Flying over the Himalayas, specially Mt Everest in Nepal has been a special wish of ours for a very long time. Even before booking our flight tickets or making our hotel reservations in Nepal I had already booked our flight tickets for the Everest Experience – the flight that takes one over the Mt Everest. Though it was scheduled to be the first thing on the itinerary on the first day of our Nepal trip, it was the last thing that we did on our last day in Nepal! First, there were flight cancellations due to poor visibility, then there were torrential rains amidst deafening thunderstorms and finally a lot of drama. But all’s well that ends well – we did ultimately fly over the Mt Everest. And on what a day – it was the first day of the Nepalese New Year, considered the most auspicious day in Nepal. I guess this was by divine intervention. We saw the glistening rays of the first morning sun of the New Year over the Himalayas. Nepali New Year almost coincides with Bengali New Year and I would like to believe that this was a good beginning to our Bengali New Year as well.
Our flight time was at 6:15 am – so we left our hotel when it was still dark and reached the domestic wing of the Kathmandu Airport. We were booked on Buddha Air. There are a lot of private airlines operating similar ‘Everest Experiences’ flights – Guna Airlines, Agni Air, Yeti Airlines but Buddha Air is supposed to be the most renowned. The name makes all the difference. Lord Buddha doesn’t let anyone down. It sounded the most credible if my earlier conversation with my optimistic brother is anything to go by. ‘Didi (Sister in Bengali), these flights are very dangerous – just a few days back there was a write up in the papers about a mishap…’! He has a very unique way of ‘motivating’ people. There was no other choice. It had to be Buddha Air. My extensive web research also indicated that Buddha Air is the only airline operating brand new, straight-out-of-the-factory, and currently in production pressurized aircrafts in Nepal. The aircraft is manufactured by the US based Raytheon Aircraft Company (now Hawker Beech craft). Each Beech craft cost Buddha Air about US$ 5 million each and and and [Read more...]
Though there are daily mountain flights throughout the year, February, March, April and again October, November are recommended to be good months for viewing the Everest from air. But nothing is certain regarding these mountain flights. A clear visibility of the mountains can never be guaranteed and flights may be cancelled even after one reaches the airport.
Nepal & the Himalaya
The Himalaya is the world’s mightiest mountain range boasting of peaks peeping over 8,000 m (27,000 ft) – famously known as the Eight-thousanders. There are 14 such peaks and more than 100 summits over 7,000 m (23,000 ft) high. It stretches over 2,700 km (1,700 miles) across an area between Kashmir in the West and Assam in the East. A vast shallow sea, the Tethys existed where the Himalaya stands today. The submerged landmasses on either side started pushing towards each other giving rise to these fold mountains. Though the whole process took 5-7million years, in geographical time-frame, the Himalayas are relatively young and continues to rise even today at the rate of 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) every year! Different stretches of the Himalaya is shared between India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal.
Himalaya means ‘abode of snow’ and nothing can describe the divine and the pristine feeling that one feels when one sees it for the first time. We had a very slight glimpse of this ‘abode of snow’ in the midst of white clouds, while landing in Kathmandu on our first day. But nothing prepared us for the ecstatic feeling that one experiences when we actually took our mountain flight to view the Everest. Within minutes of take-off from the Kathmandu Airport we were in the white kingdom of the mighty Himalaya. As the snow-capped peaks became clearer with the stronger rays of the rising sun, it became clear why these mighty mountain ranges have mesmerised poets and authors since the early ages. The earliest references of the Himalaya exist in Rigveda, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. Even the Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata mention the Himalayas as the region where God dwells. If one doesn’t feel the divine power of the Almighty up here, where else can one feel that? This is probably going to be true for anyone, whichever religion she/he may belong to and by whichever name she/he might pray to God. Even an atheist would feel a super-natural power at play in the existence of the universe.
The snowy Himalaya absolutely overpowers and dominates Nepal, the youngest republic in the world. Of the ten highest mountains in the world, eight of them are in Nepal, including Mt Everest. It’s a cultural, religious and spiritual collage resulting from an assorted influence from all the neighboring countries. Though I am born in Kolkata I have a ‘crawling’ association with the Nepalese language and hence such a strong urge to visit the country from which this language actually originated. Till I was about one and a half years old, we were living in the beautiful Himalayan hill town Kurseong (very close to Darjeeling, another well-known hill town in Bengal) where my father was posted. His posting there in the initial years of his career in the civil services made him very enthusiastic to the Nepalese culture and language. As a result both my parents became quasi-Nepalese! They used to speak in Nepali language and I grew up amidst Nepalese care-givers, the names of a few of them still reverberates in my mind as my Mum keeps on telling stories about them – Golé, Tolu, Ganga, Basanti and so many more. Their names sounded so quaint and sweet in my ears. My Mum also learnt a few Nepali songs, not to mention a few Nepali dishes as well!
