Everest Base Camp 03: Landing at the worlds most dangerous airport

The plane zoomed around the steep cliffs, skirting the edges like a stealth bomber avoiding the enemy radar. The 12 navy SEALS were about to be deployed into one of the most remote places on the planet…

Looking over the Kathmandu valley

Nearing Lukla

In reality, the ancient twin engine turbo prop plane landed with a crash on the tarmac. It (thankfully) began to slow almost immediately as the rock wall approached far too rapidly ahead of us. At the last minute, the pilot turned the plane into the turnaround area, came to a halt and the rear door was opened.

The 12 trekkers and guides were hustled off the plane and into a tiny outdoor area to collect our bags. The engines were kept running and the next group herded onto the waiting aircraft for immediate departure. The airfield can only hold 4 craft at one time so getting tourists and their luggage off and on the plane in the shortest possible time is key. The quickest turnaround I saw was 3 minutes!!!

At Lukla airport

We exited the airport grounds through a 6 foot high wire gate guarded by a man with a big gun. Packs of men hoping to score a guide or porter job waited on the other side. It felt like I was being released from prison! Thankfully, we already had our guide Chakra with us and he helped us negotiate our way through the throngs.

Stoked to be here!

It was drizzling slightly and a cold wind whipped around the corners of the stone buildings. It felt a bit miserable, but we were lucky to be here at all as flights had been cancelled and delayed for the past 4 days due to rain and low cloud. Many people had been waiting in Kathmandu for as many days too so our 4 hour delay suddenly didn’t seem that bad.

Our porters, 19 year olds Mingama and Geyla met us at the first checkpoint and took our two 18kg packs from us. Their bright, welcoming smiles and enthusiasm were infectious – I liked them both immediately.

Geyla (left) and Mingma
Lunch with the dog

After a late lunch, we hit the trail. It was already 430pm and our chances of reaching Phakding before it got dark were slim. We spent a breath-taking (literally and figuratively) hour walking along stone paths, around muddy puddles and across wire swing bridges at least 50 metres above steep ravines.

One of many swing bridges (‘pul’)

 

Monastery high in the hills

 

Steep hills funnelled down to a fast flowing river strewn with oversized boulders. Rhododendron trees grew far above my head – much taller than I have ever seen before. Unfortunately, they are not in flower in October so I could only imagine the spectacle I would have walked through had they been in full bloom.

It’s too cold for rice to grow at this altitude. Instead fields of buckwheat, corn and cabbages are more commonly grown.

We arrived in the tiny settlement of Ghat and found a lovely tea house at the top of a hill. The lounge/ dining room was welcoming, complete with tapestries on all seats, family photos lining the walls, a TV, bar and big kitchen.

View from Ghat guest home
Guest house
Dining room
Map geek

I tried Sherpa stew for dinner. A soup filled with potato, carrot, spinach and dumplings – warm and filling and definitely one to remember for the future. Add a hot chocolate and I was ready for bed…at 7pm!

Sherpa stew…yum!

The next day was a long slog up the ‘Namche hill’ that seemed to go on forever. It was about 4 hours and was as hard as everyone makes it out to be. We did have fantastic views up and down the valleys to enjoy every time we stopped for a rest. And as it was still drizzling lightly, it kept us nice and cool and made the slog much more bearable.

Phakding

 

 

Hanging out while mum works in the field

 

As we rose up the valley, the river dropped away until we could hear it no longer. The hills continued to grow higher and we wandered into a valley where yaks replaced trucks, horses replaced cars, and porters carried everything else.

Give way to all animal trains

I was walking beside a 3 metre high rock wall. At the top of the wall was a flat, dirt area where a bunch of horses were having a great time rolling around in the damp dirt. One horse was having a little too much fun and nearly rolled off the edge and onto me! Thankfully Mingama dragged me away, the horse regained its footing and stayed on the ledge and all was well.

My $2 raincoat worked fine thanks mum!

Finally we reached Namche Bazar, the largest Sherpa village in Nepal. It is laid out in a horseshoe shape on the side of the mountain. Tea houses, hotels and shops selling everything from trekking gear, to books and bagels are the main form of business here and are kept busy by the constant flow of tourists.

My first view of Namche Bazar

 

The streets of Namche
Stores well stocked with anything you could want

 

You can even get NZ Icebreaker gear!!!

 

Yak bells

Hotel Tibet was almost at the top of the village, a killer to reach after such a long day up but it made for a much easier start the next day. This was our first stop in a busy place and we met lots of groups of people in the dining room who we kept running into along the rest of the track.

Where we stayed

Kiwis, Aussies, Brits, Americans, French Canadians and Italians for starters. The British group were from the airforce and were super organised with games planned every night. I teamed up with them in a game of guess the song, artist and year the song was released. The decade was the 80s, the 50 song clips were a blast from the past and the team I joined did pretty well (no thanks to me…I can sing them, not name them!)

Namche was the first place we met Lee, an artist from Montana, USA. I would put him in his mid-late 60s and was trekking around the regions, stopping frequently to sketch scenes along the way. We kept running into him every few days and I loved seeing the new sketches and watercolours he created.

My day finished on a high with a hot shower to wash away 2 days of grime. Simple things made me happy. Little was I to know how much of a novelty a decent hot shower was to become…

 

Sarah took heaps of stickers to give away…such a hit
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