Sunday 26th August saw us flying from Muscat (Oman) to Agra (India).
This was a day when we could have had a few things get ‘complicated’, but in the end the appropriate deities were smiling upon us; each time that we needed a little good fortune, we seemed to find it.
We had trouble getting away from Muscat initially. I have found, in the process, a whole new use for the cockpit of a PC-12NG: As a self-service sauna!
Thats what happens when you are in the middle east, where it happens to be quite hot, strapped into a cockpit with the doors closed and the engine not yet running, and you’re told by the tower controller that your flight plan hasn’t turned up.
Not only could we not yet leave, we couldn’t even start the engine (which would have allowed the engine driven climate control system to fire up).
Ultimately we got out of the aircraft again, got our handler to resubmit the flight plan, waited, had him make phone calls, then had his supervisor make phone calls and ‘bing!’, only 40 minutes later, the flight plan magically made its way between two buildings at the airport at last and we could start the engine and get the cool air moving in the cabin 🙂
We departed into deep haze that persisted up to about 15,000 feet, above which we wound up flying in a very clear blue sky, over a seemingly endless sea of white.
Lunch consisted mostly of Swiss-bought figs (probably grown in Turkey!), while flying over Pakistan at 27,000 feet. There are some air miles on those figs.
Today was the first day we started heading into truly tropical weather systems, and as we moved into the latter half of our 5.5 hour flight, the thunder storm cells started punching their way up through the white base layer and forming amazing shapes pushing up into the air well above our height.
As we travelled through Pakistan and then into India, a very large set of thunder storm clouds set up over the Himalayas. We couldn’t see the mountains – but we had this huge visual indicator of where they were!
Fortunately our path took us through a less stormy part of the sky, though we still wound up having to divert about 25 miles right of our planned track to get around some of the local storm cells, before commencing descent into clouds and haze toward Agra.
We were concerned that if one of the thunder storm cells set up near Agra (and there were plenty around) that we might have to divert to another landing site. Even those were looking challenging, with one of our nominated alternates having worse weather than Agra, and the other being 90 minutes away.
Miraculously, however, the weather behaved itself at just the right time, with our weather radar and stormscope both showing that the more ominous of the storm cells didn’t happen to include any on our direct path to Agra at the time.
On descent, I flew down through several cloud layers and we ultimately popped out under the bottom of the lowest layer at around 2200 feet, in time to see the city of Agra and the Agra airfield in front of us.
After a visual approach and landing into Agra, it was time to start getting used to being in India.
India looks different. Thats an understatement. There is no mistaking where you are – and that this is not Adelaide 🙂
The Agra airfield is a military one, and the whole area is in relative disrepair – lots of old military structures are quietly crumbling amongst large areas of long grass in and around the runaway areas.
The process of getting the aircraft refuelled and getting ourselves cleared into India was an impressive exercise in people power. I think I counted 8 men initially appearing around the plane (most taking photographs of it with their mobile phones or leaning on the baggage cart), three more with the refuelling truck, 3 or 4 military staff with appropriate weaponry, an immigration person, the head of customs in the area who had come out specially (with his son) to look at the plane and its pilots, and a few other people whose purposes were less clear.
What was clear is that they were all there only for us – the entire civil terminal at Agra was otherwise empty and had been opened up – with all these people turning up – just for our arrival.
Our handler indicated that previous arrivals in this manner had included at least two former Australian Prime Ministers 🙂
The toilets in the civil terminal (this is a military airfield but it has a separate civil terminal) had two interesting features…
One was the presence of the choice to use an Indian style of cubicle (squatting position) as an alternative to the western type, and the other was that the hand drying machine played cheesy music while it was running. I’m not sure if that music was intended to encourage the user to stay longer and be thorough, or to drive them to run away from the noise!
About 5 minutes after we walked into the terminal, the next thunder storm cell moved over the airport and would have closed it to our arrival for ‘a while’ if it had been there when we were on descent.
Having made it through that process, it was time to go to the hotel. The Oberoi hotel sent a car and driver who picked us up at the airfield.
I received my first taste of Indian driving, which is ‘an experience’ 🙂
Our driver said, accurately, that you need three things to drive in India:
- Good horn
- Good brakes
- Good luck!
In some countries we drive on the left, in some on the right. In India, they drive on both sides, with a mild tendency toward the left if there aren’t enough people, bikes, tuktuks, cows, horses, and monkeys to push you over into the right hand lane to dice with the oncoming traffic.
I loved it (because I wasn’t the one doing the driving!).
We checked into the Agra Oberoi hotel – which is a quite serene and lovely place. It has gardens overlooking the Taj that visible from every guest room, and the building is a mansion in its own right.
Dinner was (of course!) an Indian meal at the Indian restaurant in the hotel. That was a truly lovely experience, and the food was wonderful. We’re in Northern India, and so I wasn’t surprised that the food was comparable to my absolute favourite North Indian restuarant in Adelaide, Jasmin. This also confirmed something I’d long believed – which is how authentic and awesome Jasmin really is 🙂
The restaurant here had one thing Jasmin didn’t, that being live music played on a swarmandal (which was wonderful, with the player finishing off a lovely evening of music by testing my sense of humour … he played a stylised rendition of ‘doe a deer’ 🙂 )
My next post will be about our visit to the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in Agra. That promises to be a rather wonderful experience – and it is very much why we came here (in particular) for our stay in India.