the airport runway
Sunday 14th April
As we sat in the dining room at Lukla's Paradise lodge on Saturday having lunch at the end of the trek, we got chatting to another group of trekkers there. They had been due to fly out of Lukla that morning back to Kathmandu but planes had stopped landing after about 9am. We had heard a couple of days earlier that there was a large forest fire to the south of Lukla which was causing some problems for aircraft, but the winds around Lukla were also a bit stronger than normal. In the event there were no more plane flights out of Lukla on the Saturday though helicopters were still arriving and leaving regularly.
We had been told that that we were booked on an early flight today so we were up early, packed and having breakfast before 8am. We were then informed that our flight had been put back until 09:30. Shortly after 9am we lugged our bags round to the airport terminal. This was only a short walk as our lodge was only just on the other side of the runway. After the usual hanging around, security checks and baggage weighs, we were finally
about to leave at last
at the departure door with understanding that the next aircraft to land would be ours. Eventually the plane could be seen in the distance but shortly before it got to the runway, it turned round without landing and returned to Kathmandu. Eventually we managed to find out that the wind had risen again and was now considered unsafe to attempt landings; although there was a slight possibility that things might improve later, it was likely that there would be no more more flights leaving Lukla today. After spending most the morning watching planes landing and taking off again, this was a bit of a blow. We had a spare day in Kathmandu tomorrow before flying out of Nepal on Tuesday and this day had been built into our schedule in case we had needed an extra day for the trek, or in case of flight problems such as these. However, because there had been flight problems at Lukla for a few days now, there was a queue of trekkers waiting to fly back to Kathmandu, and even if flights did resume tomorrow, we could not be guaranteed a seat. After some discussion it was agreed that we would explore the
viewed from the helicopter flight
possibility of chartering a helicopter to get us back to Kathmandu. This would incur some extra expense but the refund for our non-flight would offset half the cost.
Helicopters were still flying and a number of other trekkers had taken a similar decision. Our group numbered 13 and helicopters could take up to 6 passengers. Eventually we were told that enough seats could be found to take us back to Kathmandu in 3 separate helicopter flights. I was part of the second group and we eventually took off from Lukla at about 1pm. The helicopter flight back to Kathmandu took just about an hour, about twice the time taken by a fixed-wing plane. However the helicopter did fly quite a bit lower so the views of the ground were a lot better, and we arrived back at Kathmandu domestic air terminal at about 2pm where we were met and taken to our hotel.
Monday 15th April
Most of our group were interested in doing an excursion out of Kathmandu on this 'spare' day so our trekking company had organised a minibus and tour guide to take us to Bhaktapur for the morning. Bhaktapur is only 20 miles
or so from Kathmandu but its city centre has been quite well preserved and cars are largely banned from much of the centre. Bhaktapur was an ancient capital of Nepal and so has a large number of very old buildings. As it is the no longer the capital, it is much quieter than Kathmandu and it was very pleasant just wandering around the city centre without the traffic and large number of people that can make Kathmandu a bit of a trial. Yesterday (Sunday) was also Nepali's New Year's Day and there were still many celebrations going on which made our tour much more interesting.
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