A short flight from Kathmandu

The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is famous for a couple of things. In particular the landing at Lukla is something like the most dangerous anywhere. The short runway ends in a granite wall and a sharp right turn. It can go dramatically wrong. Don’t worry, that wasn’t us.

The other thing it’s interesting for is the dramatic views from the left hand windows. The snowy peaks of the Himalayas are, trust me, considerably more clean and pure than any bathroom anywhere underneath them. But what if you get the lumped with a seat on the right?

Well. The view really isn’t all that bad. There are no snowy peaks of any degree of purity, but it’s certainly interesting. Kathmandu is a developing city full of chaos and intrigue and the view from above can be as interesting. The thing that leapt out for me though is all the high-rise farming.

Now, you might be thinking of charming terraced hillsides, and they do exist as well, but I’m not. I’m thinking of tiny, tightly packed farming enterprises consisting of small fields nestled around a highrise accommodation block. This is not an uncommon pattern. Far from it.

Here is colour corrected photo of one block of such land, near to a village centre:

And another further away from natural centres:

Further away from Kathmandu, the mix of land use changes again. The charming terraced hillsides kick in, except not so charming because the terracing is so dominant and the soil dry and barren. Not picture postcard stuff. The farms out here are larger, apparently it makes more sense to farm more land and build on less of it. This is a clue that the smaller farms might not yield enough to feed all the people in the high rise, which I am guessing is why they can only exist near Kathmandu and other sources of food and income.

Out in the foothills, most of the land is used in some way. About half or more for terraces, a small amount for accommodation and about 30% for trees, planted in mostly organic patterns, not in regimented rows. However, some of these must be cultivated trees, or they would have run out. Wood is the dominant fuel here. Also, too many are too short to explain unless they are being cut down and replaced. This was confirmed when I saw a gulley lined with trees on both sides. One side, all short light green trees, on the other all taller darker green trees, explained only by one side being felled one year and the other the next.

Namche epilogue

After two days hiking, I see more evidence of differing incentives and the weird outcomes they create. I did not stop to photograph it, to my regret, but one image sticks in my mind. A lodge had constructed a wooden platform on the far side of the trail opposite the door. This was quite amply constructed, re-enforcing the obvious importance of tourist money. Tourists stopping to quaff drinks are an important source of income for lodges. Many have such platforms built from stone, which must have taken days of labour to construct. This wooden platform however was on stilts, as only wooden ones can be, and the area underneath was not wasted. It was used to grow lush green cabbages, which seemed to thrive in this tiny tourist-funded niche.

To my regret though, the only evidence I have seen of any industry beyond agriculture and tourism is of the large ceramics factories outside Kathmandu, which I also photographed from the sky. I hope to visit and see more of this industry later.

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