Saturday, February 23, 2019

Kathmandu TIA Airport | Partial Closure 10 pm - 8 am

As per the information received from the TIA authorities Kathmandu airport will be closed for repairs from 10 pm to 8 am daily from 1 April 2019 to 30th June 2019.

The logic of closing the airport during the busy spring tourist season baffles me - this could have been done in the winter off season but who is to argue with the Nepal authorities?

The result of this closure will have several ramifications this spring:

  • International flights which were landing at night will all have to be rescheduled during the day thereby adding to further airport congestion and delays. Baggage handing will also have significant delays. 

  • Domestic flights will possibly also get affected with more international flights coming in during the day, they will not get priority.

  • The early morning flights to Lukla from Kathmandu starting at 6 am will be affected as they will only be allowed to fly after 8 am and that too if they get a departure slot. At this point we are not sure if Lukla flights will operate out of TIA airport.

These two circulars below from Tara Air and Summit Air indicate that Lukla flights  will be flown from an airport called Ramechhap  150 km from Kathmandu and a four hour drive. So in order to get a Ramechhap Lukla flight at 6 am it will be necessary to leave Kathmandu around 1 am in the morning - not a very enjoyable journey on bad Nepal roads! I understand that the  accommodation in Ramechhap is extremely basic so staying a night there is not a very palatable option!

I expect the Everest passenger traffic will be down this spring and those who can afford it will charter helicopters from Kathmandu.  After the current helicopter scams, charter costs Kathmandu- Lukla have been hovering around $2800 for a helicopter - five persons.

I will post further updates as and when I receive further information.

South Col Expeditions treks every season in Nepal and Everest. For more details do visit

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Long Telephoto Lenses on a Budget

Many of us who are wildlife and bird photographers yearn for super fast big glass! Oh, what could we not do if we had a Nikon 600 F4 or a 400 F2.8! Sadly, the cost of these lenses are prohibitively expensive and out of reach for most of us. It is also not so easy to use these big lenses and proper technique and support are essential to get good results.

So what alternatives do we have? How do we capture that Alpine Accentor in the high Himalayas with affordable equipment?

This post discusses some of the so-called "budget" telephoto prime lenses and zoom lenses which are capable of  good photographs with proper technique and reasonable light. The crop factor with DX bodies should also be considered - a  300 f4 Nikon would give 450 F4 with a DX sensor and a 500 would give a reach of 750 which is huge! However, longer the lens the more difficult becomes the photograph and eventually you need a rock steady support for the camera! The zoom lenses would be slower than the primes but would have the advantage of a single lens covering a range of focal lengths.

Sigma 150-500 F5.6-6.3 $899
The Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3  is possibly the most popular third party zoom for wildlife. If you visit any of India's national parks a large number of shooters will have this lens.  It is very good value for the price point, if you can manage with a 6.3 aperture at the long end! At the shorter end it becomes a 150mm F5.6 which is about at least a stop slower than the 80-200 or 70-300 range of zooms! For a review visit

Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 $1069
The Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 is a new lens - it is similar to the Sigma but has an extra 100mm reach on the long end.  It has similar issues as the Sigma regarding speed and possibly greater issues regarding hand holdability due to being 600 mm at the long end! With a good sturdy support this could be a match winner especially for birds!

Nikon 80-400 F4.5-5.6 VR $1995 street
The Nikon 80-400 f4.5-5.6 VR lens is often used for shooting mammals. A very popular choice in the game parks in Africa for Nikon shooters,  it has a decent zoom range. In good light it can deliver stunning results and a good beanbag  support can allow hand holding at low speeds due to VR! If you are not looking for birds at a distance this might be  a good choice. However it is definitely much more expensive than the third party zooms though is sometimes available refurbished and on sale!

Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L $1699
The Canon 100-400 F4.5/5.6 is similar the the Nikon above and used by Canon shooters and has similar features. For a review visit

Nikon 300 F4 AFS ED $1369 street
This is a prime Nikon 300 mm f4 lens which is capable of producing excellent quality and sharpness. Mated with a TC 1.4 converter it gives a range of 420 mm and on a DX body that would be more than 600 mm! This would be my first choice if quality was paramount and I could sacrifice the multiple focal lengths of a zoom!

Canon 300 F4L $1449
This is an extraordinary good lens from  Canon 300 f4L - it belongs to their L series of glass and produces excellent sharpness and contrast. Highly Recommended by who are usually miserly with their praise, it would be the first choice for a Canon shooter on a budget along with a 1.4 converter.

Nikon 200-500 F5.6 E $1397

 The Nikon 200-500 has become the preferred lens for wildlife and bird photography on a budget. If you cant afford the professionsl 200-400 F4  then this is possibly the next best choice. You lose one stop compared to the professional lens but the price performance factor is unbeateable!  For a review of the lens please see

 This is the new Nikon 300 F4  ED VR lens $1996 which is superlight lens with amazing performance - you can also mate it to one of the TC teleconverters to good more reach. The lens is on the expensive side but compensated by excellent performance and weight as well. For an excellent review of this lens do visit

  As you can see I personally prefer the primes with a tele converter to the long zooms - this is also because I usually have a lens like 300 F4 Nikon in my bag when shooting wildlife! On the flip side if you have one body only you need to change lenses and dong this you may often miss the shot!

Essentially you need to weight up what your needs are at a  price point which you can afford  and then make the correct decision! Good luck!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Helicopter Evacuation in Nepal | New Insurance Rules

Helicopter evacuation at Tengboche, Khumbu, Nepal
As many of you would be aware a huge scam was detected last year in the helicopter evacuations in Nepal involving insurance companies, helicopter companies, trekking agencies and hospitals.

Some of the reports in the international press are below:

After this scam was widely reported in the press, the Insurance companies have taken some steps to make it more difficult and costly to get an helicopter evacuation for medical reasons.

World Nomads one of the most highly respected and efficient companies also made some changes in their policies for the 2019 season which will affect many trekkers in Nepal.

These are the some of the  most important changes:

World Nomads can charge you upto a maximum of $725 for emergency helicopter evacuation in Nepal. This clause was not there before because in all the World Nomad genuine  medical evacuations I have witnessed the amount paid by the client was $100 per claim only - the wording on the site is below:

* Note - Nepal Air Ambulance /Helicopter Services: an excess of a maximum of €625 ($725)  applies to Medical transport & repatriation home (Section 1.2) in the event medical emergency evacuation by air ambulance or helicopter services are required in Nepal. 

  Further, it now seems,  and this is to be verified by World Nomads ,  that the Standard and Explorer policy types cover backpacking upto  4500 metres only. In case of backpacking upto 6000 metres (which would cover Everest Base Camp, Gokyo, Manaslu Circuit, Annapurna circuit and other high altitude treks in Nepal) an upgrade is required to the policy. For most of the Nepal treks this upgrade would be needed.

So my suggestion is that irrespective of which insurance company you choose for a trek in the high Himalaya do read the fine print and exceptions even more so now after these helicopter scams. You need to know what exactly is covered and what you have to pay for over and above the policy premium so that there are no nasty surprises when invoking the policy.

For my earlier post on helicopter charters in Nepal do visit

South Col Expeditions runs multiple treks in Nepal every year - for more details do visit


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