriously check it. Sequence No. name, flight no., barcode number and all!
Walking out of the airport and typical of third-world countries, you’re greeted by those offering taxi services to the city. I had booked an airport transfer with Intrepid, so was happy to see 2 guys waving an Intrepid banner around along with a guy in a red Intrepid polo. The latter turned out to be Bhim, my trek group leader and the former I am assuming to be his opportunistic mates as after carrying my bag 20m to the vehicle, I was asked to tip them. This puts you in a very awkward situation as the currency exchange place hands out mainly 1000 rupee notes (approx $12 AUD)… Here we go, it’s started already I thought to myself… Tip for next time: Ask for smaller 100 rupee denominations and catch your own taxi out of there – this can be usually negotiated down to 400 rupees to get to Thamel.
Exploring Thamel and Kathmandu
After navigating through peak hour traffic, I finally arrived at the Kathmandu Guest House in the heart of the tourist district, Thamel. My arrival into Nepal coincided with Nepalese New Year’s Day (year 2071 according to the Nepalese calendar). As a result, the area was in a state of clean-up after the previous night’s celebration.
The Kathmandu Guest House seemed to be a sort of ‘Hotel Rwanda minus the genocide’ as once behind the secure gates, it was far removed from hustle and bustle of Thamel and Kathmandu in general. However, though a few staff offered a friendly “namaste”, most seemed quite pretentious and borderline rude (although I doubt that was their intention, they just came across that way), to the point that it made a lot of people uncomfortable. So maybe the Kathmandu Guest House is the Hotel Rwanda minus the genocide as well as a smiling hotelier played by Don Cheadle… 😛
The Thamel area is certainly tailored to cater for the many tourists and trekkers who fly into Kathmandu. As my friend of mine said, “everything is available” in Kathmandu/Thamel. This included a heap of bars, cafes and restaurants serving any cuisine you’re after, whether it be Nepalese, Indian, Thai, Chinese or Western etc, trekking equipment, both ‘real’ and ‘good enough to be real’ and groceries. Prices can vary, however they seemed to be pretty reasonable as long as you again, avoid the Kathmandu Guest House which was typically twice the price of everywhere else in Thamel even though they certainly don’t make up the difference in ‘service’.
For example, a pretty reasonable omelette and muffin breakfast was 300 rupees from the Northfields Cafe, a large pizza (better than pizza in Scotland) at the Roadhouse Cafe starting from 450 rupees and a Gorkha beer from the Green Organic Cafe and Farmers Bar went for 300 rupees.
I honestly reckon you could book a trek to Base Camp, arrive in Kathmandu with no equipment and buy everything you need in Thamel for under $200.00 AUD (18000 rupees). For example, “North Fake” down jackets of reasonable quality could be bargained down to around 4000 rupees, a water-resistant North Face duffel bag for 2500 rupees, trek pants and shirts for 400-500 rupees each, a water resistant jacket (I can’t comment on how breathable it would be) goes for around 2000 rupees, water bladder for 900 rupees and other consumables like granola or chocolate bars, water purifying tablets, pharmaceuticals (including full strength cold and flu tablets containing pseudoephedrine, Diamox etc.) are no more expensive if not cheaper than in the UK or Australia. So don’t panic if you feel you can’t buy all your gear from your home country; just budget a couple of hours to explore the shops in the Thamel area for all your needs.
Wanting to escape from the Kathmandu Guest House for my first meal in Nepal, I wandered the streets of Thamel until I stumbled upon Pilgrim’s Guest House and Restaurant. I didn’t know at the time, but when asking for a typical Nepalese meal, I had my first taste of Dal Bhaat, albeit chicken Dah Bhaat. This is basically a set of dishes; plain rice, lentil soup, a curry and where local produce permits, steamed or pickled vegetables.
At dinner, I was also able to go through the Everest Base Camp Trek map which I purchased earlier in the day for 300 rupees. Though our trek was fully guided, I always find it ‘good to know’ where our stops are going to be in relation to each other and what sort of terrain we’ll be covering each day.
