After reading SOOO many Trip reports here, I thought I will take a shot at writing one myself. This one is from a trip made to the Island Resort of Lakshadweep some time back.
Dec-20, 2000: Planning the Trip.
My friend and her friends were to come down to Pune for their holidays. We had originally made a brilliant plan of motoring down the Western Ghats on our mobikes to a little known beach resort in Southern Maharashtra called Dapoli. But there was to be a change of plan…
But after listening to a friend wax eloquently about Lakshadweep, I was suddenly overcome by the desire to visit that place. So I called up a few travel agents who quoted atrocious prices for a 3-4 night stay. So I took the next best option and called up a Local Adventure Group who gave me the numbers of a few locals in the Island who provide acco. and food and show you around the place in return for a small fee. I set up a deal with one such guy called Hussain.
The next day I went down to the local Indian Airlines office to book my trip. My routing would be PNQ-BOM-COK from where I would have to take another flight to the Island Resort’s Airport at Agatti (AGX). I also planned to complete some work at Cochin. Hussain would arrange for our stay at a cottage on Agatti Island itself before leaving for Kadmat Island the next day. Our ancestral home is quite near Cochin, so I planned to stay there while I was in COK. My friends would be coming to AGX via Goa. So everything was set for the trip!
PNQ-BOM; Boeing 737-700; Jet Airways 9W103
My flight to BOM was scheduled for 07:40 so I had to reach the airport atleast at 07:40. Woke up at 5:30 and rushed through the morning rituals and my shower. I was going to be late! My father put on his “this boy of mine will never learn” expression but then kindly agreed to drop me to the airport. On the 20 mile ride to the airport, I asked my father about the new COK airport. On my previous Kerala trip we had landed at the old Naval Air Stn at Cochin. My father mentioned that it was within *walking distance* of our ancestral home in Ankamali. Well!
We pulled into the civil Terminal at Lohegaon AFB at around 7:00, and knowing IC, I was sure that the check-in agents must have closed the counters. Visitors weren’t allowed inside the terminal building itself, so my father waved goodbye from the car itself and was gone by the time I turned around! Entering the reception area, I saw a note scribbled with chalk on the Black notice board: IC664 cancelled because of Radar Inserviceability at Pune Airport.
Not a nice way to start the Holiday I thought! Walking over to the Check-In desk, I asked the stern looking check-in agent. He gave me the option of taking the Afternoon flight to BLR and then the evening flight from BLR-COK, which meant I would reach COK only by 2000 hrs, and i would also have to pass time until 14:00 hrs at Punes small excuse of an airport. Alternately, he gave me the option of travelling to BOM on a Jet Airways flight departing at 10:00. I decided to take that option since I wanted to check out the ATR’s that Jet was operating on this route. But a 10:00 departure meant that I would miss my originally scheduled connection on IC161, so he put me on another IC flight departing BOM at 1330. I noticed that he booked me on the Jet Airways flight (a rival airline) through his own computer system. So airlines can do such things! Hmmm. He told me though that I would have to check in separately.
All southbound passenger’s who had opted to take the connection to BLR were escorted to the badly named *VIP rooms*, while others made themselves comfortable on the plastic chairs. Whoever designed the Civil Terminal at Pune Airport, obviously didn’t expect more than a Couple of Dorniers to operate from here, because the Terminal was fully occupied. So I decided to browse through the bookstall that had just opened. When I went to the coffee shop, the man at the counter looked at my ticket jacket and refused money. “Complementary”, he told me pointing to the IC check in counter. Whatever!
Around 08:30, when I should have been in BOM, the IC ground staff came around distributing complementary Cheese Sandwiches and apologized for the cancellation of the flight. But they also took the ugly step of marking my ticket after giving me the packet. Crass!
The sandwiches were ice-cold, but I was hungry so I wolfed it down. The Jet Airways counter had opened, and I checked in quickly. The attractive bombshell seated at this counter told me that the flight was going to be delayed because of the Weather and wasn’t expected till atleast 11:30. Which meant I *could* miss my 13:30 connection as well. So this was going to be a very bad day!
