A magical flight over the king of the mountains
When and her fellow occupants of a tiny plane glimpse Everest, they are in awe
Our flight is delayed for an hour because of a leopard on the runway. As we walk to our plane, we see a family of monkeys sauntering across the Tarmac, oblivious to the planes taxiing around them. The information board in the domestic departure lounge had said simply, “Mountain”. In Nepal, Everest is the mountain. In a country of majestic mountains, it is king.
We climb aboard our Buddha Air Nepal flight. This is certainly the smallest plane I have ever been on, and our cabin crew of one welcomes us aboard with a “namaste” and a complimentary mint. Every passenger is allocated a window seat, and we sit silently waiting to depart.
Some passengers applaud as we complete take-off. Normally, I would find this pretentious and over the top, but today it seems entirely reasonable. We fly over the higgledy-piggledy mix of buildings and rubble that is post-earthquake Kathmandu, and head out towards the Himalayas.
In between mint rounds, our crew member acts as mountain guide, pointing out the different peaks – Gaurishankar and Chugimago, Numbur and Gyachung Kang. She tells us stories about the first
climbers, the oldest and the youngest, those who did it fastest and those who did it best. She points out the peak that must never be climbed out of respect for the gods, and invites us, one by one, to the front to see the view from the cockpit.
She stands back and stretches out one arm as we fly over Everest, the glamorous assistant showing us the magic. And it is magical. The height of the summit, she says, is the same as the cruising altitude of a jumbo jet. Nothing prepares you for quite how, well, big it is.
The top of the mountain pokes through the cloud and the sun bounces off the snow, creating dazzling bursts of light. There is silence among the passengers now, except for the relentless click of cameras and then repeated sighs of amazement as we set our cameras down and stare.
We fly over the entire mountain range, then circle back and fly over it again, so that each side of the plane can get a good view, though none of the passengers has remained in their seats. Strangers, we have climbed over each other and round each other to see the view.
As mountains give way to plains again, we find our seats and our voices, and the journey back to Kathmandu is considerably noisier than before. Our stewardess comes around again with another bowl of mints and presents us with a certificate. “I may not have climbed Everest,” it says, “but I gave it my heart.”
The plane lands with only a slight bump, and the applause breaks out again. I applaud, too, not for the landing, so much, but for the ride.