Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lukla - The Starting Point of our Himalayan Trek

Lukla is a town in the Khumbu area of the Solukhumbu District in the Sagarmatha Zone of north-eastern Nepal. Situated at 2,860 metres (9,383 ft), it is a popular place for visitors to the Himalayas near Mount Everest to arrive. Although Lukla means place with many goats and sheep, few are found in the area these days.
Lukla contains a small airport servicing the region, and a variety of shops and lodges catering to tourists and trekkers, providing western-style meals and trail supplies.
From Lukla, most trekkers will take two days to reach Namche Bazaar, both an interesting village and an altitude acclimatization stop for those continuing on.

The Most Dangerous Airport in the World

Lukla Airport, now known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport, is rated as one of the most dangerous airports in the world and a program titled "Most Extreme Airports" broadcast in the History Channel in 2010, rated the airport as the most dangerous airport in the world.

So this was to be our arrival point for this start of our 7 day Himalayan trek up the Everest Base Camp trail - as if the trek was not hard enough we had to survive the landing and then the take-off from this incredible runway.

The airport is popular because Lukla is the place where most people start the climb to Mount Everest Base Camp. There are daily flights between Lukla and Kathmandu during daylight hours, in good weather. Although the flying distance is short, rain commonly occurs in Lukla while the sun is shining brightly in Kathmandu. High winds, cloud cover and changing visibility often mean flights can be delayed or the airport closed completely. The airport is contained within a chain link fence and patrolled by the Nepali armed police or civil police around the clock.

The airport's paved asphalt runway is only accessible to helicopters and small, fixed-wing, short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, such as the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter or Dornier Do 228. Tara Air also operates two Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter aircraft that visit Lukla on a charter basis. The runway is 460 by 20 m (1,510 by 66 ft) with a 12% gradient. The elevation of the airport is 2,800 m (9,200 ft).

Aircraft can only use runway 06 for landings and runway 24 for takeoffs. Due to the terrain, there is no prospect of a successful go-around on short final. There is high terrain immediately after the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop, of about 2,000 m (6,600 ft) at the southern end of the runway, into the valley below. The apron has four stands and there is one helipad located 140 m (460 ft) from the control tower. No landing aids are available and the only air traffic service is an Aerodrome Flight Information Service.

The video below shows a typical landing at the airport.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kathmandu Street Life

Kathmandu in Nepal is the stepping stone to many of the Himalayan mountain treks and it is usual for visitors to spend a few days here before or after heading to the many popular trekking areas in the mountains. Kathmandu is the gateway to tourism in Nepal and is also the nerve center of the country’s economy. It has the most advanced infrastructure of any urban area in Nepal, and its economy is focused on tourism, which accounted for 3.8% of Nepal's GDP in 1995–96. (Tourism in Kathmandu declined thereafter during a period of political unrest, but since then has improved.)

The city has around 2.5 million population and sits at a height of 1,400m in the Kathmandu Valley in central Nepal. It is a bustling, chaotic city with poor roads and infrastructure but offers some  great photo opportunities of daily life.

Kathmandu Rickshaws

Rickshaws are still in daily use in Kathmandu, Nepal and they can be seen plying the many narrow, rough streets of the city carrying people and goods. They are usually brightly painted and sometimes decorated with flowers and garlands.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beng Mealea - Lost Temple in the Jungle

Beng Mealea was built in the Angkor style and is located about 40 km east of the main group of temples at Angkor in Cambodia. It was built as a Hindu temple, but there are some carvings depicting buddhist motifs. Its primary material is sandstone and it is largely unrestored, with trees and thick brush thriving amidst its towers and courtyards and many of its stones lying in great heaps. For years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the site, as it is 77 km from Siem Reap by road.

Like Ta Phrom the Beng Mealea temple has been overgrown extensively by the jungle but unlike Ta Phrom you can explore this temple without the many tourists you get at Ta Phrom and the other Angkor temples. 

The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style, identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Smaller in size than Angkor Wat, the king's main monument, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire's larger temples: the gallery which forms the outer enclosure of the temple is 181 m by 152 m. It was the center of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025 m by 875 m large and 45 m wide.

Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with "cruciform cloisters", like Angkor Wat. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east. There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.

It was built mostly of sandstone: Beng Mealea is only 7 km far from the angkorian sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen, as the crow flies. Presumably sandstone blocks used for Angkor were transported along artificial water canals and passed from here. Despite of lack of information, the quality of architecture and decorations has drawn the attention of French scholars just from its discovery.