Whilst paying for my meal, I met an American traveller who has been visiting Nepal for 2-3 months every year for the past 20 years. Each time, he has stayed at Pilgrim’s Guest House and he was well known to the staff there. One of the guys working at Pilgrim’s is Sunny, a genuinely friendly guy who is pretty much a nephew to the American. If you need anything at all whilst in Kathmandu, pop over to Pilgrim’s and introduce yourself to him – I’m sure he’ll be more than willing to help out.
Below is a map of some of the places I explored in the area:
Squares, stupas and smoke
Driving through the streets of Kathmandu and into Thamel reminded me of my time in Meru, Kenya back in 2008, albeit with smaller cars, lighter coloured soil, exposed telephone cables, greater cultural and religious diversity along with more pollution.
Nepal in general has been described as a collision ground of not only the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates which resulted in the formation of the Himalayas, but also that of the Indian and Central Asian cultures, Hinduism and Buddhism and Tibeto-Burmese languages. This mix is evident throughout Kathmandu, especially when you leave Thamel and enter the market place areas around the Kathmandu Durbar Square. You will find hundreds of Hindu shrines interwoven between the many Buddhist temples and stupas throughout all of Kathmandu.
Some of the major temples and shrines include the Swayambhunath (Monkey) Temple, west of Thamel, the Boudhanath, the largest stupa in Kathmandu, the Pashupatinath Temple and the three Durbar Squares located in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. However, if you spend a day walking the streets of Kathmandu, you will, like I said before, find shrines and temples everywhere (there are, afterall something like 33 million Gods in Hinduism).
Entry to the major temples (many of which are UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites) typically requires a small payment, anywhere from 250 rupees (Boudhanath) to 1000 rupees (Pashupatinath). If you have plenty of time in Kathmandu, spread out your visits to these places across a few days to fully appreciate them. I tried doing them all in a day and was getting a bit bored seeing the ‘same thing’ over again (I’m just conveying how I felt at the time – I’m sincerely sure they are all of great significance).
Apart from these UNESCO sites I spent a lot of time walking the streets and laneways of Kathmandu, going through markets and shops and really getting a feel for how the city “works”. As I posted on my Facebook page, the telephone lines are probably the best metaphor to describe Kathmandu; a tangled, indefinite mess; in the nicest way possible of course.
A word for the wise – don’t use Google Maps to find your way around. Some roads just don’t exist, street signs are also non-existent and some ‘roads’ exist as hallways in buildings. There are no traffic lights, but then again traffic does seem to flow freely with the aid of a traffic cop in the centre of intersections.
Vehicles on the streets range from large trucks, buses with custom paint jobs, cars, motorised trailers, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles and quite amazing for a city with no stable power grid and constant power rationing, electric tuk-tuk’s to help curtail the air quality issue. In fact, the steps taken by the Nepalese Government to introduce the SAFA Tempo electric vehicles have been well studied (read more here, here, here and here).
This brings me to my next point; the air quality and pollution in Kathmandu is bad. Not to the point where it will kill you during your visit, but put it this way, if the locals are wearing face masks to help them breathe, you’ll soon consider doing the same. Just search for the term “Kathmandu cough” and you soon get an idea of how bad it is… Without a mask, I found that in the evening I would blow my nose and have black coloured mucus come out… Yum.
Away from the busy streets and into the side lanes, particularly around the Kathmandu Durbar Square are a heap of markets, selling fresh produce, cooked food, spices and goods used for prayers and offerings. Wandering through these markets, you’re largely ignored by the local population who simply carry on trading as usual. It’s pretty clear that these markets are for the locals and the people here probably see tourists walk through quite often taking photos – it’s nothing special for them. Walking through here is like you don’t even exist, unless they’re a street vendor trying to put a bindi on your head and then ask for money…
Smells and sounds
All around Kathmandu, you’ll hear and smell many, many things. Cars, motorcycles and buses continuously honk their horns and bicycles ring their bells in an attempt to alert drivers of motorised vehicles of their presence. There is a background of whistling, often from the traffic attendants in the street, or local Police signalling to locals if they see any kind of activity which may lead to an infringement. You’ll hear bells ringing, small bells like those at a reception desk, installed next to shrines in the wall and rung by locals to ‘wake’ the Gods as they make their offering. The smell of deep fried samosa’s can fill lane ways, along with the constant scent of burning candles which poorly masks the smoke from burning paper and incense sticks. From time to time, you’ll be distracted by the clopping of the feet of livestock as they walk through the slate lane ways.
