Tara's joyride

Tara Air's morning flight to Lukla in the lap of the Khumbu Himalaya is a thrill-a-minute joyride
Tara's joyride

Tara Air&rsquos morning flight to Lukla in the lap of the Khumbu Himalaya is a thrill-a-minute joyride. There&rsquos no two ways about it. Apart from the real use that many locals from the Khumbu valley put it to, the flight is also a useful way to get to Everest sooner &mdash the approach time from the lower hills is effectively reduced from a week to forty minutes.

It is only in the last twenty odd years that there has been a proliferation of flights from Kathmandu, all of them early in the morning to avoid the rough winds and the unpredictable weather of the afternoons.

Our DHC-6 Twin Otter took to the sky from Tribhuvan International Airport at dawn, the first flight of the day. There were fifteen other people on the flight, all tourists. A sleepy airhostess handed us cotton wool (as protection against the propeller roar) while we settled into our tiny, cramped seats. Two very Top Gun pilots, bored-looking and dressed in leather jackets and aviators, manned the ship. But what views outside our windows To our left &mdash and we had rushed past our uninformed fellow-travellers to grab the left window seats &mdash rose the Great Himalayan range, the east faces blazing with sunshine under a clear sky. As we flew over high-altitude grazing grounds and over rocky pinnacles, my admiration for our pilots increased. It can&rsquot be easy manoeuvring a plane in such terrain, and pilot some four continuous flights to and fro every day.

The other tourists looked rather tense, but a couple of German trekkers could hardly hide their joy, leaning this way and that trying to get decent shots out of the scratched windows. Then the plane banked dramatically left and for a moment Everest and Lhotse reared up dead centre, surprisingly close. Below us was a deep misty valley, glowing golden in the sunshine. The plane now dived towards it, and immediately we could see the tiny Band Aid-like airstrip far below at the foot of a massive mountain. Some of the passengers seemed to be flinching, others had gone white as a sheet. Just before the plane touched down, there was a sharp collective intake of breath, followed by a massed &ldquowhoo&rdquo as the wheels bounced slightly on the tarmac. The airstrip slanted upwards to help cut the speed of the plane, and soon enough we were taxiing to one of the four aircraft bays. A spontaneous applause went up, followed by a few stray &ldquobravos&rdquo. One of the pilots turned towards us and grinned. Passengers flying the other way were lining up, and by the time we had collected our duffel bags, our Twin Otter was already on its way, a large gleaming bird in the sunshine.

 (Tara Air runs ten flights every day from Kathmandu to Lukla NPR 2,295 plus NPR 400 airport tax taraair.com).

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