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Kathmandu (KTM)

Kathmandu is the capital city of the fascinating Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, and has the only international airport in the country (officially called Tribhuvan International Airport, after the late king). International services could hardly be described as numerous (an average of perhaps 10-12 a day), but they do include some particularly interesting aircraft rarely seen or photographed elsewhere. As well as being the country's only international airport, Kathmandu is also the home base for the majority of the Nepalese domestic fleet and, with the rapid growth in this sector in recent years, a wide variety of airlines and aircraft can be seen. Although there are certainly lulls in the movements during the day, there's usually something going on, and the early morning rush hour, in particular, can be quite a sight.

Luckily Kathmandu has a good variety of places suitable for photography, and a very profitable day can be spent here sampling all of them. Security has apparently been tightened considerably since my last visit here at the end of 1999, and some of the spots mentioned below are not quite as easily accessible as before, but in general you are unlikely to run into any significant problems - it's certainly not India!

One important point to consider when visiting Kathmandu (and Nepal in general) is the time of year. The ideal time to visit is in the autumn, as then you'll get warm (or hot) days, plenty of sun, and clear skies. There's also plenty of sun in the spring, but by this time the country is so dry and the air is so hazy that visibility is severely restricted, and decent photos can be difficult. Summer is the monsoon season, with plenty of rain, while winter can be rather cold, although visibility is still OK at this time. Dust can be a problem all year, however (except in summer), and if you suffer from asthma or have any other breathing difficulties it might be advisable to bring a face mask - you won't be the only one!

a) There used to be a viewing deck on top of the international terminal. However, when I last visited at the end of 1999 the international terminal was undergoing major renovation work, and this area was closed. Whether it has reopened since then is unknown, but, from a photographic viewpoint at least, it wouldn't be too great a loss if it hasn't as photos from here tended to be rather cluttered at best, and aircraft parked at the gates were partially obscured by parts of the actual terminal. It was useful for observing the movements when waiting for your flight, however, as there's nowhere else in this part of the airport where this is possible, not even airside in the terminal itself.

Royal Nepal Boeing 727
LTU Süd Boeing 767

b) The best all-round viewing spot is undoubtedly the small observation deck on top of the domestic terminal. This gives a great view out over the domestic apron, the runway and the main taxiway, and almost all movements have to pass by at some point. A reasonable zoom lens will be needed to make the most of all the photo opportunities here, although 210mm should be sufficient for most things except domestic runway shots. The light is perfect in the afternoon.
Unfortunately this area was closed to the public in the wake of the Indian Airlines hijacking at the end of 1999, and seems unlikely to reopen, at least not in the short term. However, if you go to the operations office here and explain your interest, with luck you'll be allowed up to the roof, and might also get a tour of the domestic ramp into the bargain!

Lumbini Airways DHC-6
Karnali BK117
Fishtail Air AS350
Druk Air BAe 146
Indian Airlines A300

All the following areas are inaccessible from the actual terminal area of the airport, and will require a certain amount of effort to reach, but are well worth it. Probably the easiest way is to first take a taxi to the important Hindu temple at Pashupatinath (and well worth a visit in its own right). Once here, cross the river (where the burning ghats are), walk over the hill on the other side (taking care not to antagonize the gangs of monkeys that live there!), and then turn right when you get to the other side (without crossing the river again). You should be on a path that leads up a small hill (that seems pretty damn big if you're not used to it!) to the runway threshold.

c) You can get excellent landing shots in the afternoon from an area just by the threshold of Runway 20. While most of the domestic carriers seem to land from this direction, international flights usually (but not always) land the other way and turn off before reaching this point. However they usually take-off from this end and reasonable shots can also be obtained of these movements as they backtrack to the end of the runway (although the fence is a little obtrusive). This is also a popular spot with locals, and you'll usually find a few enterprising vendors selling peanuts and suchlike at this spot, especially at weekends.

Gorkha Airlines Do 228
Skyline Airways DHC-6
Indian Airlines A320
Biman Bangladesh F.28
Transavia Boeing 757

d) Follow the path around the end of the runway to the other side of the airport. Photographs from this side used to be very easy as the 'fence' here was little more than a few strands of barbed wire on top of an old brick wall. As part of the airport's overall development plan this has now been replaced with a rather more substantial structure, but there are apparently still one or two places along this side where it's possible to elevate yourself enough to see over the top without it obstructing your view.
This side of the runway is good for photos in the morning, and the long walk to get here should be rewarded with some very decent action shots. A short zoom lens is probably enough for most things here as you're pretty close to the runway - a Boeing 757 fills the frame at about 50-70mm, for example.

Flight Care Y-12
Shangri-la Air DHC-6
Oberoi Group BAe 125
Austrian Airlines A310
Condor Boeing 757
'Rizzi Bird' c/s

e) If you follow the path around the perimeter to about the half-way point of the runway, you'll find yourself at the airport fire station (due to be replaced by a new facility just a bit further on) and what can only be described as the airport's 'graveyard'. This is actually the eastern end of the disused cross-runway, and the area is used for the open storage of a large number of wfu and derelict airframes, mostly belonging to former Nepalese airlines that have now ceased operations. There is also a basic maintenance facility for the various Mil helicopters still in service in the country.
Although this area is in a fenced-off compound, a polite request to the guard at the gate will hopefully allow access. A nice gesture would be to take some sort of gift (not a bribe!) to give to the guy if he does let you in, as his salary is probably minimal. Money is not recommended, however, as this will only offend (and could get him into trouble), but foodstuffs (glucose biscuits and chocolate seem to be popular, and are unaffordable to the majority of the population) are probably a good choice.

Nepal Airways Y-12
Everest Air Mi-17
Gorkha Airlines Mi-17
Nepal Airways AS350
Air Ananya Mi-8

Wrecks and Relics Archives
The Civil Aviation Training Centre used to have a facility near the international terminal, but with the extensive airport development that has taken place in recent years this has moved elsewhere. Certainly the derelict Turbo Porter that had been dumped in a compound there was no longer in existence by December 1999.

Royal Nepal PC-6
Last visited on 4 December 1999 Top of page


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Area Map  
General map of the Kathmandu area

Courtesy of:
Maps by Expedia.com Travel

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