My latest story for Gadling on my trek to Everest Base Camp went up this morning, this time focused on that famous airport in Lukla. As anyone who is familiar with the Khumbu Region knows, that airport is named in honor of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary and is one of the highlights of the trip, thanks to its very unique nature.
The airport, which sits at 2860 meters (9380 feet), is very small, but nearly everyone who is headed to Everest, or elsewhere in the Khumbu Valley, has to pass through it on their way. But what makes it so unique is that the runway actually runs up the side of a mountain at a 12% grade. That isn’t exactly the steepest of inclines, but it certainly is odd when you’re use to landing on a perfectly flat tarmac somewhere. That incline helps to slow down incoming planes more quickly, and assists those taking off as well.
There are daily flights to Lukla from Kathmandu, weather permitting. Those flights last about 45 minutes, ending with a unique approach to the runway, in which for a brief period it is difficult to see anything out of the window other than a big rock face in front of you. It’s a bit unsettling to watch, as you think that just maybe you’re off course and headed into the wall, but just as quickly as that granite face appears, it slides out of view again, bringing up the equally odd approach to the runway. Of course, planes fly in and out of Tenzing-Hillary Airport all the time, and rarely is there a problem. Still, it’s odd enough to be able to see out of the cockpit windows when flying, let alone see a mountain in your path.
Once you’re on the ground, you collect your bags very quickly. There is no traditional baggage claim at this airport, instead your backpack is handed to you as you exit the aircraft. From there, it’s up a flight of stairs and onto a path that leads into Lukla village proper. That same path will eventually lead you to Everest itself. The only “ground transportation” out of Tenzing-Hillary is your hiking boots, and the trek begins in earnest from there.
Below is video that I captured of our plane taking off. It gives you some idea of what the airport and its surroundings are like. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most unique airports I have ever seen.
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