If walking next to a main street, the foreign whirl of the electric motors of a SAFA Tempo or the constant barking by the conductor on board a public bus as he collects money from those hopping on board… Near Buddhist temples and stupas, the pre-recorded chant of Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ (the syllables meaning generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation, wisdom) being played back over loud speakers.
If you cross one of the many rivers in Kathmandu, you’ll be greeted with the pungent smell of garbage, decomposing waste and effluent. You’ll hear sanitation vehicles drive through the streets, though you definitely smell them first if the wind is blowing in the
right wrong direction.
Back in Thamel, you’ll hear the street salesmen making offers in passing, voices often indifferent, or repeating the same four notes on their mini violins, or maybe whisper the offer of hashish if you look like the sort or person who would buy it. Eager taxi drivers and rickshaw pilots will ask for business as you walk past their vehicles.
Walking around for hours and all of these inputs can really overload your senses. For me, I didn’t realise the full effect of this sensory overload until reaching the tranquillity provided by a quiet cafe or guest house. For me, returning each day to the Kathmandu Guest House courtyard provided much required mental relief as well as physical relief.
This relief is only provided up 1 or 2am in the morning; that is when the dogs in the neighbourhood begin their howling, barking and fighting and when the shop keepers start to unpack their goods and rattle of their roller shutters open and close. These smells and sounds are certainly not to be soon forgotten.
Trying to find my group…
When checking in, I was told by Bhim that another guy in my group, Mark had also arrived the same day and was in the room next door to mine. Whilst Intrepid provide a free app to allow members of the same group to communicate prior to the start of the trek, this app isn’t widely publicised, nor is it very good. In fact it’s complete rubbish. Combined with the temperamental WiFi across Kathmandu and even though I had established contact with Mark and Yoon prior to arriving in Nepal using this app, whilst there, messages refused to be delivered, or would arrive up to 6 hrs late.
After knocking on my neighbour’s door countless times and even asking if this hipster looking guy in the courtyard was Mark (hey, he said he was from Melbourne… :P) I gave up and searched for a place for dinner. However, after grabbing a pizza dinner at the Roadhouse Cafe (the chicken tandoori pizza wasn’t bad), I finally ran into Mark as he too, got back from dinner; perfect timing to go for a beer.
After a Gorkha at the Organic Green Cafe and Farmers Bar, we headed over to the much hyped Funky Buddha up the street. Not keeping an eye on the clock, we ended up being the last people there… at only 11:30pm. After being asked the leave, the 150m walk back to the Kathmandu Guest House was eerily silent. The whole area had packed up and there was no one in sight… A note for future travellers; apart from one of two upstairs bars, most of Thamel shuts down after 10:30pm. Oh and in terms of local beers, Gorka was the winner for me.
Meeting the rest of the group
D-Day-1. 16th April. So today was technically the first day of our trek, but it did not involve any actual trekking. Instead, it was the first meeting of our group in the courtyard of the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH) followed by a visit to the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP) to learn about sustainable tourism and trekking in Nepal.
Meeting up again with Mark that morning, we headed over to the Northfields Cafe next door to avoid being stung 800 rupees for breakfast at the Kathmandu Guest House. After a scrumptious omelette and banana muffin, we went back to the KGH lobby to collect our keys for our room. I picked mine up, but Mark was told that the cleaner has his key and that he could get it when he goes up there.
Approaching his room, music could be heard from the inside. Opening the door, he was confronted with a bloke unpacking his stuff on the second bed in the room… After a brief ‘what the’ moment, we quickly ascertained that this was another member of our group – Keegan. What a way to be introduced!
