9,186 ft. / 2,799m
Access to remote backcountry…and civilization
Lukla is the main hub for all traffic in the Khumbu region. If you’re looking to find remote Himalayan backcountry, you’ll have to wade through a bit of civilization first. All major treks, climbs, expeditions, excursions, etc., start and end in Lukla.
Starbucks, food, and gear
That’s to say that Lukla is a large metropolitan city. It’s not. But it does have a Starbucks, good wifi, western choices of food, and as far as trekking and hiking go, it has great shopping. Depending on the season, if you need that extra pair of sunglasses, or that rain jacket that you left at home, you can pick it up here.
Construction supplies, food supplies, etc.
Lukla is also the main hub for all construction supplies, food supplies, and cooking supplies like kerosene, etc. Most lodge operators in the Khumbu will send porters to Lukla to buy supplies to then have them pack them up valley. There are a few other options to buy equipment and supplies up valley, but the higher up the mountain you go, the more expensive the item gets.
Lodge operators will often supplement their food supplies by growing their own food like onions, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, etc., but the bulk of the food they sell (Snickers, Fanta, alcohol, eggs, bread, Pringles, etc.) comes from Kathmandu, which is brought in to Lukla on a plane.
Check in with the police
When you’re sure you’ve not forgotten anything, you’re almost ready to leave. You first need to check in with the police. The police are there to keep foreign trekkers safe. They keep track of who comes in and who goes out. They even ask for a list of all “expensive” items you’re carrying such as cameras, laptops, video cameras, etc. Every item you list can be tracked to you if lost.
The police also check your TIMS card. This is a personal identification card that legally registers you to be in the region. It keeps everyone on the trail safe by keeping unauthorized persons off the trail. The TIMS card can be obtained by your guide or in Kathmandu.
Launching point for adventure
Lukla’s airport, also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport, has quite the reputation.
Positioned on a mountainside
First of all, it’s perched on an upward sloping (downward sloping if flying out of the airport) hill at 9,383 ft (2,860m) in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. The high mountain village of Lukla was simply cut away from the mountainside where there wasn’t must real estate to begin with, as far as airports go. This leads us to the second reason Lukla’s airport has such a well known reputation.
Compared to other runways for small aircraft, Lukla’s airport comes up short. The airport’s runway is 1,729 ft. (527m) in length. Interestingly enough, the short runway is countered by the first fact we pointed out: it’s on a steep hill. This is good for both landing (slowing down the plane going up hill) and taking off (speeding up quickly while descending the steep hill).
Hmmm, are those clouds? Add extra time
Another reason why Lukla’s airport is so well known is the inclement weather that can easily shut down all traffic. Hey, you’re in the mountains. What do you expect? Bad weather is a regular occurrence in the mountains, and Lukla is no exception. If bad weather’s in, then all chances of flying in or out of Lukla, are out. The entire airport shuts down when it’s too windy or cloudy. Obviously this is for safety reasons, but it can be difficult to internalize when you have an international flight later that day in Kathmandu and you know you will miss it because there are too many clouds in the sky. Advice: plan extra days at the beginning and ending of your trek so you don’t miss any international flights due to bad weather.
A series of unfortunate events
Unfortunately, bad weather brings us to the next reason for a notorious reputation: there have been many accidents involving planes and helicopters around the airport. The airport at Lukla has been titled “the most deadly airport in the world” in 2010 by the History Channel. When planning a trip to the Khumbu region, this is a fact you simply have to decide for yourself if you’re willing to take the risk.
With all that said, one of the greatest facts about Lukla’s airport is that thousands of flights go in and out of Lukla every year without incident. Take solace in knowing that more than 37,000 tourists visited Sagarmatha National Park in 2014. That’s a lot of flights!
Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Lukla
Spiritual peace and meditation
Monastery at Lukla
Rituals and cultural richness
If you’re lucky, you may get a chance to witness Tibetan Buddhist rituals inside one of the most beautiful monasteries in the region.
It’s no doubt that to Westerner who didn’t grow up with these ancient and intricate rituals, they may appear a bit mysterious; but if given the chance, the strong spiritual aura of the buddhist practices can have a great effect on the soul.
The colors, sounds, smells, and tastes (yes, tastes) are rich and plentiful. Whether it’s drinking tea or smelling the aroma of burning incense, the Lukla monastery offers an immersive cultural experience.
Make the effort to visit
In order to enjoy the full essence of the monastery at Lukla you have to set aside time. Unfortunately, most trekking itineraries don’t allow enough time to visit the monastery: you immediately leave Lukla when you fly in in order to get to Phakding or another village; when you return from your trek, you’re often super tired and the only thing you want to do is to spend time in the Starbucks in town. So, stay strong and set aside some time to visit this wonderful site.
Other must-see monasteries on the EBC trek
There are several chances to see beautifully crafted and cared for monasteries along the Everest base camp trial. The key is to maintain energy and enthusiasm to do so. The mountain takes it’s toll. If you’ve got it in you, don’t miss the monastery at Namche Bazaar, Khumjung, Tengboche, and Pangboche. They’re all worth a visit.