TRICKY TOPOGRAPHY, AIRPORT RUNWAYS

Those who do opt for domestic flights tend to be aware of the risks involved. 

“Even though Nepal has a history of air disasters, they don’t happen all the time,” said Mr Waldron.

“But, wherever you fly, especially in some of these more developing markets (like) Nepal and maybe Africa, you just have to be aware that there’s great beauty and adventure to be had. But this is also going to come with certain potential risks.”

He advised travellers to “look very carefully” at an airline’s records before booking a flight. 

Reports often state that the Himalayan nation’s treacherous terrain and capricious weather conditions, together with its tricky airport runways, can challenge even accomplished pilots. 

“You’re contending with extremely rough terrain. The weather can be extremely challenging up there as well with very difficult, strong wind conditions. You could take off from one airport and the weather is fine at your destination, but then when you arrive, the weather could have changed quite radically,” explained Mr Waldron.

At the moment, flying in Nepal also requires pilots to take “very tight approaches into small airports” and navigate “short runways”, added Mr Michael Boyd, president and CEO of Boyd Group International.

“If something goes wrong with an airplane (in Nepal), there are not a lot of places to go. You don’t have alternative airports. It’s a mountainside,” he noted. 

Mr Boyd, who also spoke on CNA’s Asia First programme on Monday, said that a great deal of concern “has to do with the topography of Nepal, not so much whether their air transportation system is less or more safe than anywhere else”. 

“I won’t call it dangerous but (it is) a lot more vulnerable to accidents than other places in the world.” 

Nonetheless, knowing these threats, “there is a need to mitigate the risk associated with them by using modern technology for terrain and specialised flight crew training”, added Captain Amit.  

DRIVING, WALKING AS ALTERNATIVE MODES

Getting around the landlocked country by road is an option too, with some online travel guides highlighting the safety of driving in Nepal over taking a domestic flight.

Hiring one’s own set of wheels allows travellers “much more freedom to explore independently and get off the beaten track, especially in remote regions where public transport is limited or infrequent”, according to Lonely Planet.

There are no self-drive rental cars in Nepal, but travel agencies across the country can organise a car or Jeep with a local driver for interested travellers. 

Mr Goodey from Lost Earth Adventures also recommended hiring a private Jeep and a driver to traverse Kathmandu’s valleys, as the roads can be dangerous and there are “issues with public transport“.

“The roads are bumpy, so it’s more comfortable, and you can ask the driver to drive at a speed you prefer,” he said. 

But driving in Nepal comes with its own drawbacks.

“Access through roads is recommended for backpackers who have the luxury of time,” said Captain Amit.

“Tourism in and around Kathmandu is limited if the visitor needs to have the real feel of mountains and culture of Nepal. Alternate options like cableways would help increase access.” 

Mr Koh, the avid cyclist, pointed out that while many places in Nepal may be accessible by four-wheel drive, some people might find the journey too long. He cautioned that travelling with a four-wheel drive is not necessarily safer either. 

“Rocks do fall from hills. There are also steep ravines that many cars have fallen into,” he said. 

If travellers are not strapped for time, Mr Goodey suggests walking over driving or flying. 

“Anywhere there is an airport in Nepal, you can walk from a road if you have the time. The most popular trek is Everest Base Camp and it takes two weeks to walk it if you fly to Lukla – a remote, steep and short, high-altitude airstrip that has been the location of several air disasters,” he explained. 

“Walking from Jiri takes one month, but it passes through areas of Nepal most people do not see. It’s incredibly beautiful, the walk is safe, the road to the trail head is safe.” 

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