Photo Of The Week: The Lukla Airport

Each Wednesday I’ll be spotlighting a different photo from my travels around the world.

This weeks photo is from Lukla, Nepal, the starting point for most treks to Everest Base Camp and home to “The Worlds Most Extreme Airport” as deemed by the History Channel due to the ever changing weather conditions as well as the incline of the runway, which on one end is capped by a solid rock wall and on the other by a sheer drop.  I can say, from first hand experience that the pilots who fly into this airport are truly skilled, a fact I am so grateful for.

 

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A little jump back to get a quick taste Part 1: Nepal

I’m going to skip back a little in time to give you a look at some places I’ve visited in the last year.  Now keep in mind these blogs were written for a personal adudience and therefore are probably not up to “travel blogging” standards but it give the feeling of the experience nontheless.   I also apologize for any spelling or gramatical problems.  Once I’ve written a LONG post I tend to not want to go back and read over it again…..  anyway….

Amidst the Himalayas, my adventures in Nepal

 

 First let me say the 9 days I spent hiking the Everest Trail were the hardest of my life so far. By the end of each day I wanted to just collapse on my bed and sleep for a month. My toes ached and my muscles hurt and my forearms got sooooo burned but every second of it was worth it 🙂

 Ok so now I guess I’ll start at the beginning. When we decided to go to Nepal we booked with Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national airline of Bangladesh because it was half the price of all other flights. The curse of flying with Biman is long delays and nasty layovers because of their small fleet. Our flight was 3 hours late and we arrived in Dhaka at 1:30 am. We went to the Biman transit counter and they gave us a chip for a hotel then we had to pay $20 to leave the airport and sleep. This process took FOREVER and we finally arrived at the hotel at 3am so exhausted. The hotel wasn’t as bad as I expected but it wouldn’t even match up to a roach motel in the states. Good news was we got to sleep… until 8 and then we had to go back to the airport. This time our flight to Kathmandu was actually on time.

Flying into Nepal I fell in love. Looking out of the plane window I could see green hills terraced with fields, rivers and mountains in the distance. It was such a beautiful sight. Our tour company picked us up from the the airport and we spent the rest of that first afternoon checking into our hotel and then in Thamel (the tourist area) renting down jackets, sleeping bags, and getting everything else we needed for the trip that we didn’t have. Let me say my trekking pole and the “North Face” zipper pants I bought were quite possibly my best investments ever (after my Mac and my Camera, and maybe college of course 🙂 )

We had to wake up early for our flight to Lukla. I was a little, ok no a lot nervous about the flight because the Lukla is one of the highest and most dangerous airports in the world. It is built on the side of a mountain and the runway is very short and slants uphill. What added to the nervousness also was that a plane had crashed there just 2 weeks before killing 18 people and the plane was the same model with the same airline. The flight was a little bumpy but it went well. The landing was incredible. With such a short runway they had to slam on the brakes and it looked like we were going to hit a brick wall at the end but our pilots had mad skills. Another thing that impressed me was the turn around. The rushed us out of the plane, hurried the next people on and 5 minutes later they plane was taking back off for Kathmandu.

After we got out of the airport our guide Ras (who was amazing) hired porters to carry our bags and then we started on the Trail. Or first days hike wasn’t that long, only about 3 hours but we were already entranced by the scenery. Snow capped mountains, a rushing river, waterfalls, lots of trees! We were constantly passing trains of Yaks and we crossed over our first of many cable bridges. We spent our first night in Pakding where it got cold but not to cold, cold enough that we were wearing tons of layers though.

Our second day was the grand daddy of all our hiking days. We new that day would be bad when we started since the end was going to be an upwards ascent of several hundred meters into Namche Bazar but I didn’t actually imagine it as bad as it was. The morning we did a lot of up hills and then back down. We all complained because we felt it was so counter productive to have to hike all the way up a hill on to have to walk down again. We stopped for lunch in a village called Jorsale and after lunch we walked along the White River, pretty easy. So we were walking along and all of a sudden I look ahead and see a big cable bridge suspended across the river about 3 hundred feet up. My first thought was I have to cross that bridge and I’m going to have to climb all the way up to it. Then I thought oh no after the bridge it’s uphill forever and ever! (we had looked at a map). Well there was a HUGE climb to get to the bridge. I had no problems crossing it. It was actually pretty beautiful laden with prayer flags flying in the wind.

After the bridge, like I expected was the climb of death to Namche Bazaar. Seriously I felt like the trail never ended. I would reach one corner expecting to see civilization only to see more stairs I was going to have to climb. Now there was some people I was with (cough cough, Heidi and Aaron) who had no problems because they are part mountain goat and can climb anything with the ease and grace of a ballerina, but the rest of us must take ages to trek up the hill going step by step. I must say I wasn’t very encouraged once I did reach Namche Bazaar to find out I still had A LOT of climbing to do. But here is where one of our porters stepped in. We had 3 porters, 2 young guys and one older man. Now our porters would always go ahead of us to book our guest house for us. This time the older porter (I can’t remember his name) came back to see us and he took my backpack from me to carry. Maybe it was because he could see I was about ready to crawl all the way to our guest house, but I thought it was very kind of him.

