October 24th 2017 –
The day began in Kathmandu and ended in the village of Ghat. Between these two points is the town of Lukla at the centre of which is a precarious airport with a single runway. Most trekkers to the Khumbu Valley of Nepal start their journey with a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. From Lukla you need boots and energy to get to wherever you’re going.
A few companies fly small planes to Lukla and back to Kathmandu every day in what they call scheduled flights. Scheduled implies something regular and repeated. I think they need to find a new word to qualify their flights. You need to arrive in Kathmandu as early as possible regardless the time of your flight. Weather so often interferes with plans that you need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. When Binoy and I arrived at the airport this morning we spoke with an older couple from New Zealand holding tickets for a flight to Lukla that was scheduled to depart on Monday. Two days later they were still waiting. They had boarded a plane the day before, taken off and flown for 20 minutes, before returning to Kathmandu. Now that has to be frustrating.
At Kathmandu airport there are check-in desks for each company that look more like the booth Lucy had in the Charlie Brown comic strip where she dispensed unhelpful advice for 5 cents. People from the all over the world crowd the small area asking each other for the latest information. I can almost guarantee that every backpack ever made is represented amongst the travellers. It is a little chaotic. During my trip to Everest Base Camp in April a monkey was running around the ceiling rafters pooing on the global village below. I am so thankful to have had Binoy with me who was able to negotiate with the agencies and airlines and ensure we left today, albeit 5 hours late.
The largest aircraft to fly to Lukla is the German-made Dornier, although I’m pleased to say there are also Canadian-made Twin Otters. I’ve flown on both and prefer the experience of the Twin Otter, not because I’m Canadian, but you simply experience the journey with more intimacy and a sense of partnership with the pilots. And maybe a little bit because I’m Canadian.
Lukla airport is a single, and very short, sloping airstrip built on the side of a mountain. Planes approach up the valley, fly toward the side of the valley opposite Lukla and then turn almost 90 degrees to line up with the airstrip. Today, as the plane made this turn, virtually every passenger grabbed their camera trying to capture the landing through the cockpit windscreen peering down the center aisle. I wonder whether in the interest of their own safety they should not distract the pilots.
Luckily we had a short trek to Ghat from Lukla. You actually descend into a valley, and it took us less than two hours to arrive as dusk arrived. The journey was not without incident, however. On the first 200 meters of the trail I managed to trip myself, launching my camera to a hard landing, opening a gash in my right hand, and scraping my right knee. The loop from one of my boot laces caught the clasp on the other boot sending me headlong down the trail. I had trekkers from the group in front of us ask if I was alright, and our Sherpa, Des, had the first aid kit out in a flash. Iodine and bandages duly applied, I’m happy to report it didn’t happen again.
The real consequence of this incident is that Des now assumes I’m some sort of natural hazard and need to be protected from myself. He has even taken to tucking the loops of my boot laces into my boots and taking a tough line with the Dzo (a horned cross between a yak and a cow), shoving them out of my way. My guide has become my minder.
Following dinner tonight at our lodge in Ghat, it’s lights out. A longer day to Namche Bazaar awaits us.