Thursday, September 08, 2011

Of Nepal: Lukla International Airport

The raison d'etre for our visit to Nepal was a long spell of trekking in the Himalayas. We spent 11 days or so walking from the town of Lukla up to Everest Base Camp and back. I gather that back in the olden days of Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, you had to just start walking in Kathmandu. It is, to put it mildly, a fairly popular walk now, and climbers or trekkers can cut several days off by flying to Lukla.

However, perhaps one reason they didn't think to fly some supplies in to Lukla back in the day is that there really isn't anywhere nearby that is flat enough for long enough to serve as a runway. Luckily, some engineers figured out that if you land your plane going uphill, it stops faster. Contrariwise, if you take off by going downhill, gravity gives you a little boost. So this runway is much shorter than you would typically see even for the small aircraft coming in and out of Lukla, and slanted uphill at a good 10 degrees. And if your plane is just a bit short or long, there's a plunging dropoff at the foot of the runway and a not-insignificant rock wall at the head. (The above picture is taken from the top of the wall, where there's a nice pedestrian walkway that is really the only way to get from one side of the airport to the other.) Seems unlikely to become popular for 747s any time soon, but it was fun for the one landing and one take-off we did while there.

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