The Visitors gallery facing the apron was being opened, so I thought I’d walk up and watch some aircraft while I had some time to pass. Surprisingly there was traffic even at this early hour. A couple of King Airs were parked at the far side along with a privately owned Dakota DC3. A Beech 1900D belonging to a regional airline arrived from AMD and departed for HYD in under 20 minutes! Boy that was some turnaround! In addition a dozen Mig-29’s and Ishkara fighters of the IAF took off in quick succession mebbe for some early morning trg session. Also caught a couple of An-32’s and a HS748 VIP transport of the IAF. This was busy for what is considered a *minor* airport.
Suddenly at around 09:35 I saw a Jet Airways 737-700 making its usual high-speed approach to the apron. For a moment I wasn’t sure it was my flight. I had thought the flight to BOM would be an ATR. But all the other 9W flights were in the afternoon. Rushing downstairs, I found the sole security check gate crammed with pax bound for BOM. So the flight WAS on time. And it WASN’T an ATR!
By 10:05 I was onboard the brand new 737-700 (VT-JNE/JNF). The cabin was sparkling clean. The 4 cabin staff in Y-Class were all in their early twenties and looked smart in their uniforms. The flight was totally packed, not surprising since many of us who had booked on the early morning IC flight (an A320) had been put on this flight.
The aircraft left the gate at around 10:20, with the Cabin-staff making hurried safety announcements. We made a high-speed taxi down the entire length of the runway, turned around and made a leisurely take-off run back the way we came. The –700 was certainly no match for the –200 as far as TO performance is concerned!
Since this 120-mile sector takes barely 15-20 minutes, only beverage service was offered. The aircraft was still climbing when the cabin attendants came around offering Coffee/Tea or *Fresh* Lime. The aircraft leveled out at barely 10000 feet or so, and the entire Western Ghats could be seen from the Window. The brand new 8-lane Expressway, which is expected to cut travel time between Pune and Bombay to under 2 hours could be seen snaking through the Ghats.
Before I knew it, we were descending through the clouds right into BOM. We passed over the slums (was it the Ghatkopar slums?) and landed on RWY27. Again there was this mad rush from the runway to the Terminal 1B. Were the pilots practicing their Formula 1 skills or something?
I deplaned and boarded the bus which took us to the terminal. On the bus ride, I made friends with this cool guy called Rahul who worked for Motorola and was headed for NAG on the late evening Alliance Air flight. Unknown to me at the time, He was to be my companion for the rest of the day.
Both CD and IC flights depart from Terminal 1A, so we put our bags on the cart and rolled it onto the main road for 200-300 meters to 1A. I checked in my bags immediately and was told of a possible delay in the flight. By now I had quite accepted my fate and collected my carry-on and walked back to where Rahul was sitting.
Exploring BOM Terminal 1A:
We sat chatting at the waiting area inside the swanky waiting area at 1A till around 12:30, when a Technical Delay was announced. My flight scheduled for 13:30 would now depart at 15:00. Since we had a lot of time to pass, we decided to explore the new Terminal which had not yet been completed. Despite all the hype about the extra security, we weren’t stopped as we exited the Terminal through the Departures gate. We actually climbed on top of the flyover-wall to watch an arriving IC A300 inch towards the jetbridge, right under the noses of the cops watching nearby!
We made our way to a small restaurant that is located right under the flyover leading to the Departure Area of 1A and had some lunch. Returning to the Terminal I found that my flight had been further delayed to 18:00. Just great! It was better if I had taken the BLR routing!
BOM-COK; Airbus A320; Indian Airlines, IC167(?), Flying Time: 1hr 30 minutes
Around 17:30 I bid goodbye to Rahul and made my way to the security check, and was shocked at the level of security. Apart from the Genital fondling routine which is quite the norm at BOM, there was an X-Ray device through which we had to pass, as well as the Metal Detector! And if this wasn’t enough, Cops were subjecting some pax to manual searches at the entrance of the Jet-Bridge leading to our aircraft. The Aircraft for this flight was a rather tired looking Airbus A320.
I had asked for my favorite seat in the last row of the aircraft. I saw some bald guy hunched over my seat trying to repair the reclining mechanism. One of the FA’s, who sounded like she had just sniffed some Helium or something, requested me to shift to the middle seat around 6 rows ahead. But I wanted a window/aisle seat, so I put on the best sulk I could muster in the given circumstances and insisted on a window or an aisle seat. As it turns out the window seat on the other side (F) was empty, so I plonked myself down as another FA handed out the sweets and the cotton balls, an aviation tradition that is unique to India I hear. A family of 3, returning to Kerala from the Middle East, was seated next to me. The young boy next to me was a wannabe aviation freak, and his enthusiastic father was telling him about how the aircraft we were in was the *Most Advanced Boeing 737*! Hmmm.
