Since my early days of flight simulation, I've always had a huge fascination for aviation in Nepal. Planning a stay in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, i realized that there were direct connections from the Emirates to Nepal. As I found a reasonable fare, I jumped at the chance and dove head-first into one of the biggest aviation adventures of my life.

Check-in was at Etihad's Terminal 1 in Abu Dhabi, which, while at its construction 1982 it sure was the latest in design and technology, looked extremely dark and shabby.

After having felt sick the whole previous night and being a little worried about what lay ahead, I wasn't exactly feeling well. So when the gate agent finally approached me and told me the Economy cabin was overbooked, I wouldn't have protested that much about being kicked off the flight. Instead, he just told me: "Today's your lucky day, Tis - you're flying first!". Alright. Now I took that as a good sign that I should indeed risk the trip!

However, I can't tell you anything about the first class product. Can't say if the bar up front was filled up with yummy drinks in flight, or how great the food was. I was nowhere near being able to even look at food, and all I really wanted was sleep. So that's what I did, as long as I could. My comfy reclining seat was great though!

I did manage to stay awake for the take-off though - here's a view of the tower, and of course a standard tower building like everywhere else in the world wouldn't do here...

After departure I get a look down on the new Formula 1 racecourse, built in 2009...

...and nice water landscapes


Quite big a contrast after three hours of sleep!

I would have loved to take some photos of the spectacular approach - but there was so much dust, haze and smog in the air that visibility was extremely poor. So a Google Earth view of our approach needs to step in: As you can see, multiple mountain chains are crossed during the approach, causing the approach angle to be extremely steep. Therefore, the planes need to be fully configured for landing already 16 miles out, or they wouldn't be able to lose the speed before touchdown. However, you don't feel any of those things in the cabin, and it feels like a normal approach...

Taxiing to the gate, I spotted another plane I wanted to fly: Biman's DC-10 - the last airline operating the type on scheduld passenger services. Two years later, I should get the chance to fulfull that dream, too.

Not feeling much better, I was now faced with the daunting task of dealing with airport immigration bureaucracy. Shuffling back and forth between several counters, it took me over an hour to accumulate all the required documents. Yay, I was officially in Nepal now - and only wanted to get to my hotel bed.

That's one more hell of a trip: Crossing the while city of Kathmandu by taxi to my hotel, located in the tourist area named Thamel. Drivers seem to be on constant suicide trips, twisting and turning around all other things on the road - busses, scooters, rickshaws, oxen, donkeys, and lots and lots of people. Traffic rules seem unheard of - honking seems the primary means of dealing with other traffic. Images can't really do that experience any justice, but anyway....

Videos are a bit more adequate to show how such a taxi ride feels. The first one shows exactly that - and the second one's a display of how loud and chaotic everything is



The poor standard of living is ubiquitous

That's already pretty overwhelming for anyone arriving from the western world or the flamboyant cities of the Gulf states. It is almost unbearable if you're feeling sick from the start and you're just longing to get to your hotel room!

After a brief time relaxing exactly there, I set out for a brief walk to have a quick look around.

Streets of Kathmandu (or dirt roads, more exactly)


Soon after, I retreated to my room, looking forward to a good night's sleep. But it wasn't gonna be that easy: Right at that time, the hotel's main generator was starting up right below my window, and happily continued humming for the next few hours. Looks like my wish to sleep coincided with the "load shedding period": Since there's not enough energy for the whole city of Kathmandu, each part of the city is taken offline for a certain six-hour period each day. Lucky those that do have generators. But maybe a little further away...!

Let me tell you, my dreams that night, infused by my fever, the noise of generators, cars and horns, and the strong smell of Indian smoke sticks were some of the most vivid and colourful I've ever had! But I hadn't come to Nepal just to sleep, and so, at 03:30AM my alarm clock was ringing already, and I was trying to get out of bed somehow...


Among Nepal's dangerous airfields, the Tenzing-Hillary airport of Lukla is probably the most famous: Located at the base of Mount Everest, it has played a significant role ever since the first ascent my Sir Edmund Hillary - who also constructed the first runway there. Today, Lukla's a beehive of activity, everyone's gateway to the Everest region. 30 to 40 flights make the journey up to Lukla's sloped runway each day - and since the clouds usually start building up in the afternoon, they better get going early. This applied especially to me - since I wanted to make the journey there and back in a single day!

Throwing in some chemistry, and after finally finding a taxi in the complete darkness at 4AM, I was on my way to the airport through an eerily deserted city. Nighttime driving in Nepal's another story: Instead of stopping before each crossroads and watching out for other traffic, you just approach every square honking constantly and pray that all the other motorists have good ears. Oh well...

I survived though, and arrived outside the Domestic terminal at exactly 5AM. I'm not really the only one up so early!