Because we were in Nepal during the high tourist season many of the guest houses were running out of rooms so Anna, Heidi and I were put in the upstairs prayer room of our guesthouse in Namche Bazaar. It was beautiful, very colorful and highly decorated, and we had huge windows looking out into the town and mountains. We all got a little altitude sick while we were there, but thankfully we had another day in town to acclimatize.

I don’t know what got into me our second day in Namche Bazaar, it had to have been pure desire to see Mt. Everest because I choose to climb to the top of the rest of the mountain to get my first view of Everest. It took a long time. Lorrie wasn’t feeling well so she didn’t come and Anna turned back half way. Heidi and Aaron flew up to the top, but our faithful guide Ras stayed back with me the little slow poke to get up the mountain, and oh it was so worth it. First there was Ama Dablam, then Lhotse and Everest in the distance. It was such an exciting moment to see it. I wanted to just soak it in. We stayed at the view point for awhile and then we hiked on to the Everest View Hotel to get hot chocolate because it is “very expensive.” Seriously though, it’s a Japanese owned hotel and Japanese people get like helicopter into it. I don’t see how anyone is crazy enough to actually hike there to spend the night….. While we were up there is when I learned how truly skilled the mountain yaks are. They were able to eat and chill on the sloped of this super steep mountain. It was crazy!

     The next day was another doozy. We hiked along the side of the mountain and then all the way back down to the river where we ate lunch. Then we had to climb up ANOTHER mountain to get to Tengboche. Oh it was hard again. I though the town would never come. I was alone for most of the hike, keeping my own pace and I got up to the guesthouse like 45 minutes after everyone else. Tengboche really was a sparse town. There wasn’t much there. A couple guest houses, a cafe and a Monastery. It’s the Monastery the most people come to the town for, although the view of Everest wasn’t to shabby either, right outside our bedroom window.

That night it got so, so cold. I was wearing nearly every warm thing I had including the ghetto powder blue 1970’s down jacket I had rented. After dinner we saw that the sky was clear (something rare for Himalayan nights) so we went outside to look at the stars.

     I have never seen so many stars in my life. Like really, there were so many that we had trouble finding the big dipper, and you know those pictures of galaxies they show you in science class with all the clouds of different colors? Well we could really see the galaxy of the milky way galaxy. Now there were no purples are greens but we could see the “clouds” in all different shades of grays. It was incredible. God truly is amazing and the ultimate artist.

That night was the coldest night of my life hands down, SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO COLD!

     The next morning I was awoken to the sound of a gong being struck over and over and over again. I looked at my watch, 5:30. Who needs an alarm clock when you have a Monastery? Then came the horns and they blew and blew. I figured this would be a good time to put on my shoes and grab my camera to attempt sunrise pictures on Everest. Aaron was already outside when I got there, then Heidi came as well. Not long after a weird instrument which can only be described as sounding like a chorus of very out of tune kazoos started to be played. Now know this musical medley went on for at least half an hour. It was brutal to the ears but the sunrise was beautiful. When the “music” stopped playing we went into the Monastery to watch the monks at their morning prayers. I wanted to take pictures so badly, but when I walked in a monk saw my camera and motioned No, DANG IT! Aaron actually did take a picture and he got the evil glare from like the head monk. That’s the thing about SLRS, they have loud shutters.

     Because people were getting sick left and right we decided not to continue on to Dingboche like we had originally planned and decided to turn around and take our time on the way back. After breakfast Aaron and Anna headed down to the river to get to a lower elevation but Hiedi, Lorrie, Ras and I hiked a little more up the hill to a stupa, we wanted to break 4000 meters since we weren’t going to make it to Dingboche.

Going back down the mountain took about half the time it took to climb, but my toes and knees were killing me by the time we reached the bottom. Thankfully we were able to stop for lunch. Instead of hiking all the way back to Namche Bazaar we decided to stop in a small village called Tesing which you could literally walk from one side to the other in 2 minutes or less. The guesthouse we stayed in had 1 working light powered by sun panels, so it was a very dark as well as cold night. That was the night though that we had the joy of meeting little Monkashi Sherpa (people share their last name with the name of their people group, so in this case she was a sherpa). WE made some jewelry for her out of metallic colored pipe cleaners and after proclaiming, “I love you” she was ours for the rest of the night, always hanging around us. When we played cards she wanted to help. Then in the morning she wanted Heidi to do her hair, it was so cute 🙂

The next day we hiked back to Namche Bazaar. It was fairly quick since it was mostly flat. This time we stayed in a somewhat nicer place. We had blankets on our beds (to add to our sleeping bags, still no heat) and we had a bathroom in our room. I spent the day relaxing. Some of the others went to visit the Sherpa Museum, but I wasn’t about to walk up the hill again. WE got some pretty cool things shopping in town to. Overall I think Nepal had great shopping. Then that night I took a hot shower, my second of 2 in the 9 days and it was wonderful.

