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Flight of the Himalayas 2019 BKK-KTM-PBH (Nepal & Bhutan)

Flight of the Himalayas 2019 BKK-KTM-PBH (Nepal & Bhutan)

Old Dec 15, 19, 9:46 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: East or West
Posts: 341
Flight of the Himalayas 2019 BKK-KTM-PBH (Nepal & Bhutan)


This fall, I took a trip to Bhutan, and to get to Bhutan, you need to fly into Paro (PBH) on either DrukAir or Bhutan Airlines. Hearing about the view of the Himalayas on these flights led me to do a lot of research into how to identify the peaks that you can see, and this post is the result of that research. Hopefully it helps lessen the work of others in the future!

The general consensus seems to be that government-backed DrukAir is overall a little more reliable, with a bigger fleet in case of IRROPS. Given the high (gov’t-fixed) pricing, the cheapest flight to Paro is from Kathmandu (KTM), which costs about $250 (as of 2019). To get to KTM, I flew from Bangkok (BKK) as part of an award on Thai Airways.

If there are any errors in identification, please contact me and I will try to correct them.

Part 1: TG319 - BKK-This flight was part of an award booked to KTM in business.

Most flight paths mean a seat on the RIGHT side of the plane to get a better view of the Himalayas. You start getting a view of the Himalayas when you’re about 45 minutes from landing. More explanation on the various ranges and peaks in the section on the KTM-PBH flight since you get much closer views. However, if you have a camera that zooms and know where to look, you'd be able to see just as many of the 8000-ers as you would on the KTM-PBH flight.

Himalayan ranges coming into view. Arrow pointing to Shishapangma, the lowest of the 8000-ers.

A little more focus allows you to see some mountains more clearly, including several eight-thousanders.

Closeup of Labuche range, between Langtang/Jugal and Rolwaling.

Some of the more western ranges coming into view.

Zoom: Closeup of Mansiri Himal, with Manaslu (8th highest mountain in the world) peeking up just behind Ngadi Chuli.

Zoom: Closeup of Ganesh Himal.

Landed in KTM.

Part 2: KB401 - KTM-PBH

The best views of the Himalayas going into PBH are flights from DEL or KTM because they fly directly south of the mountain range. You’ll want to sit on the northern side of the plane, which on this flight, meant the left side. Unfortunately, DrukAir does not have a seat map on their website, but when doing OLCI, they will display a seat map, which I screenshotted.

You’ll have 2 ways to assign a seat on DrukAir: either OLCI at T-24, or get to the airport as early as possible to check in with an agent. Make sure all your passport and required information is in your reservation well before T-24 so you can do OLCI and choose a seat. I recommend avoiding overwing seats, which will obstruct some but not all of your view. That would be rows 7-10 or so, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re there. (I sat in row 6, just in front of the wing, which blocked a little of the view if you tried to look backwards.) Once you pick your seat during OLCI you can only change it at the airport, so choose carefully. My understanding is Bhutan Airlines does not yet offer OLCI (as of 2019). Also FYI, boarding is typically from both front and rear doors.

The captain on these flights will typically announce the major peaks as you pass if they are visible. Usually, it is clearer in the morning and cloudier in the afternoon, but weather in the Himalayas is notoriously unpredictable. For instance, my flight was initially in the early afternoon that then had a schedule change to be mid-afternoon, but we had great views of the highest peaks. Be prepared for people in your row to lean over you to look and take pictures. Just be friendly! They’re probably just as excited as you are, and jealous of your window seat!

The flight time is only about 45 minutes, and you’ll start seeing mountains immediately after clearing the Kathmandu smog. You’ll see 8-thousanders pretty quickly ahead, although the captain may not announce them until you are almost passing them (which is what happened on our flight, when people were wondering which one was Everest until we were basically right next to it when they announced it). If you want to identify peaks, it’s handy to have saved some picture guides on identifying the various peaks.

Identifying peaks can be a challenge because with so many peaks in multiple rows, your perspective and their shapes change constantly, so the arrangement you see on a guide photo may flip-flop because the picture was taken from a slightly different position. Apparent heights are relative due to distance, so a taller farther peak can look shorter than a closer lower peak. Take into account shapes when trying to figure out which is which. Another thing to watch out for is that sometimes people post wrong identifications, so if unsure, check multiple sources. Some mountains have multiple names and spellings.

On a clear day, you may be able to see various Himalayan ranges home to 7 of the 14 “eight-thousanders.”
  • Mansiri Himal (Manaslu (#8))
  • Ganesh Himal
  • Jugal & Langtang Himal (Shishapangma (#14))
  • Labuche Himal
  • Rolwaling Himal
  • Mahalangur Himal with 3 sub-ranges containing some of the highest peaks in the world:
    • Khumbu (Cho Oyu (#6), Everest (#1), Lhotse (#4)) – western section
    • Makalu (Makalu (#5)) – eastern section
    • Barun – southern section
  • Kangchenjunga Himal (Kangchenjunga (#3))

Unfortunately, clouds blocked our view of the Mansiri Himal and Ganesh Himal that day, which are going to be to the northwest as you climb out of Kathmandu. I’m sure some peaks were above the clouds, but by the time we came through the clouds they were behind us.