Anyway, after a trip to the Monkey Temple and a momo lunch (local dumplings, not dissimilar to jiaozis or gyozas), we met up in the courtyard with the rest of the group and our leader Bhim at 2pm.
Including myself, there were 16 people in the group, mostly from Australia:
- Two guys from Melbourne (Mark and Keegan) whom I have already met prior to the meeting
- One guy from Sydney (Yoon) whom I would be sharing rooms with on the trek. Conveniently locked our key in the room at the KGH!
- A girl originally from Melbourne but living in Brisbane (Alex)
- A girl originally from Brisbane but living in Melbourne (Dani)
- Two friends from Sweden (Frida and Susanna)
- Father and son from Adelaide (Craig and Chris) and two of their friends from Surf Life Saving (Di and Chris)
- A lady from the UK studying in Brisbane (Linda)
- A lady from the UK (Karen – who’s birthday coincided with the day after reaching Base Camp)
- A couple from Northern Ireland (David and Katrina – in Nepal to celebrate David’s 40th birthday; the same day as Karen’s)
This meeting was pretty much our final run through of the Trip Notes in case anyone had still not read them yet. After a few questions and warnings on the effects of altitude (it can affect anybody, regardless of level of fitness, unable to predict whom it will affect and how bad etc.) we set off to complete our last minute purchases before rendezvousing at 5:30pm for a visit to KEEP.
Visiting KEEP was indeed a perspective-changing experience. After being greeted by Mr. D.B. Gurung, the Project’s Director, we watched a video on the non-ethical treatment of porters in the country (citing past examples were porter were basically left for dead on Everest, whilst foreign climbers were rescued by helicopters, poor compensation, inadequate equipment etc), stressing the need for them to not only be financially compensated adequately, but also ensure they have suitable equipment and be treated with respect (the first step is to use an ethical trekking company).
Mr Gurung also stressed that being a porter is seen as a respectable job in Nepal, the hiring of porters through a ethical company is most definitely recommended and that we should not feel embarrassed in hiring them for our trek.
That night, a portion of the group met up at New Orleans Restaurant and Bar for our last meal in Kathmandu before our trek. Probably one of the larger restaurants in the Thamel area, they had a really cool live band that evening and it was packed full of patrons. There, the group made a pact that we wouldn’t drink Everest Beer until after reaching Base Camp! Unfortunately, Yoon had already ordered an Everest, so we then made a pact that after arriving in Luka, we wouldn’t drink Everest Beer until after reaching Base Camp!
Finishing up by 9:00pm, we headed back to the Guest House, set our alarm clocks, hope for good weather in the morning and that we don’t miss our flight or that it’s not cancelled!
Leaving for Lukla
At the group’s first meeting, we were told that we would be leaving for the airport the next morning at 5:00am sharp in order to catch the first flight out of Kathmandu Airport to Tenzing-Norgay Airport at Lukla. The importance of being at the airport in time to check-in and be on the first flight was made clear to the group, as it is known for flights to Lukla to be cancelled early each morning due to the rapidly changing weather conditions in the Himalayas. To ensure there were no delays in the morning, everyone pretty much had to get their sorted, under the allowed weight limit the night before.
In my previous post, I had dig about the amount of gear some people claimed they were carrying on the trek, whilst maintaining they were under the 10kg weight limit for the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. I can report that I was able to meet the 10kg for my main pack and the 5kg limit for my carry on, but then again the contents of my Goretex jacket which I was wearing on board the plane was around 4kg…
The contents of my main pack were finally narrowed down to the following:
- 1 Merino t-shirt
- 1 Quick-dry, long sleeve hiking shirt
- 1 pair of hiking long pants
- 1 down sleeping bag
- 1 down jacket
- Wet pack, with 2 packs of wet wipes, toothbrush, 100mL biodegradable trek wash, hand sanitiser
- Foot powder
- Thermal leggings
- 2 sets of underwear
- 2 sets of socks
- Gorillapod (SLR-Zoom model)
- 1 tub of Vicks Vapour Rub
- 8 Energiser Lithium AA batteries (lighter and more energy than typical alkaline AA’s)
The contents of my day pack was finalised to the following. Note, when carrying all of this, with the 3.5L of water, the total pack weighed in at around 10-12kg. Most of the items were stored in the pockets of my jacket when boarding my flight to and from Lukla to get it under the 5kg mass limit.