After half an hour of queueing, the doors were finally opened and the crowd moved inside. Letting their arms and elbows do the talk, all the sherpas were trying hard to get the bags of their group to the counters the first. Happy me, only travelling with a small day backpack!

The terminal looks extremely shabby inside, and is no place where you'd want to stick around longer

Once again I have a little fight with bureaucracy - to get your boarding pass you need a departure stamp on your ticket first; to get a departure stamp, you need to pay the departure tax. The departure tax is to be paid at the Bank's counter. The bank's counter is not open yet. Yay!!

Finally I make it and get my boarding pass!

After a thorough manual examination at the security control (metal detectors seem to be unheard of), I can continue to the gate. And yes, this *is* the gate, and not the toilet entrance, as the "Gents" sign may make you think. Since you're searched once again during boarding, and men and women have to be separated for that process, there are two exits. Great!

Boarding is another story. Of course there aren't any boarding calls or even screens. There's just a guy in the respective airline dress calling out the flight that's ready. At least there's kind of a sign what airline boards at what gate *gg*

Finally, "Tara Lukla V, Tara Lukla V!!!" was called. No flight number, nothing. But I finally understood what the large "V" stamped on my boarding pass meant. Accidentally or not, it was also the last letter of the aircraft's registration. Ingenious system!

It took the bus driver some time to find out plane on an apron full of regional planes - but hey, I didn't mind that little spotting tour!

Company Dornier-228 during a hazy sunrise

Beech 1900D of Guna Airlines

The litte sleeker variant

Finally he had traced down our plane, and boarding finally started!

The cabin's filled to the gills with sun-tanned european alpinists in their expensive mountain gear and one young guy in Jeans and T-Shirt who feels utterly out of place! In addition, they've even got a flight attendant on board, whose only duties seem to be handing out candies before takeoff and taking pictures of sweaty westerners with 19 different cameras.

With lots of rumbling, our Twin Otter finally lifts its nose into the hazy morning sky. It takes quite some time since we've climbed out of the smog hanging in the Kathmandu Valley and get to see some first mountains

There's not too much to see though, and the windows are far from being clean anyway. Here we're already on approach to Lukla

Aha, runway's in sight (better not use flash, guess the guys up front need to concentrate!)


Welcome to Lukla!

The first airfield at Lukla was constructed in 1964 by Sir Edmund Hillary. In 2001, the gravel runway was upgraded to concrete, and upon Hillary's death in 2008 the airport was renamed in honour of him and his Sherpa Tenzing.

I guess you're all familiar with the airport, but here are the facts: The runway is a mere 527 meters long and has a slope of 12 degrees. On the lower end, there's a sheer drop of 600 meters, on the upper end, there's a solid wall of stone. There's no room for errors, and with other factors like the altitude and the weather taken into account, Lukla is considered to be one of the most dangerous airports of the world.

The small apron allows space for exactly 4 planes. Since there can be up to 50 planes landing on one morning, turn arounds take place at an extremely fast pace: The planes stand still for hardly 5 minutes, one engine always running, before returning down to Kathmandu again.

Right behind the airport is the main path leading to the village. The perfect vantage point for an airport overview!

I had no chance of seeing my own Twin Otter depart - way too fast. Just a few minutes later, this Do-228 (the one from the sunrise shot in Kathmandu) was to be my first proper spotting shot

The next Twin Otter's coming in over the cliffs

Some moments later, it's ready again and is lining up for take-off almost under my feet. Very impressive - and very loud, too!

A Dornier 228 of Agni Air

No worries, the Twin Otters can handle the steepest of approaches...

...and still reduce to taxi speed by the middle of the runway. Thanks to the slope, the braking part's really no big deal

Taking off seems to be a different story - there's not too much room left there!

Yet more Dorniers

Another company dedicated to the Lukla lemming run is Gorkha Air with its nicely painted Dorniers

Oh, kind of a special - a chopper that high up!

Another Dornier trying to show its beauty

Aaaaand another Tara Air arriving...


…und nicely posing in front of the unique village and mountain scenery before departure

Now it was time for me to get ready for my flight back into civilisation. Better be a little early - the schedule doesn't really seem to be adhered to. Oops, the whole terminal's empty already! Am I gonna end up being stuck up here for the night?

After a few minutes of frantic searching for someone to help me, I finally found someone who gave me my boarding pass, and I could proceed to the cute gate area

My plane had already arrived and we were asked to board (15 minutes early, really)

Bye bye, mountains! For today at least...

Ready to rumble!


Next day:

Another to-do for every Nepal visitor is one of the many "mountain flights" that each and every regional airline there has on offer. A sightseeing flight with the ultimate goal of getting up close with Mount Everest! I chose Buddha Air and their Beech 1900D, since it made the safest impression on me and got the best online reviews...

