Back in December 2014 I was traveling through much of Southeast Asia. Part of that trip included a few days in Kathmandu, Nepal for the sole purpose of seeing Mount Everest! A city shrouded in centuries of history and culture, Kathmandu has much more to offer as well but more on that in another post.
Most people who come to Nepal to hit up Mount Everest do so through trekking. I definitely plan to go back some day and at least do a trek to the base camp of Everest! For now though and given the limited amount of time I was running on, I didn’t have enough of it to spend several days trekking so a faster way of seeing the great majestic Everest was needed!
Fortunately several flight companies in the Kathmandu valley offer such a package. For those looking to experience the Himalayas on a more strict budget (trekking is quite expensive) or on tighter time constraints like myself, they offer 1-hour flights over the Himalayan mountain range and around Everest itself. The site to visit to check out the various companies offering such flights is MountainFlights.com.
There are four companies in the valley that offer the 1-hour flights over Everest and the Himalayas. They are:
- Buddha Air
- Agni Air
- Simrik Airlines
- Yeti Airlines
I had read good things online about Buddha Air and decided to book my flight (called the Everest Experience) with them. For the price of $207 USD it is definitely the cheapest and fastest way to see one of the seven natural world wonders! The thing I liked about Buddha Air in particular is that every seat is a window seat. There are only two rows of seats on the planes they use with each one having their own window so no matter what you are ensured you always get amazing views during the entire hour.
The morning of the flight arrived! I woke up at 4AM to a very cold Kathmandu. The weather here is odd and very difficult to pack for. The temperatures get in to the mid-upper 20’s during the day but at night they drop to near zero. Since I was heading to places like Thailand and Australia after this where it would be near 30 degrees I had only packed one pair of pants and one sweater in my bag. Suffice it to say, this is not nearly enough to stay warm in this city after the sun sets. To add insult to injury, the hostel I was staying in didn’t even have any heat either (and very limited hot water) so even lying in bed was freezing. I made my way out of bed putting on every piece of clothing I had packed hoping the added layers would help even a little bit. I decided to forgo an ice-cold shower at 4AM and walked out to the deserted streets of the Thamel district of Kathmandu.
Managing to find a taxi was quite difficult at this time. I saw one parked on the side of the street but was not running. I walked over to it and saw the driver fast asleep inside wrapped up under a blanket trying to keep warm himself. I knocked on the window and woke him up. Dreary eyed, I asked if he could take me to the domestic airport to which he agreed. I got in the taxi and we were off. Unfortunately, just like the hostel, his taxi car didn’t have heating either so it was an icy cold 15 minute drive to the airport too. I couldn’t wait to get to the airport and get inside to some heat.
However as I soon found out, luck had a different plan for me. Getting to the domestic airport I soon saw this port was far, far different from Kathmandu’s international airport right next door and a lack of money or funding seems very apparent here. My flight was scheduled for 6:30 AM so I arrived at the airport at about 4:40 AM. What I did not know though is the airport closes at night and doesn’t open until 5:00 AM. So I was stuck waiting outside in the bitter cold morning air for 20 minutes until the doors opened. During this time, many trekkers gathered around the entrance too with their gear in hand. These people were getting flights up to the mountain village of Lukla where they would be starting their Everest trek from.
5:00 AM rolled around and the doors swung open. We all rushed inside hoping for some warmth but just like everywhere else in the city, there was no heat in the domestic terminal either! I went to the Buddha Air check-in desk but no one was around to sign me in. About 5 minutes later a lovely Nepalese woman came to the counter and informed me that check-in does not start until 5:30 AM! So again, I waited. I tried pacing around the entrance hall to keep warm but even that did little in this cold air. When 5:30 came I headed back to the desk and could now sign in. I tried to make sure I got a good window seat and one that wasn’t right over the wing. They put me in the front seat which I was told was ahead of the wing so I would have great views!
Next I proceeded through the typical security screening point and then arrived in the departures hall which was nothing more than a large, cold room with several rows of steel benches to sit on. There was a small convenience store in this area and they served coffee! I crabbed a nice warm cup-of-Joe which finally provided some semblance of warmth. I could not help but think, if it is this cold down here, I could only imagine how cold it will be up in the air in the plane in about 45 minutes.
By time 6:00 rolled around I checked the screens displaying flight departure info to see from which of the two gates and when I would be boarding. To my horror I saw the words “Kathmandu Airport Closed Due Weather” printed on the screens for the upcoming departures! It turns out, behind the darkness of night was a heavy layer of fog over the valley so the airport and all flights were delayed until the airport could re-open. I found a place to sit and wait it out. Over the course of the next couple hours the departure hall filled with hundreds of people as the number of delayed flights continued to grow. The benefit to this, at least, was that the hall was finally warming up from all the bodies in the room! It was now a bearable temperature inside.
Watching the flight info change on the screens was actually quite a funny experience. I had mentioned before that this domestic terminal seemed to lack money so it is with little surprise when I noticed that the screens displaying the departure info were just Windows 7 computers running Microsoft Powerpoint in presentation mode. In order for the airport personnel to update the flight info they had to exit from presentation mode, type in the new info in to the powerpoint slide and replay the show. It was quite hilarious in my opinion!
Around 7 AM, the sun started to rise but it wasn’t until about 9:00 Am that it had finally managed to burn off the fog, the airport could reopen and the flights resume operation. At about 9 AM I finally boarded my small Buddha Air plane and we were off for our 1-hour journey over Everest!
When I boarded the plan it turns out that my seat at the front of the plane was actually right over the wing and in front of the propeller. I was horrified! All this time waiting and I get stuck in front of both the wing and the blade. However like it usually is when i’m travelling, luck was on my side and it turns out that the person who was supposed to have the seat at the back of the plane didn’t show up (probably because of the long delay) so I asked if I could switch to that seat and the hostess kindly obliged. Now at the back of the plane I had a perfect, unobstructed view of all the amazing things to come.
During the flight the pilot circles around Everest and various parts of the range so passengers on both sides of the plane get amazing views! There is also a flight attendant who walks around during the flight explaining and pointing out Everest and various other mountains along the way. Once the plane approaches Everest, each passenger is allowed to go up in to the cockpit with the pilots one at a time to get some pictures and an even better view of Mount Everest. I did not expect that and it was definitely a great addition to the entire experience.
The experience and the views were incredible. You know what they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words” so i’ll let a few of the following pics do the talking. All I can say, if you ever go to Nepal and aren’t interested in hiking or are strapped for time like myself and still want to see this gem that very few people ever get to experience then definitely give one of these flights a go! You won’t be disappointed at all.