Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kathmandu to Lukla

There are three things to know about the Kathmandu domestic airport terminal:
1) Security is tight
2) It's good to be female
3) Don't expect your flight to leave on time

1) Security

After being picked up at an ungodly hour from our hotel with our guide, we took the cramped and bumpy journey back to Kathmandu airport in the dark. This time, we were deposited at the much less impressive domestic terminal, where we queued in the cold with other bleary-eyed tourists for about half an hour until we were let into the building. There were a real mix of tourists, from obvious scenic flight-takers wearing impractical shoes and no luggage, to fellow trekkers like us, with guides and big packs ready to go.

Everything was fairly well-worn, and even the scales for weighing luggage weren't digital. That's why I was surprised we were herded through metal detectors and had our handcarry luggage put through a scanner just like any other airport, and doubly surprised when I realised I had forgotten to transfer not one, but two pocketknives into the check-in luggage... oops. Fortunately our guide Binod was able to rescue both from the confiscation pile and stuff it in our check-in bag, but lesson learnt - you can't sneak a knife onto a Kathmandu domestic flight!

2) Female preferential treatment

I suppose I can thank the Muslim population in Nepal for creating a need for separate security checking lines for females in all airports. I was able to jump ahead of the boys and go pretty much straight through, while they waited in the much longer queue of guys waiting to go through security. Of course, it's not much help when you're travelling with males, and the plane isn't ready to depart anyway, but still - a small victory for femalekind.

3) Departure time

Our flight was supposed to leave at 6am, but of course the sun wasn't even up yet so visibility was a bit of a problem - hence we had to sit around until sunrise before we could actually depart. Of course you would expect that it would be pretty easy for them to know what time the sun will rise every morning and schedule the flights accordingly, but I guess that's not how things work in Nepal...

The flight itself was quite similar to the one we took to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas when we were in the states, a small plane with about sixteen seats and full visibility of the cockpit. They even had an air hostess who gave out candy and cotton wool to stuff your ears with for the noise, pretty cool.

And there's one thing to know about Lukla airport:
1) It's really not that bad!

Often described as one of the scariest in the world, Lukla airport does indeed have a short, sloping runway - but given there are as many as a hundred flights a day during peak season, the pilots are pros. Apart from a slight bit of turbulence coming into the valley where we lost a foot or so and I had a bit of a 'whoa!' moment, the landing itself was smooth and all over very quickly - you almost don't have time to be scared. With only four 'parks' for the planes the whole operation is a well-oiled machine, with arriving passengers and luggage alike shunted off with speed, and departing passengers scooting onto the same plane within minutes to take off again back towards Kathmandu.

Once off the plane, we were off to have breakfast, hire a porter, and start walking toward Phakding, where we would stay for the first night of the trek.

No comments:

Post a Comment