- 2 sets of gloves. One lightweight, one windproof, fleece lined
- Fleece neck guard
- Thin neck guard
- Camelbak bladder + Aquaguard Micro Filter (empty for flight)
- 1L Nalgene polycarbonate bottle (empty for flight)
- Snacks for the day – 1 Trek bar and 1 Snickers plus a pack of Fisherman’s Friend
- Wide angle lens,
- Solar charger
- Small first aid kit
- Small roll of duct tape
- Garmin GPS and spare batteries
- Hiking map
- Head lantern and spare batteries
- 2x Powerade Drops (bought these from the USA when I was over there – amazing product!)
- Small pack of multivitamins
- Lip balm and sunscreen
With both bags sorted, I was set to go!
Luckily the next morning, everyone was in the lobby on time and ready, even though half of us were kept up all night with the noise of fighting dogs in the streets of Thamel…
Bhim cautioned us as we left the Guest House that when we arrive at the Domestic Terminal, ensure that we hold onto our bags as they are unloaded from our bus and not to let them be carried by anyone or let them leave our sight until they are checked in… Supposedly in the past, groups have been delayed after bags had been taken for ransom.
Arriving at the terminal at 5:30am, we found the entrance packed full of trekkers trying to get through security. I can say that security at the Domestic Terminal was pretty relaxed overall, no need to fear if you’re carrying liquids! For example, I had my jacket pockets stuffed full of Trek bars, my GPS, solar charger, batteries etc. After walking through and setting off the metal detector (big surprise), I was duly patted down. The security guard looked at me, and I just motioned to him that there were snacks and he waved me on…
Once inside, we left Bhim to sort out which aircraft we were on (he later sold us that the group would be split up to ensure we did not exceed the maximum landing weight for Lukla). In the meantime, everyone including myself was snapping away photos, more so I guess because there were signs everywhere saying photos are not permitted yet this was clearly not enforced.
Going from the check-in area to the departure gate required another security check. This time, the lines were split between males and females.
Once again, I set off the metal detector and was patted down and once again I motioned that I was carrying a lot of snacks in my jacket. However this time the security guard wasn’t totally convinced… It was only after I said to him deadpan, “I’m hungry…” that he allowed me to pass through… 😛
After 5 minutes of waiting, our flight was called, so it was onto the bus to take us out to the apron where our aircraft was parked.
Our aircraft was a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, one of three types currently serving Lukla Airport. Only two airlines currently serve the airport, one being Tara Air (which we were flying) and the second being Royal Nepal Airlines.
Prior to take off, the air hostess on board the aircraft handed out cotton wool (for the ears) and a boiled sweet. This was certainly a nice touch, but probably not enough to calm Chris, whose seatbelt didn’t quite fit together! One for the suggestion form mate!
Amidst plenty of jokes relating to the emergency exits, what would happen if the propeller blades fly off etc. we taxi’d onto the runway and took off!
By writing this post, it can be safely assumed that we landed safely in Lukla that morning. Overall, the flight lasted just over 45 minutes and even though the windows on the aircraft were scratched, all on board the plane were scrambling to look out when the Himalayas first came into view.
Upon landing, we were all quickly ushered off the tarmac. As you can imagine, both airlines try to get as many planes in and out of Lukla before the weather deteriorates so the operations on the ground was swift and efficient. Whilst we were being herded off, ground staff were quick to unload the bags, whilst a lady brought a cup of tea to each of the pilots (in a flask, with two cups, served on a tray… ) Before you knew it, the next set of passengers were on the plane, bags were loaded, the second engine was powered up and away it went!
As for us, it was into the small terminal building to collect our bags, whilst local porters hopeful to snag a last-minute job peered at the arriving passengers through the security fence.
Once we left the airport, it was clear to everyone that finally, after months of anticipation and preparation, our trek had finally begun.
Stay tuned for Part 2!