Friday, 7 June 2013

Day 1 Avoiding crashing at Lukla Airport,Nepal

I thought I might begin this with a little bit about my fellow travellers. I know Dave from the school I used to teach at,Waiopehu College in Levin. He's a teacher there.His son Dan who I met once briefly before we finally got together at Wellington Airport.And Chow,aka Cagatay and later to Dan and me,Chowtang-who hails also from Levin via a long journey from London to Istanbul and then Canada.
I had briefly met Chow at Waitomo caves,on another of Dave's famous Geography trips which i was a helping teacher on.
And Phinjo Sherpa,4 times Everest summiter turned guide. Our relationship went back to my mothers cousin,John Gully,himself a guide. John runs a guided trekking company here and has been in this valley for 25 years. Phinjo is one of his Sherpas,and Phinjo has also climbed with Andrew Hall,the kiwi climber and guide who died in harrowing and sad circumstances protecting a sick client on Chomolongma herself.

Lukla Airport from the concrete wall end (will post a video clip soon as this doesnt look so scary!)

So let's suddenly find ourselves on the plane, minutes before its almost vertical dive in to the Khumbu Valley where one of the most dangerous airports in the world awaits our fate. Lukla airport. Glad to get out of the stinking hole of a city Kathmandu. If ever you need a reason not to create cities then go here,or any other number of cities around  the world.I read in a newspaper article that the government here is annoyed that recent legislation banning and making it illegal to dump rubbish in the streets  has fallen on deaf ears.In fact they were attributing the failure to people not even knowing the laws had been brought in! And I laughed out loud at the thought of policing it.
First glimpses of big peaks. Impossible lone rocks five miles high. Out through the front windscreen this little slab-sided,twin-engined Dornier aircraft, I could see the tarmac zooming in.The big problems with this airport is that 1:it is uphill and 2. it ends in a concrete wall about 6 or 7 metres high (and behind that a hill).3. It is invariably windy and cloudy. It was reasonable day when we arrived,a pattern that was to continue for our whole walk. So we slam into the hard and the passengers cheer. 
"Its a live one!" I shout cheerfully to Dave.
Phinjo tells us with glee that he did not book us to fly on Tara air who had an accident recently in which all 19 people on board were killed. 
Later we were at the airport and Dan witnessed a 'batman' using walking sticks to guide the taxiing plane. I myself saw a guy jumping out of the way of a planes propellers. The 5 planes that can fit on the airport platform are shoe- horned into this space;and they are either all arriving or all leaving.Its nuts-approximately a 5 minute turnaround with passengers,luggage etc. Its like, lets go, the weathers fine!
But never forget,as I said to myself time and time again, that alot of what I see is made for me,a Western tourist(and of late Eastern with the burgeoning middle classes in China and India).
I became aware that the Sherpa people are working for my benefit and that before Europeans' love affair with this place,life must have been very different for these people.

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