The next day we had to hike back down that awful mountain. It was hard on the legs again. Then after that we had a bunch of ups and downs, being counter productive once again with all our work walking up just to go down again. It was hard and I was tired, but then at lunch I had the brilliant idea to use my ipod and you know what? It worked! I listened to music the rest of the hike and somehow I just had energy and I was actually the FIRST one to reach our guesthouse in Pakding.

That night Ras and our porters decided they would do a dance show for us. Now our porters dance was really just a joke, but Ras was totally serious and really into it and it was, well, HILARIOUS! Oh and it was so hard not to laugh. Then he got us to come up and dance with him (this was all taking place in the dining room during dinner) and we had so much fun. There are pictures but Heidi has them so those will have to come later. thankfully the only other foreigners in the room were a young Australian couple just starting their hike and they thought it was hilarious as well.

The next day was another hard day hiking back uphill into Lukla, but the good thing was I knew it was our last hiking day. Leaving the mountains I would miss the beauty but I wouldn’t miss non stop hiking. Once we got to Lukla we sat and ate and played cards it was wonderful. We also went to visit the wreckage of the plane that had crashed. It was incredible and so sad. I found burned pieces of maps, euros, even a burned boarding pass. The plane had hit this large boulder so hard that it actually knocked a piece of the boulder off. The plane was actually still there, just under a tarp.

The next day we flew back to Kathmandu. It was sad to leave the mountains behind, but we were so excited for free showers! After “freshening up” in the hotel and checking on our flights (crappy Biman) we went to Thamel to do some shopping as we waited for our cultural dinner that night. I got the most amazing hand made, hand painted box. It is beautiful. The dinner was good. There was cultural dancing and lots of Nepali food, Dal Baat (lintel soup, rice, and yellow curried vegetables) in particular.

On Tuesday Lorrie and Aaron went to stay with their friends while Heidi Anna and I stayed at the hotel for 2 more days. We slept in then went back to Thamel to do the last of our shopping which ended up taking all morning and then we got awesome Indian food for lunch. I love Naan. We we’re going to try to go to Lorrie and Aarons friends childrens home that afternoon but they said it would be better for us to come the next day so we went to Durbar Square instead.

Now we were in Nepal during one of their big festivals called Tihar, so the streets were crazy. Women were stringing bright orange flowers, the streets were full of people and christmas lights hung from all the buildings. Durbar Square was no exception to the craziness. Almost to crazy for my liking. The buildings were beautiful. The carvings on the sides were so intricate, especially in the home of the Kumari (Living Goddess). There were maybe 6 different pagodas and I think all the buildings are from around the 8th century. I could be wrong…

The next day we went to visit Aaron and Lorries friends Issac and Eva and their childrens home. It was so great to be with the kids. Such a different side of Nepali culture. We played Apples to apples and just talked and had fun. The next day Heidi and Anna actually left to go back to Thailand so I took a taxi by myself across Kathmandu to come stay at the house as well and it was great to be with them.

Issac and Eva took us to go see Pashupati, the biggest Hindu Temple in Nepal. AS soon as we entered the compound the air was thick with a smoke, the smoke from cremations which were just open air along the side of a river in the middle of the compound. Monkeys ran wild and several “holy men” sat and harassed you for pictures and money. I didn’t like it there, I felt very uncomfortable so I will move on now…. Afterwards they took us to the Boddenath Stupa. I liked it mostly because it was a great photo subject. I had a lot of fun taking pictures of it.

On our last day Issac took us to Durbar Square in Pattan (the section of KTM where they live) but we didn’t go in because the guard demanded 200 Rupees, so we just looked at it from the street. Then we went wild in a movie store. We bought several disks that have tons of movie on them. I got a disaster movies one and several kid movie disks. Now that I’m back in Thailand I’ve found that they arn’t amazing quality, but they work. And we went to a christian cafe for lunch and got excellent food.

On saturday morning we went to a Nepali church for a few minutes to check it out while we dropped of the kids (Nepalis have saturdays off work). I was amazed at how big it was. I was expecting maybe 30 people but there was well over 100 and that was for just one of the services.

Our flight back to Dhaka was fairly uneventful although we almost didn’t make it on because the airport is old school and because Biman didn’t give us a paper with our ticket numbers on it they just couldn’t handle it. If I hadn’t kept my boarding pass stub from our trip to Nepal then we might have had to of spent a few extra days there.

Our flight was delayed by 2 hours so we got to Dhaka around 5:30 and had an hour bus ride into the heart of Dhaka to get to our hotel. Although the hotel name was Imperial the room faired about the same as our first one in Dhaka. Oh well at least we were only sleeping there one night. Now I don’t ever have to go to Bangladesh again because I’ve already been there!