The safety demo was conducted rather leisurely, and the aircraft started taxiing towards RWY27 at ~18:45. There was plenty of traffic around us, domestic and intl. 2 FedEx aircraft (A300’s?), a Cathay Pacific (A330?) and almost a dozen Jet Airways 737’s took off in quick succession. I saw an unmarked white 747 Freighter land and proceed to the AI terminal. Wonder which aircraft this was?
We turned onto RWY27 and then stopped. From the window on the right side, I could see an Airport Jeep following us, gesturing frantically to the flight crew. They must have spoken on the radio or something, because the pilot then decided to return to the apron. The FA’s were clearly as exasperated at the delay as the passengers, but nobody informed us as to why we were returning. We parked at a stand away from the Terminal 1A, and a full 5 minutes later we were told that due to a technical problem the flight would be further delayed. There seemed to be a genuine problem, because from the window I could see a dozen personnel work in and around the area of the rear cargo door.
While still on the ground, The FA’s came around with Chicken & Veg. sandwiches along with Coffee/Tea. The Veg Sandwich I took was all wet and soggy but the Chicken Sandwich the brat next to me was hogging, looked good. Half an hour later, we pushed off again and made a rather slow take off from RWY27. Lights had been dimmed for the take-off and the atmosphere in the cabin was quite eerie. The angle at which we climbed was rather steep as we passed Mumbai’s crowded Parle and Andheri suburbs on my right. We made a sharp left turn and were soon passing through the clouds.
This is one the reason I dislike flying at night. The scenery outside was blanked out because of the clouds, and since there was no IFE I could only stare at the ceiling. Soon the lights came on again and the FA’s began the meal service. Despite being over 1:45 hrs flight, This was not a full meal service flight, and so we were to be served what is called a Dinner-Snack. The Veg option had Puffs and what looked like Paneer pakoras. I chose the Non-Veg option which had roasted Chicken Legs done the Punjabi way. IT tasted good enough, but there wasn’t a single gram of
Oil in the food and it looked quite dry. Now I am not really all THAT much health conscious. Agreed that it would probably quadruple the Calorie count, but Indian Food isn’t Indian food unless it is dipped in pure homemade ghee! The FA saw me examining the leg and came back with some butter packed in 2 layers of aluminum foil and plastic. I was supposed to rub the slab of butter on the leg? How absolutely brilliant! >L.
After the plates were cleared, the FA’s did’nt seem to have anything left to do, so after some time they were chit-chatting in the rear galley. 2 rather attractive FA’s seemed to have taken a liking for the brat next to me (or mebbe it was just good PR), because they were soon fawning all over him. IC should choose FA’s with better eyesight I think. How could they ignore someone much more cute-er and more their age seated RIGHT NEXT to that &*&!@* Brat! I hate IC!
We began our descent quite early and the FA’s began distributing some kind of take-away packet. It was marked with the airline logo and *Kerala Tourism* and had a few sweet meats of different kinds and around 5-6 pieces of salted Cashew nuts. Pathetic and Hardly any way to make a statement, if that’s what they were trying to do!
We Landed in Pitch Darkness at COK. It was pretty smooth and I don’t recollect thrust-reversers being used.
The Terminal looked quite swanky from the inside and was very clean. As I collected my baggage and moved to the Visitors area, an attractive girl was handing out Roses welcoming visitors to India’s first privately built airport. Nice touch.
My Cousin had come to receive me and had bought his car, a trusty old Ambassador of 70’s vintage. I reached home from the airport in under 5 minutes, but it was certainly not *walking distance* as my father had said!
My ticket to Agatti had now been confirmed, but my aunt was horrified that I planned to leave the very next day (24-th Dec). A *good Christian boy* should be in Church on Xmas eve according to her. Well who told her that I was a *good Christian Boy*? But who is going to argue? So I had to push my ticket to the 28th.
The next 3 days were spent visiting relatives and attending some family functions. I also had to confirm with Hussain about my exact schedule in the Lakshadweep Islands.