The spectacular Everest Experience
As our 19-seat aircraft started ascending, our sweet Stewardess gave us the following leaflet with details of all the mountain peaks we were about to see in our 1-hour flight. Each one of us in the flight had a window-seat. The outlines of the sketches in the leaflet matched exactly to the outline of the mountain ranges in the scenery outside. A very basic photograph of a part of the leaflet…
The amazing Everest Experience through my lenses…
As the tiny 19-seater plane took off the ground, the deafening noise and the palpitation inside subsided as soon as we got our first glimpse of the snow-capped Himalaya with the comforting ‘signal’ of the wings of the Buddha Air peeping through! We slowly flew past the numerous peaks and summits of the Himalaya as have been mentioned in the information leaflet, all bathed in the warm rays of the rising sun. The view was no less than regal.
The first peak that we saw was Gosaithan (8,013 m), also called the Shisha Pangma. To the right of Gosaithan, we saw Dorje Lakpa (6,966 m), then to the right of Dorje Lakpa was Phurbi-Ghyachu which looms over the Kathmandu Valley.
As the plane moved closer to the mountains, the view outside became more and more spectacular. Next we saw Choba-Bhamare. At 5,933 m it seems like the shortest one but believe me this has never been climbed. Then came Gauri-Shankar (7,134 m), spiritually a very important mountain for the Hindus. Lord Shiva and his consort Gauri are said to protect this mountain. This mountain is very sharp and has been climbed successfully for the first time only in 1979. Gauri-Shankar really offers a spectacular view from the plane.
The number of peaks that succeeded are as follows – Melungtse (7,023 m) which looked almost like a plateau, Chugimago (6,297 m and has never been climbed), Numbur (6,956 m), Karyolung (6,511 m), Cho-Oyu (8,201 m, the eighth highest mountain in the world), Gyanchungkang (7,952 m – considered extremely difficult to climb), Pumori (7,161m) and Nuptse (7,855 m meaning West Peak and signifies its direction from Everest).
On our journey, Big Z suddenly asked me ‘Mama, why couldn’t we climb up the Everest?’ I practically started coughing. ‘You most certainly can in your lifetime’ – I told her. This conversation must have really inspired Daddy Dear on his next new mission – trek up to the Everest Base Camp. He is quite certain that this is something that the both of us can at-least do in our lifetimes. Well, why not?
Just before we arrived at the Mt Everest each of the passengers were invited to the cockpit to get a glimpse of the approaching Mt Everest. Finally, there was the Everest (8,848m) – known as Sagarmatha by the Nepalese and Chomolungma by the Tibetans. A cloud cover started to appear suddenly and the pilot announced that perhaps the next mountain flight was likely to be cancelled. In-fact as we found out later that – all the other mountain flights on that day were cancelled!
And finally the Mt Everest! The experience of witnessing the highest spot on earth is something that I may never be able to forget. A life-time experience indeed. The Everest loomed in-front of us overwhelming everything else amidst the white clouds that floated around like white candyfloss. We were at a total loss of words, hypnotised by the Everest and its Eastern Peak – the Lhotse (8,518 m).
Was this heaven? Was this Nirvana? What was this? A place beyond description and adjective. And beyond all dreams.
The vision of Everest floated abstractly in our minds and strangely it didn’t sadden our hearts to leave because I know that the Everest Experience will last forever in our hearts and in my souls. I don’t know whether the same is going to hold true for the Z-SISTERS but then they can re-live the moment by ‘climbing Mt Everest’ as Big Z had suggested!
When we landed at Kathmandu Airport after our spectacular journey, the day had already awakened and a busy day had already started. and travellers and tourists had started thronging the airport once again. It just felt like we had descended from a dream. It seemed to rightly match the certificates that we were handed over by the Buddha Air Staff at the end of our journeys – ‘I didn’t climb Mt. Everest… but touched it with my heart!’
Earlier that day when we had left the hotel for the airport it was still dark. By the time we returned, we were ‘awake’ from all our sublime experiences! Only after reaching the hotel we remembered that it was Nawa Varsa, the Nepalese New Year 2016! It was a special day for us anyway after our magnificent Everest Experience. But it was a special day for every Nepalese. We couldn’t have asked for more – what better way to enjoy a country and a culture than to be in the midst of a festival celebration. The entire hotel was decorated in a very festive way. Special breakfast awaited us. Instead of the standard hotel buffet breakfast we enjoyed a homely breakfast with hot and freshly prepared traditional Puris (fried flour Nepali flat Breads) and Aloo Tarkari (Potato Dish), fresh Water melon juice and hot aromatic Nepalese tea.
A little glimpse of the Nawa Varsa warmth without taking away the highlight of the day, our Everest Experience…
While the next few posts (perhaps a sneak preview into my tentative plans, anyone?) will bring in authentic recipes of special Nepalese dishes as handed down by the Chéf and Cooks themselves and other anecdotes from our trip in Nepal, do take a little peep into the food that we would talk about and the beautiful hotel in Kathmandu that we stayed in. I think it’s going to be a month-long of wishing my dear readers Shubho Nobo Borsho on the occasion of the Bengali New Year and now Nawa Varsa, on the occasion of Nepalese New Year! As long as the good wishes keep on pouring, what’s the harm?
Unblogging it all… Ishita
References or Books I’m reading/ Or lying on my bedside table for reading:
A Golden Souvenir of The Himalaya – Author: Pushpesh Pant
Kathmandu Pokhra-Chitwan - Author: Thomas L.Kelly, Daniel Haber
The Nepal Cookbook - Author: Padden Choedak Oshoe