Thursday, August 17, 2006
Nepal Visit (Part 1): Airborne
We were to leave for Nepal on the morning of August 12. This was to be the first visit to that country for my mother, brother and I, while my father had been there earlier. My father's employers had organised this trip for their employees and their families. This trip was also to be the first chance to experience air travel for the three of us, even as my father frequently travels by air on business. Somehow, the opportunity had never arisen before this.
The departure time of the flight was at 10 a.m., but we had to report at the airport much earlier. The lengthy security drill and completion of immigration formalities take a lot of time for all air travellers nowadays, I suppose. In fact, we were to report two and a half hours before departure time for a flight of a duration of an hour and a half. In any case, we reached the airport at around 7:00 a.m.
Some of my father's colleagues arrived soon thereafter and I was glad that they had brought along some food for breakfast. Some of them also took over the responsibility of getting the luggage, which had already been passed through an x-ray machine, checked in at the airline counter from where we were also issued boarding passes.
Later, we had to fill in a form that was to be submitted at the immigration counter and then proceeded through a metal detector, after which we were frisked physically by the security staff. My mobile phone and belt were also passed through an x-ray machine. Finally, we had completed all formalities and proceeded to the departure lounge to wait for the bus that was to take us to the aircraft.
The aeroplane that was to take us from New Delhi to Kathmandu was a Fokker 100. It is a twin-engined jet that seats about a 100 people and appeared rather small as compared to some of the Boeing and Airbus jumbos parked around the airport at that time.
We were greeted by an airline staffer, who tore off and kept one half of our boarding passes, at the bottom of the mobile staircase (to be attached to a truck and towed away later) leading to the aircraft's door, where an air hostess stood with folded hands to greet all passengers. It might be politically incorrect to draw an analogy here, but she appeared to be doing the same thing as a doorman at a popular restaurant that I often go to. Perhaps being an air hostess is not such a glamorous job after all!
Inside the aircraft, I felt claustrophobic for a while in my seat that was towards the rear, but was feeling much better within a few minutes as the crew demonstrated safety techniques and the aircraft finally started rolling. The take off was quite smooth and the passengers' seat belts came off soon thereafter. The moment the plane left the ground felt like magic and I started clapping spontaneously as soon as we were airborne, much to the amusement of the passengers in the seats around mine!
I felt like a little boy as I sat glued to the window, as the plane continued to climb before levelling off at 31,000 feet (according to the crew). The view outside soon changed from normal surroundings to miniature houses and roads and on to a mosaic of green and brown that was soon covered with little clouds, as the aircraft gained altitude. It was thrilling to be flying so much higher than the clouds! I could also see every meander in the rivers that we flew over. So engrossed was I that I hardly noticed the air hostesses serve refreshments to other passengers and neither was I bothered by the constant roar of one of the engines, which was right outside my window.
I clicked several photographs of the view outside, one of which I have posted here. In fact, I was still clicking away merrily when the pilot lowered the flaps on the wings and the plane began its descent towards the Tribhuvan International air port at Kathmandu.
The landing was just as smooth as the take off. I suppose we had a really experienced pilot at the controls that day.
The return flight on the evening of August 15 was also special in its own way. I could hardly see anything outside the window soon after the aircraft took off, on account of the cloud cover and the resultant darkness. However, the sight of the lights of the city of Delhi, when the aircraft was about to land, more than made up for it.