COK-AGX; Dornier 228-212; Indian Airlines, IC-502(?), Flying Time: 1hr 25 minutes
I reached the airport at 08:00 am to find the counter virtually deserted. Another delay I thought? But the counter staff told me the flight was to leave on time. This flight usually operates on time he added, since the aircraft is based in COK itself. Gr8! IC actually bases a 737 at COK only for tourist flights? At that time I assumed that IC operated A320’s and A300’s on mainline routes and the 737’s for offline routes. I was in for a shock.
There were 14 or so pax booked for the flight. And we were led out on the tarmac, from where a bus took us to our aircraft, which I found to my utter horror was a Dornier 228-212.
A word about the Dornier 228 here. This 18-seater was India’s second attempt at building a passenger airliner, and was as disastrous as the first attempt, the equally frightening 48-seat Hindustan 748’s. Thankfully, most of the HS748’s and 228’s are being dumped by airlines and so mostly fly as military transports, where their short field capabilities are particularly useful.
The aircraft I was to be on clearly looked dated, but it had just been washed so it looked sparkling clean. Onboard, the seating seemed quite cramped, but u got used to it after a while. And every passenger had a window seat! The last 2 rows of seats had been removed, which the flight crew said was for a stretcher. Stretcher?
The Dornier doesn’t inspire the same confidence as a large aircraft, and I was distinctly uncomfortable. The discomfort was to get worse once the engines were started. The whole aircraft started shaking and rattling, and the cabin was filled with the sound of the 2 monstrous engines starting up. Imagine being stuck in a garage with 2 motorcycle engines with failed silencers running full throttle? Well… u get the idea!
Looking out of the window, I saw sparks and black smoke coming out of the rear of the Engine, which only served to make me even more worried. We took off from RWY27 at around 0915. The Dornier’s take-off really impressed me. It wasn’t particularly powerful, quite slow actually, but we must have been off the ground in under 2000 feet of runway! And COK has over 12000 ft of asphalt! The pilot put the aircraft into a gentle climb at first while we picked up some speed, and then increased the climb angle gradually. COK airport looked gr8 from 1500 feet!
We leveled out quite low, must be around 8000 feet or so. It was unnerving to fly this close with the Arabian Sea right beneath us. Call me queasy, but there are dangerous sharks here you know!
As we approached Lakshadweep, the pilot came on the PA system to point out the islands that make up the archipelago. The place sure looked superb, even more so from the air! One of the European tourists started walking up and down the aisle with his Camcorder to get the best shot from the air, but a sharp rebuke from the First Officer and he was back in his seat, quite red-faced!
Soon we were making the circuit pattern at Agatti airport and with a sharp Descending Turn we were on Final approach to AGX. There didn’t seem to be anything on the entire island except the runway and the terminal building. But I had been told that there was a 5-star resort on the island itself. That last turn to finals was particularly scary as I was found myself staring right into the water from barely 800 feet or so! After a series of Click. Clang Pfft And Bangs, I heard a whooshing sound, which probably meant that the Wheels were down. Or atleast I hoped it was! The landing was pretty hard and full brakes were applied. Again I don’t think Thrust Reversers were used.
On the tarmac, there were a couple of Pawan Hans Helicopters and some private Twin-engine piston aircraft. Our aircraft was to operate a return flight from AGX to Goa before returning to COK in the evening, and my friends were expected to arrive from GOI on the flight.
In the terminal, I had to locate Hussain. I walked out to find a man holding a paper, which had the word “ROYEE” (which is how most Malayalees pronounce my name) written in large lettering. Hussain!
I still had a 4-hour wait before my friends came down, but Hussain wasn’t unduly worried. He took me to his relative’s place on the island itself and I was treated to a fantastic homely meal. I guess this is one advantage of hooking up a deal with a local, something that an expensive package deal can never give!
A word about Lakshadweep here: Only about a dozen or so islands in the archipelago are actually inhabited. Most of the population consists of Malayalee Muslims and most of them earn a living thru fishing. Foreigners are not allowed on the most of the islands except Bangaram and Agatti, which are among the least happening islands. Kadmat Island was my personal favorite. Hussain wasn’t really a *local* local since he had grown up in Kerala but he had relatives here.
The gang arrived from GOI quite late at around 1700. Since it was late we decided to take the boat ride to Kadmat Island the next day.