All photos taken with an iPhone 11, so unfortunately there’s no optical zoom.

Climbing after takeoff over KTM. Once you are above the valley (and above cloud cover) you will have an outstanding view of any peaks above the clouds.

The first mountain I saw coming through the clouds was Dorje Lhakpa, and then Gurkapo Ri and the very top of Shishapangma.

Starting to clear the cloud cover, now with Lantang Lirung showing.

Almost immediately after clearing cloud cover looking a little further to the right from the image above. Gauri Shankar on the right, and the distant first view of Everest (far right), way before it got announced. The southwest face of Everest is recognizable as a black pyramid with diagonal stripes of snow.

Finally above the clouds, the view to the left (north) are the Langtang & Jugal ranges, with Shishapangma (#14).

To the east (looking forwards out the window), a lower altitude range can be seen, the Labuche Himal. Past that is the Rolwaling Himal, which runs into the Mahalangur Himal, home of several 8000-ers.

Thankfully, not as many clouds as we head further east. Now approaching Rolwaling and Mahalangur Himal. The 4 visible 8000-ers labeled in bold, all part of the Mahalangur. The other 3 labeled peaks are in the Rolwaling, with Melungtse and Gauri Shankar the highest peaks in the range.

Closeup of Mt. Everest and surrounding peaks. This is when the captain announced Everest.

Panorama of the southern faces of the Mahalangur peaks. Lhotse mostly obscured by clouds, and Shartse is covered by clouds. Some Rolwaling peaks are visible on the left: LR, TRT, Numbur, Khatang, Karyolung.

Less than 2 minutes later, due to a change in perspective, the relative order of peaks has changed drastically, especially the ones closer to the plane. Everest (unlabeled) remains centered in the photo.

Closeup of Makalu. Everest still seen by the plane’s wingtip.

Flying past Makalu looking towards Kangchenjunga.

Approaching Kangchenjunga, through which the border of Nepal and India runs.

Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

On a clear day you can clearly see the Jomolhari massif beyond Kangchenjunga. Being so cloudy, I could only identify Jomolhari only after the fact zooming in on the photo.

After a few more minutes, and shortly before descending into the clouds, my best view of the summit of Jomolhari and the very top of Jitchu Drake can be seen sticking up above the clouds. You'd get a much more impressive view without clouds.

On the ground in beautiful Bhutan!

Here are some sources I used to identify mountains during my flight, and afterwards by looking at photos:

Photostream of peaks on BKK-KTM flight with some identifications:

Other sites documenting Himalayan peaks on flight to/from Paro, with clear skies:

Dutch site of an Everest flight with useful labeled aerial panoramas of the Mansiri to Langtang/Jugal ranges. The Mahalangur photos are taken from a different perspective than a KTM-PBH flight.

Another photoset of someone’s Everest flight that captures different angles of a lot of the peaks:

Lots of photos to get different angles of mountains so you can identify them:
Trekking to the 8000m mountains and travelling the world

German site with fantastic photos and maps (link is to labeled panoramas):

Japanese site with a nice overview map and some helpful images (some with mis-identified peaks):

Some helpful YouTube videos:

Other helpful sources:
Google Earth
Peak Finder App

Cloud cover map:

Last edited by MahiMahi524; Feb 9, 20 at 12:06 pm
MahiMahi524 is offline  
Old Dec 15, 19, 9:51 pm
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fixed! thanks to worldtraveller73

Last edited by MahiMahi524; Dec 16, 19 at 12:54 am
MahiMahi524 is offline  
Old Dec 16, 19, 12:08 pm
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Nice guide to the mountains and views!
hkskyline is offline  
Old Dec 16, 19, 4:06 pm
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Great photos, thank you
londonfog is offline  
Old Dec 16, 19, 5:06 pm
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Incredible...thank you.
mdtakamine is offline  
Old Dec 17, 19, 10:16 am
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This is simply amazing. Thank you for sharing.
I did a mountain flight from KTM a few years ago and got a wonderful picture of what I was told was Mt. Everest. Thanks to your pictures and description, I can confirm now that it is indeed Mt. Everest.
KRainesalo is offline  
Old Dec 18, 19, 4:17 pm
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Million thank-yous for doing the research and capturing those incredible images. You have saved me tons of time. I have been looking online for info similar to what you posted here. My trip to KTM & PBH has been postponed, however.

BTW, what month (or date) of year did you fly (think weather).

All the in flight tips (where to sit etc...) are very helpful. Ditto the links.
allset2travel is offline  
Old Dec 18, 19, 6:20 pm
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This trip was in late October. Glad it helped! Hope you can make it out there soon!

Originally Posted by allset2travel View Post

Million thank-yous for doing the research and capturing those incredible images. You have saved me tons of time. I have been looking online for info similar to what you posted here. My trip to KTM & PBH has been postponed, however.

BTW, what month (or date) of year did you fly (think weather).

All the in flight tips (where to sit etc...) are very helpful. Ditto the links.
allset2travel likes this.
MahiMahi524 is offline  

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