My flight's departure was scheduled for 6:30 the next morning. Yeah, so another try of getting to the airport unharmed, and I succeeded once again. Funnily enough, despite being the first person at the Buddha Air counter that morning, I was put on the third flight and had to wait over two hours. Never mind...

When the bus finally set out to go find our plane, I could do some more secret spotting: A view over to the international terminal reveals this 757 of the home carrier...

...and its three little brothers here. Seems to be the maintenance hangar - considering the state of the airplanes, I'm not sure how much maintenance is performed there though...

The one in the back somehow looks as if it had nose-dived into the ground somewhere...

I was happy that the brand new ATRs of my Buddha Air were looking much better... did the Beech I was flying with today

Once again, the window was tinted, dirty, and there was once again a lot of haze in the air. In higher altitudes it was a bit better, but still the shots' quality is far from where I'd wanted it to be. So what...

Some first mountains there!

The flight attendant was passing through the cabin, showing each passenger our position on a map and explaining what mountains could be seen. Nice service! Additionally, each guest got a minute up front in the cockpit to take pictures and have Mount Everest pointed out by the pilots.

So here it is, Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth. A first snapshot of it (on the left), before moving closer...

Haha. Or that's what I thought! Shortly after that shot, the plane was turned around and we were flying back to Kathmandu! 60 kilometes was the closest we got to Everest. Okay, admittedly, being Swiss, my expectations of mountain flights may be a little high. But that really was a bit lame. Sure, the panoramic view of all the mountains was nice - but if it weren't for my zoom lens and having been in the cockpit at the right time, I wouldn't have been able to take any shots of Everest at all. The way it was now, this certificate they'd handed out was more than just a bit cynical.

Maybe the haze near Kathmandu was part of the reason for the short flight - since we had to perform the full long VORDME procedure, starting out almost at the Indian border in the south. Even now our flight took longer than the hour scheduled.

As you can see, here we're on our way to the Initial Approach Fix of RATAN, which is to be crossed on 13'500ft. Then we would turn right following the VORDME approach to Runway 02, as can be seen on the GPS. The TCAS shows two other planes currently on that approach

So I wasn't completely happy with the return for my 120 USD spent - on the other hand, I did see that mountain, so - yeah...

Back in Kathmandu, everyone wanted to take a picture with the crew...

...the perfect chance for me to take some more apron shots! Like this Mil Mi-17AMT of the UN

Two Swiss guys are based here, too


Back downtown for a little sightseeing. At Durbar Square, there's a huge array of temples and other historically significant buildings. Unfortunately it's also the center point of the whole tourism industry - including drunk European hippies, shady tourist guides and crazy Indian gurus who want to sell you "good luck" at every corner. That pressure-cooker of sights and sounds had me feeling dizzy in no time, and so I hurriedly returned back to my hotel. Those are the few things I could take a picture of before...

Overview of Durbar Square

That's a lot of temples!

Yet another nuisance, all those pigeons


I arrived back in time just early enough for breakfast, packed my bags, and returned to the airport. Well, almost. My departure was scheduled for 5PM, so I had a little time to kill and wanted to try my hand at some planespotting. I directed my taxi to a busy road running right behind the threshold of Rwy 02 and started waiting for traffic. Oh well, there wasn't much. The small turboprops were too tiny for pictures anyway, and almost no bigger birds to be seen. Then only exceptions:

Jetlite from Delhi

GMG Air from Dhaka, Bangladesh

After two boring hours, I packed my things together and headed for the terminal. While walking to my Etihad plane, I could nail down another Bangladeshi carrier: United Airways (sic!) and their MD-83 - seems like they operate the type on a lovely Dhaka to Dubai to Istanbul to London route, too. Yikes!

Ready for departure, we had to wait for two arrivals from the south before the runway was ours (arrivals and departures go via the south). Finally the time had come to leave the hazy Kathmandu valley behind for good...

...and enjoy a last amazing view of the Himalaya range. Mountains all the way to the horizon! And contrary to the Alps or the Rockies, these 8'000 meter high giants weren't just fading away below us soon after departure, but stayed on the same level almost until cruising altitude. Very impressive!



With that lovely view of the Himalaya this report finally comes to an end.

To sum it up, Nepal's a very interesting place to go flying (and for many other sports, too). While I experienced Kathmandu to be very annoying, apparently it gets much better once you leave the metropolis behind. In any case, you need to stay extremely alert when travelling in Nepal - just relying on your tickets and a published schedule won't get you far.

As far as accommodation is concerned, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Ambassador Garden Home: While it's a small hotel with only 18 rooms, it was very clean, charming, and had the most amiable stuff I'd ever met. Read my Tripadvisor-Review!

Of course, this 2-day seagull mission of mine could in no way do Nepal any justice. And if you get the chance to visit, add at least a day or two - I was very lucky that all my flights operated as planned and more or less on time.


Hope you had fun reading this crazy trip report!



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