Lukla Airport

By Glorious Himalaya on November 13, 2022 in Travel Tips

Lukla Airport, also known as the Tenzing Hillary Airport, is one of the most unique airports in Nepal. It is considered the gateway to the Everest region simply because, from Kathmandu or Ramechhap, you must first reach Lukla airport to Everest Base Camp or Mount Everest. From Lukla, your trek to Everest Base Camp and other treks in the Khumbu region begins.

Lukla airport is unique mainly because the trekkers experience the thrilling domestic ride from and to Kathmandu. During their tour or trek, one of the best views the trekkers will see is the panoramic view of the mountains from the flight itself before landing at Lukla airport. Often, the airport surprises trekkers from foreign countries because it has one of the shortest runways for the national airport.

In 2019, Forbes Magazine declared Lukla Airport the “world’s most dangerous airport”. However dangerous it may seem, the trekkers still prefer to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla to save time and the stunning mountain views. In this guide, we will talk about the Lukla Airport’s history, location, and significance. So, let’s begin.

History

On 29th May 1953, veteran mountaineers Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary conquered the peak of Mount Everest for the first time. As a thanks to the local Sherpas, Hillary wanted to build a hospital for their support. However, the construction of the work should have been done on time, which was impossible due to the terrain and lack of roads. Due to this problem, he decided to build a small airport. At first, he wanted to purchase land from the villagers, which they were not keen to give, so he decided to build the airport on top of the peaks. The soil where he built his airport was not resistant enough, so he devised a plan. He would buy several liquors for the Sherpas so that they got drunk and ask them to perform their ritual stomp on the soil of the airport to flatten the land and use it as a runway.

When the airport was built, Nepal’s Khumbu or Everest region was accessible to the outside world. After that, many trekkers, mountain climbers, and adventurers started visiting the Khumbu region for adventure. In 2008, the airport was renamed Tenzing-Hillary Airport to honor the first Everest climbers, Tenzing and Hillary.

Lukla Airport Location

Lukla Airport is located in the small town of Lukla. The Sherpa people call Lukla the grazing place for sheep. In the Sherpa language, Luk means sheep, whereas la means beautiful place or land. Lukla Airport lies in the Solukhumbu District of the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality, province no 1 of Nepal.

The airport is east of the town, with a 600-meter drop off a cliff face on one end and solid rock on the other. It is at an elevation of 9,334 feet (2,845 meters) above sea level, making it one of the highest-altitude airports in the world. To the north of Lukla Airport are the high black and snowy ridges of Naulekh and Kalo Himal, which mark the boundary of the Dudh Koshi River valley.

Why is Lukla Airport dangerous?

Lukla Airport is among the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, it was recorded as the world’s most dangerous airport in 2019. Several factors make the airport quite risky, so let’s explore them.

Altitude and Terrain

Lukla Airport is located at an altitude of over 7000m and is surrounded by peaks. The mountain peaks surrounding the airport are Numbur, at 6959m, and Kusum Kanguru, at 6367m. Due to the terrain and high altitude, the valley produces fast-blowing winds, which makes plane engines gain adequate thrust. Furthermore, since the airport’s land is less resistant, the pilot has to work extra hard to slow the plane on the runway.

Dynamic Weather

Another factor that makes Lukla Airport more dangerous is the dynamic weather at the high altitude. Heavy rainfalls, snowfalls, fogs, clouds, haziness, etc., are common in the Lukla region. These weather conditions hamper planes’ smooth operations, especially during landing or taking off.

Various ways to reach Lukla

Lukla Airport remains hugely popular and safe for the 30,000 trekkers who travel into and out of the region each year. In the early days, the trekkers and mountaineers had to use a classic route from a town called Jiri. The walk from Jiri is one of the original ways to approach the high Khumbu and Everest region. It takes a 5-day hike from Jiri to reach Lukla. Ever since the airport was built, trekkers have been able to fly to Lukla quickly for their Everest Base Camp Trek or any other trips to the Everest region. Currently, there are two routes to reach Lukla by plane.

  1. Kathmandu-Lukla

The popular option for reaching Lukla is the flight from Kathmandu. The air route from Kathmandu to Lukla is approximately 138 k.m./86 miles east, which takes around 30-40 minutes. Most flights tend to occur between 6:00 am and 9:00 am when the weather is at its best. Usually, the flight fare is around 190 USD for foreigners, 140 USD for Indian citizens, and NRs 6,000 for Nepalese Citizens. The flight only allows passengers to have 10 kg of luggage and 5 kg of hand-carried bags. Tara Airlines, Sita Airlines, and Goma Airlines operate regular flights to Lukla from Kathmandu.

  1. Ramechhap-Lukla

The second option is the Manthali airport in the Ramechhap district. It takes around 15 minutes to fly to Manthali from Ramechhap. The airport is located at the headquarters of Ramechhap, Manthali (near the banks of the Tamakoshi River).

Another alternative is a helicopter ride. A helicopter flight from Kathmandu to Lukla costs USD 2500 and can hold up to 5 passengers. The trip usually takes 40 to 50 minutes.

Flight Experiences through Kathmandu:

The flight takes off from Kathmandu and heads in the northeast direction. As soon as the plane lifts, a fabulous panorama of Himalayan peaks is seen from the aircraft. Overlooking Manaslu, Ganesh, and Langtang Himal, it continues with the Jugal Himal range and passes through Jiri. After it reaches Lamjura-La Pass at an altitude of 3500m, it diverts to the north side. A beautiful view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, and Mt. Makalu from the east is seen. Afterward, the plane lands on a unique runway leading uphill to the parking areas.

Climate at Lukla

Lukla is in the mountains, and the weather is challenging to predict. It has a subalpine monsoon climate with cool summers and cold winters.

  • Spring (March-May): The maximum temperature is 27°C (80°F). This is a very safe and exciting time to go trekking.
  • Summer and Monsoon (June – September): A lot of rain falls together with hot, humid conditions, which causes the snow to melt. Trekking during this time is quite dangerous.
  • Autumn (September through to November): Similar to spring, temperatures reach a maximum of 26°C (70°F). This is also a great time to trek, with the hills beaming shades of green from the monsoon season.
  • Winter (December – February): Temperatures reach an all-time low of 18°C (64°F), making it very cold in Lukla during these months.

Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Lukla, mainly because the weather is at its best during these months, with ideal hiking conditions and clear skies.

Accommodations and services around Lukla airport

Most trekkers start the walk upon reaching Lukla airport after getting organized with their baggage, guides, and porters. The walk leads through the town, the trail lined with fancy restaurants, bakeries, shops, stores, and good lodges and hotels. Trekkers enjoy and celebrate their last overnight party among fellow members, trekking guides, staff, and porters. There are a variety of shops (handicrafts, dairy products, trekking necessities) there. Banking services such as ATM withdrawals and currency exchange are also available. Several banks, including Rastriya Banijya Bank, Nepal Investment Bank Limited, Nepal Bank, and others, are also available. Private-ownership pharmacies with medical experts are also available.

Conclusion

Lukla Airport has worked hard to overcome its notorious reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. This reputation may have affected visitor numbers in the past. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case with Lukla Airport, as tons of tourists and trekkers are still visiting it to reach the Everest region.

Despite the increasing number of trekkers in the country, the local municipality and government still have huge responsibilities to improve the airport’s facilities to make it less dangerous. Outdated equipment must also be replaced, and some important infrastructure must be built around the airport.

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