Flying to the ends of the earth, Nepal

I hope you could tell from the first episode of flying to the ends of the earth how much I loved flying and traveling in Nepal.
The country just blows you away, it’s so rich in culture and stories that if you spent ten years there you wouldn’t be able to soak up even half the tales the place has to share.

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We started our adventures in the town of pokhara. It’s the second largest city in Nepal and sits right at the base of the Himalayas.
I met our first real character of the series here, max. He was brilliant and great fun to fly with however our trip up into the Annapurna range really was as dramatic as it looked.
Now I’d done mountain flying before but not quiet that high and certainly not as visually breathtaking. Before too long though max began feeling dizzy and sent alarm bells ringing through me that he was starting to feel the effects of oxygen starvation. If you don’t deal with this and get oxygen into the blood your brain will start shutting down within about five minutes.
So as you can imagine I wanted to get the aeroplane as low as possible, as quickly as possible.
Thankfully it didn’t take to long and max felt no further ill effects but it was an eye opener to the risks of mountain flying. No longer was it a scenario that I learnt about in text books whilst training to become a pilot but a real life scenario playing out before me.
Within the space of about 20 minutes we went from an issue developing from being too high into an issue developing from flying too low. Little did I know that max had this all planned and we landed next to a small farm house on the valley floor.
There were big plans afoot for this area and a large asphalt runway was to be built. The locals were happy about the idea but I have reservations about such an untouched landscape being developed on.

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It had been a bit of a baptism of fire flying in Nepal so far and I hadn’t even visited the most perilous airport yet. I’m not one to be unnerved easily but as we started our approach towards Lukla my eyes shook inside my head for a split second, this huge mountain rearing up in front of us and a tiny square of concrete appearing like a white fly splat on the cockpit windscreen is were we had to land. I’d never visited an airport or airfield where there isn’t plenty of room above and around to make life as obstruction free and safe as possible, out there they don’t have that luxury.
Now Lukla as a town was not what I was expecting, because of the volume of people traveling through there on their way to Everest it has become a bit of a tourist hub but it’s so strange because it’s in the middle of nowhere! It kind of defeats the object of going there in the first place which for me is to escape and explore.
Nevertheless it’s benefiting the locals handsomely which is great to see. They are incredibly resourceful people, I remember wheeling through the back streets and tracks and coming across a pig shed which had been built from the side panels of an aeroplane that crashed on the runway some years before. You could still see the white paint and quite clearly the registration markings!

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I hate ending on negative points and with Nepal being such a stunning place I refuse to so I’ll get the nitty gritty points about our final leg of episode one right away. Yarsagumba. Nepalese sex fungus. And ohh how I hate it! after taking it for myself and not feeling any benefit from it at all, I cannot see the sense in the risks people take to harvest it, but of course money. Those poor families who are forced into trekking up the mountain side to collect it and then sell it on to dealers for pittance. It’s not fair and I believe something should be done to make safe this crazy situation. A) set a fair trade style wage for those who harvest it. B) develop a safer working environment. C) Create laws against children and the elderly making the ascent.

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With yarsagumba out of the way I’ll end on how picturesque the Dolpa region of the Himalayas is. Making up the western stretch of the mountain range within Nepal it’s a landscape that’s constantly undulating up and down, the sheer scale of the scenery is spectacular.
Though the straight line distances in this part of Nepal are relatively short the nature of the terrain makes traveling through, extremely hard. Speaking to some of the locals who live in the isolated villages they claimed to have taken up to two weeks to reach the nearest town and it wouldn’t be uncommon for members of their party to not make it at all! But, that is just the nature of the country they live in. It says a great deal about the people of Nepal themselves, incredibly resourceful, tough and cheerful.

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We filmed for the series last year and the whole team were pretty saddened to hear of the awful earthquake that had struck. Many of the locations we visited were effected but fortunately, nobody we met was hurt.