With international travel resuming, my husband, teenage daughter and I decided to head out on a short vacation in April 2022. The threat of Covid was still looming. So, we thought it wise not to risk venturing too far. Nepal presented the perfect solution. Its close proximity to the Indian borders meant that we could return via road in case of an outbreak or an emergency, and yet, we had the joy of getting another stamp on our passports.
A mountain trek was certainly not on the cards. But the desire to get as close as possible to the majestic Himalayas was strong. My penchant for meticulous itinerary-planning before taking off on trips came in handy when I discovered the Everest Mountain flight tours operated by Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines. You can choose to do a circuit of the Mount Everest’s ranges, taking off and landing at the Domestic Terminal of Tribhuvan International Airport; or the Annapurna mountain range, which begins at Pokhara Airport (located 200 kilometres from Kathmandu).
Many reviews I read claimed that bad weather could be a dampener, forcing flights to stay grounded. In such cases, the flight would be rescheduled to the following day or be subjected to cancellation with a full refund. I played it safe and booked our flight with Buddha Air for the second day of our four-day expedition in Kathmandu. I crossed my fingers when it began to rain on the eve of our flight.
Fortunately, the clouds parted and we set out as early as 5 a.m. the following morning. The half-hour drive to the airport was a breeze, but the domestic terminal was chaotic. Buddha Air has a separate Mountain Flight counter at the end of the hall. You can’t pre-book seats, but the upside is that everyone gets a window seat on the 2X2-seater plane.
We entered the departure hall and the real adventure had only just begun. The first of the two flights began boarding and an impatient energy rippled through the crowd.
Soon after take-off, the air hostesses distributed leaflets with a picture of the mountain peaks we were going to see. The plane quivered mildly through thick cloud cover, but our eyes were glued to the windows. Ten minutes in, Langtang Lirung (23,273 ft) came into view. The sun had not fully risen and all we could see were blue skies, snow-capped peaks and puffs of clouds that seemed nonchalantly nestled in valleys around the mountains. It took us a few minutes to register that at a distance of roughly 32 kilometres the Himalayas stood at a height of around 24,000 feet.
Dorje-Lakpa (22854 feet), Phurbi-Ghyachu (21775 feet), Melungtse (23560 feet) and others emerged in quick successions. Half an hour later, the mighty Sagarmatha (Mount Everest at 29,028 feet) with snow billowing from its peak, filled up our window screens. By then, even phone cameras began to slip out of hands, such was the mesmerising sight. To think that we were in a plane viewing the top of mountain, while people have conquered it on foot, was humbling in many ways.
Mount Everest gave way to views of Lhotse (27940 feet), Chamlang (24.012 feet) and Makalu (27,766 feet) before the plane made a turn. While those seated on left side of the plane lapped up scenic landscapes during take-off, the return journey favoured those seated on the right.
If you have travel companions, make sure to get seats on either side of the plane, giving you the best of both views. This worked well for us when the sun rose to its full glory. The splash of white and blue between the sky and the mountains overpowered the sounds of the aircraft, melting it away into oblivion.
As we left the mountains behind, the passengers fell into sweet silence while savouring the experience that they had now claimed as their own. As we disembarked, we were each given a certificate for having flown over the Everest. The words ‘I did not trek up to Everest, I flew over it!’ echoed the sentiments of our achievement.
Also Read | Scaling Nepal’s Mammoth Mountain
You can book Mountain Flights through Buddha Air or Yeti Airlines. Buddha Air offers three flights of one hour duration each, the first of which takes off at 6.15 a.m. on all days of the week and Yeti Airlines, one flight a day at 6.30 a.m., both subject to availability and weather conditions. Depending on when you book, the tickets are approximately Rs 6,500 per person. Carry your passport or your Voter’s ID with you.
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a Bangalore-based freelance writer. She writes for several publications on food, travel, lifestyle, interiors, parenting and architecture. She enjoys telling the stories of people who have contributed to a range of fields, and chronicling interesting experiences that don't find a place in the rush of the mainstream. An avid food lover, Ruth loves to explore a city through its food.