Since its inauguration in 1968, RA 100t the daily Mountain Flight of Royal Nepal Airlines, has been a major Himalayan tourist attraction. For U$ 99 you can fly along and above the eastern Nepal Himalaya for a bird´s eye view of Chomolongma /Everest/ Sagarmatha.
The typical flight departs from Tribhuvan International Airport at 7 am. It flies a right-turn climbing loop over Khumaltar, Chobar, Kalimati, Kupandol and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley, and heads eastwards over Dhulikhel towards Chahkot and Jiri. The Himalaya unfurl on the plane´s left: from Langtang and Shishapangma (8016m) to JugalHimal,Lapchi Kang, Ru! waling Himal, and the Khumbu Himal. Passengers are invited to visit the cockpit, where the windows are cleanest and visibility is best. Everest can already been seen from over 100 km away, rising above all other peaks.
After exactly half the flight time, the plane reaches the Dudh Kosi Valley. It starts a wide leftU-tum flying northwards, bringing into close-up view the four 8000m peaks of Makalu, Lhotse, Everest and Cho Oyu. Around Namche Bazar it begins to head west, skirting closely past Karyolung (6511 m) and passing the prominent Solu peak of Numbur (6957m) at a distance of less than two kilometers. It then turns towards Gauri Shanker, flying past its twinpeak. By then the plane is already descending back towards Kalhmandu. Chaduk Bhir/Chhoba Bamare, the Tin gs ang Pass and the ridge-top town of Chautara pass by the window.
It makes a difference whether you get to sit on right or the left side of the plane. On the left, the mountains are visible during the out-bound trip. Excitement mounts as they draw nearer. Though Royal Nepal maintains that there is no difference, the right side, facing the mountains on the way back, ultimately offers the better view. When visibility is good, Kanchen-junga (8586m), on the Sikkim border, can be seen from the right side as the plane banks north ward during the U-turn. Because the aircraft flies 20 km further north during the return trip, those on the right get more close-ups while flying over Dudhkunda Glacier and the southern edge of the Rolwaling Valley. Karyolung, Numbur, Menlungtse and Gauri Shanker loom particularly close. Khumbu Himal is a special attraction: instead of a linear chain, the passenger is presented with an intertwined mass of mountains, ridges and valleys. Right side passengers also get a glimpse of the glaciers and plains of Tibet.
Though very impressive, the passenger´s close-up experience with the individual peaks is brief, Numbur´swuth face fills the window for barely 30 seconds; me two peaks of Gauri Shankar switch places in very little time. The U-turn above theDudh Kosi takes less than three minutes. So much is seen during so little time.
Depending on the number of passengers, the Mountain Flight is carried out with either the 44-seater turbo-prop HS 748 "Avro", the larger Boeing 727 jet, or the even larger and more modern Boeing 757. The route is the same; the Avro takes one hour and climbs up to 19,500 ft (6000m), while thejets fly it within forty minutes at 25,000 ft (7600m). On the Avro, the bulbuous turbo-prop engines tend to obscure some of the view for seat-rows Two through Six.
Royal Nepal has kept RA lOOonits schedule for nearly a quarter of acentury now. One winter afew years back, an Annapurna Mountain Flight was introduced out of Pokhara, but it did not attract enough passengers and was discontinued.
Plans for a one-and-a-half hour jet flight from Kathmandu, to take in the Himalaya from Annapuma to Everest, never got off the ground. Only Royal Nepal´s "classic" flight to Everest has endured. Now since mid-May 1992, it has had private-sector competition. Nepal Air Charter, a new company, flies its German-made Dornier aircraft on a mountain-viewing flight up the Imja Valley over Tengboche to Dingboche. In India, too, a private airline is operating sightseeing flights in the Himalaya.
"The Himalayan should not become another Grand Canyon," cautioned an American in Kathmandu upon learning that mountain flights might proliferate. He was referring to the congestion of sight-seeing aircraft around the Canyon, in Arizona, which creates considerably noise and air pollution.
Royal Nepal´s Mountain Flight provides a unique experience to see the snow peaks of Nepal. Except for the engine noise and occasional air-pockets, it resembles watching a short documentary movie of the high Himalaya: purely visual. It is flown by travellers in a hurry, mostly Europeans, Americans and East Asians. On one recent flight, half the passengers were Indians— incidentally they were all given boarding cards foT seats on the left side of the plane.
But no matter the swiftness with which it is all over, and no matter that one may have a big engine blocking the view, Royal Nepal´s Mountain Flight does not fail to fulfill its one main objective: the passenger returns home able to say "I´ve seen Everest from a distance of less than 14 miles." In fact, the plane takes off only after confirmation that the mountain is visible. At the end of the flight each passenger is given a certificate stating: "This certifies that is a friend of Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) by virtue of participating in the daily mountain flight of Royal Nepal Airlines."