[MORE PHOTOS AT THE END] Most leisure travelers come to Nepal to go trekking. I wasn’t going to be in country long enough, and I can safely say that attempting to freeze to death on the way up Everest is not high on my things to do list. Even if I don’t want to CLIMB the mountain, i’d still like to see it. I think everyone is always a little bit curious as to whether or not Everest really looks that much bigger than all other mountains…it doesn’t. Some of the nearby peaks look almost as high and nothing about Everest seems particularly impressive to the untrained eye. However, the experience of seeing the Himalayas and Everest from the air is very worthwhile. Plus…if you actually climb the mountain you’d be too close to get a good picture.
Buddha Air is a small airline primarily flying domestic routes within Nepal, although they are expanding into Northern India. They offer a Mt Everest sightseeing flight that goes from KTM to the mountains and back to KTM. If you have visions of your plane looping long lazy circles over Everest, you can dispel yourself of that right now. Everest is 20,029 feet elevation and the Beechcraft 1900-D that Buddha Air fly on this route are only certified to fly up to 25,000 feet. I imagine uncertain weather conditions and the winds around the mountains make that margin too close for comfort. Buddha Air did lose a Beech 1900 a few months ago when it crashed in bad weather while returning to KTM, killing everyone aboard, but generally these flights are pretty safe.
The aircraft seats 16, there is a pilot, co-pilot and a “stewardess” who does nothing but pass out mints before departure and hawks t-shirts and DVD’s on the return leg to KTM. The pitch is tight, but even for me at 6’4” the legroom was comfortable enough for a 1-1.5 hour flight. On the way to the mountains, one side of the plane has good views. On the way back the other side has the shot. The main draw is that passengers are called up one by one to go to the cockpit and view the mountains head on while flying towards Everest. This affords the best view. On our flight, each passenger got two cracks at the cockpit. I got some good shots of the mountains, the weather was exceedingly calm (although our flight did go out about four hours late since the airport was closed due to fog earlier) and we didn’t crash. Definitely something worth checking out.