Dispatch: Jumla

Published on September 29, 2011 by in Dispatches

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When Maoist rebels fought the Nepalese monarchy during a period of unrest from 1996-2006, Western Nepal was the front line. The evidence is still visible in the form of barbwire and old trenches. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jumla. Half-filled trenches, bunkers, and coils of razor wire surround the runway and the adjacent barracks. It wasn’t too many years back that a significant battle was fought around the town. The battle claimed the lives of approximately 10 Armed Police Force officers and 10 Nepalese Army soldiers. Plus an unknown number of Maoists.

The violence ended several years ago when a power sharing agreement was reached between the government and the rebels. So, despite the former violence, when our Caravan touched down in Jumla for the first time last February, we received a very warm welcome. It was the first landing for a new airline, Goma Air. The pilots (Captain A.D. Sherpa and me) and the plane all received blessings in the typical Hindu fashion–with lots of red dye, flowers, and rice. Several reporters were also out to document the occasion. The arrival of a new airline was a big event. Adding to the excitement, Goma Air was committed to providing year round service. Most of the other airlines pull out during the summer to take advantage of the lucrative tourist season in Eastern Nepal.

On the flight up from Surkhet I had gotten a briefing from Captain Sherpa. Jumla, it appears, is one of the best airports in Western Nepal, featuring a 2,000-foot paved runway. Sitting at only 7,815 feet MSL, the runway length and surface allow a pilot to fly the plane at gross weight–both on the flight in, and taking loads out. This, plus the super fun approach down a broad valley (as well as the ability to use both runways 09 and 27) make the town a favorite destination for pilots.

Western Nepal aeronautical chart

The flight from Surkhet takes about 25 minutes. You leave the Surkhet valley via the west exit (5 miles west of the airport), and take a heading of 010 over the town of Dailekh toward Virgin pass. Cross Virgin at 11,500 or higher. After Virgin, a slight right turn takes you over the Tila river to the intersection of the Tila and another river. Staying with the Tila you turn further right and begin a descent. If landing on 27 stay at 9,500 or so and continue on for a left downwind that takes you over a small rise. Left base sets you up for a steep drop down into a slot canyon and onto the runway. If landing on 09, just keep descending from the intersection and make a straight-in for the threshold. Easy and fun flying at Jumla!

Some photos from our first arrival:

Jumla Tower (advisories only)

The crowd at Jumla

Our reception

Blessing the plane

Blessing the plane

Throwing rice

Blessing the second plane

More blessings

More blessings

Blessing the cockpit

Four wise men

Captain Rakaya receives a blessing

Captain AD Sherpa recieves a blessing

Answering questions from the press

More questions from the press

The welcoming band

The Jumla terminal building

Inside the terminal building

Back to work

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2 Responses to “Dispatch: Jumla”

  1. Chris says:

    What an adventure, Aidan!

  2. What a great adventure. I can’t wait to have you give a lecture here.

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