A mag­i­cal flight over the king of the moun­tains

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

Hazell Ward

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.

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