Dawn flight, Pokhara to Jomosom
It was still dark when we left the hotel, the air filled with a tropical bedlam of pre dawn bird calls. I’m not what you’d call a good flyer; when I flew for the first time (at the grand old age of thirty!) I felt as excited and awestruck as if I was being shot into the moon. That was then – now, I feel as if the odds against survival are just getting shorter every time and the thrill is tempered with dread. So walking out onto the runway to board our tiny twin propeller aircraft I was doing pretty well at staying calm. This route is cancelled at the slightest hint of bad weather, because if bad weather hits during the flight the pilot will have to coax the plane over some of the highest mountains in the world in some of the worst conditions imaginable – there is no margin for error. Flights in or out of Jomosom have to be completed by 11.00 -11.30 am, because after that the weather changes for the worst and the fearsome gales that spring up between the peaks would dash a plane to smithereens. If a flight is cancelled, you KNOW you wouldn’t have wanted to be on it.
We were the last to board, with me in a seat near the tail and R sitting by the door. Look at the picture at the top of this post. That’s my view of sunrise through the open door as the plane stood on the runway. See that rope going diagonally, bottom left to top right? That’s the rope they use to open and close the door. No, really. The stewardess whose seat was in front of mine gave me a reassuring smile, passed a tray of bonbons around the cabin (which I in my nervousness tipped up all over the place) ensured we were all strapped in, and yanked the door shut seconds before the tiny plane roared up the runway.
The plane banked and set it’s course over forested foothills studded by tiny villages and steep terraced croplands. Some villages had visible switchback roads leading to them, but the further in you got the thicker the forests became, and you began to see less and less dwellings in more remote and unlikely places, without even a trail for access. The plane seemed to almost graze the tops of the trees and then it felt as if I could, if my window were unglazed, reach out and brush my fingers through their leaves as the hills became mountains, their sides growing up around us.
And then suddenly, no more lush forests, no more tiny villages. The plane was climbing steadily, but if I looked out of the window I could no longer see the foot of the mountains… and their peaks were so high that I could barely see the tops. At last the plane climbed free, and this is what we saw.
I think I may have been making whimpering noises; I’m not sure, but the stewardess gave me a big reassuring grin and pointed out the astonishing peak pictured below – Machapuchare, or the Fishtail. Sacred, unclimbed and brilliant white it is a mountain as a child would draw it, it’s graceful twin summit hidden by a tiny cap cloud. I despair of the photo – it gives no sense of grandeur or scale. It’s a snapshot taken by an over excited woman through a grubby aircraft window, there’s barely any relation between it and what I actually saw.
Once past the highest peaks we began to descend immediately, following the Kali Gandaki river valley and through the deepest gorge on earth.
The river valley is subject to screaming gales which spring up from eleven am and continue all day – so all flights in and out have to be completed before this astonishingly dramatic change. That’s on a good day – inclement weather means no flights at all. A good thing too. If something goes wrong during the flight there’s no-where to go but into the river or the side of a mountain.
One of the most spectacular twenty five minutes I’ve ever experienced finished with our zippy little plane touching down on the short Jomosom airstrip while the other plane which works the route loaded up with passengers. These planes have an incredibly fast turnaround due to having to be safe back on the apron at Pokhora airport before the weather closes in for the day. As the plane taxied, I was able to see that the sky was pretty much taken up by mountains on all sides and that the landing strip was only a few hundred yards long.
Our plane taxied right up to the airport door and I marvelled that not many departures and arrivals can boast this kind of view. The mountain is called Nilgiri, and dominates the Jomosom skyline. Notice the other plane’s propellers? We’ve only just taxied off the airstrip and it’s already getting ready to go. No time to waste in these conditions!
So here I am, in the middle of Himalayas. You can barely see the sky for mountains.
If you want to read more about this journey click on Nepali Adventure to see all the posts!
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