The first day began early, with us arriving at Kathmandu airport at around 7:00am, for a supposed early flight to Lukla. The scene at the airport appeared to be one of barely organised chaos, with hundreds of tourists and locals endeavouring to secure seats on their flights. Although we were allegedly leaving around 8ish, we didn’t actually get out to our plane until about 2pm. I’m not sure how the seats are allocated, it seemed to be based on whose tour guide shouted the loudest (our guide spent most of the morning hanging around the desk for Tara Air waiting for the opportunity to grab some seats).
The planes from Kathmandu to Lukla are Twin Otters, with capacity for about 18 passengers. After squeezing in, the hostess offered us a mint and cotton wool (to stuff in your ears). When we eventually got going, our plane taxied to the runway, stopped…and then taxied back to the apron – Lukla airport had been shut due to high winds. Although disappointed that we were going to have to spend even more time sitting waiting in the departure lounge, I was in no hurry to fly to Lukla in adverse weather conditions. I’d already been warned about the airport there – there’s a very short runway that runs uphill (when landing), with cliffs on all sides.
We eventually got off an hour or so later, for a fairly smooth 45 min flight. The landing was certainly “interesting” – there’s no room for error, you hit the runway immediately it starts and then it’s heavy braking as you rush up the hill, before a turn to the right and a small apron in front of the terminal building.
After meeting our porter and collecting our bags our small party began the trek. Lukla – which apparently means “place with many goats and sheep” – is, as the launching point for trekking in the area, a hive of activity. Because of the delay in getting started though we didn’t have time to tarry and so after a quick meal we proceeded down the main street, passing numerous stores selling outdoors gear (mostly knock-offs) along with a (fake) Starbucks and an Irish pub.
After passing through a gateway with a painted message telling you to enjoy our trek, the path is generally downhill, eventually reaching the village of Chheplung, which is on the junction of the main Khumbu trail from Jiri. The path soon crosses Thulo Khola on a suspension bridge, with good views of Kumsum Kangure peak. We didn’t spend too much time admiring the view as it was getting dark and we were in a hurry to reach Phakding. Thankfully, we managed to reach Phakding just after the last of the daylight disappeared, and proceeded to enjoy a hearty meal in a dining room packed with other trekkers.
Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m) net height loss 230m
About 2.5 hours / 6 kms