Travel To Go | Been There, Do This: Lukla Airport in Nepal

Been There, Do This: Lukla Airport in Nepal

By: Mindy Poder


Ah, Google Autocomplete, Google’s charming algorithm that predicts what you’re searching for before you can finish typing. Sometimes, it’s helpful; other times, it’s the absolute worst.

I was preparing for my trip to the Khumbu region of Nepal and wanted to double-check something I had heard about Lukla Airport, the gateway to Khumbu and where most people start their Everest treks. I had only gone so far as typing in “l-u-k-l-a a-” before Google worked its dark magic: “Lukla Airport” was first to appear, followed by “Lukla Airport Crash.”

This felt like an ominous sign. I thought I remembered reading that Lukla Airport (also known as the Tenzing-Hillary Airport) had a reputation as the “most dangerous airport in the world.” A television program called “Most Extreme Airports” had given Lukla this unfortunate nickname — perhaps for the fact that a go-around due to freak inclement weather or pilot error is impossible because of the airport’s unforgiving terrain. Lukla is one small landing strip, lodged between Himalayan high terrain and valley, at 9,334 feet.

I’d never been more scared of a flight in my entire life, but my desire to trek the Everest region was just as strong.

So I accepted my boarding pass and conjured the strength to move my legs toward our aircraft. A Tara Air representative — vivacious and all smiles — showed us to our intimately-sized plane. She assured me we had a senior pilot and excellent aircraft, which deflated my sense of doom by about 10 percent. Without a seat assignment, I made a totally incorrect safety decision and headed for the front seat, which provided me with an open view of the cockpit. (I have since learned that the rear seat on a plane or a car is actually the safest.)

I had a front-row view of everything. I analyzed every move of the pilot and co-pilot. As the scenery changed from rain clouds in Kathmandu to snow-capped peaks, I scrutinized the buttons the pilots pressed, the levers they pulled and the tone in their chatter.

Finally, and almost impossibly, Lukla came into view, and there we were, quickly heading toward that narrow, short strip of asphalt. What’s most unsettling is that a safe descent doesn’t feel, well, safe. Landing requires a quick turn, followed by the sensation of driving uphill due to a 12 percent incline in the runway.

I was the last and arguably most ecstatic person to deplane. I felt sky-high and ready to fly even higher — on my own two feet.

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