Flight: Jet Airways 9W 1610
Date: 2 July 2009
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Seat: 15F (Economy, Exit Row)
Scheduled Departure: 8:25 a.m.
Actual Departure: ~11:30 a.m.
Leh Airport, located over 3200 meters above sea level, is serviced by Jet, Kingfisher, and Indian Airlines. Regularly scheduled flights come and go in the mornings, but they're frequently canceled due to the weather. Everyone involved in Leh's tourist industry urges passengers to build a day or two of flexibility into their schedules; two of my traveling buddies had their Kingfisher flight bumped by a day the week before. But what a beautiful town to spend an extra day in...
The morning of my flight, I took Rs 100 taxi from my hotel to the airport at about six in the morning. Already, it was packed with tourists; the four separate security checks before boarding didn't exactly make things go more smoothly.
Jet was scheduled to operate two flights from Leh to Delhi that morning, and I was supposed to be on the second one. But owing to windy and partly cloudy conditions in Leh, neither plane had left Delhi by the time of my scheduled departure. So two planeloads of Jet passengers, along with a planeload of Kingfisher passengers, were squashed into a holding area between the third and fourth security checks. Leh's airport isn't exactly full of amenities, but Kingfisher passengers received a snack box during the wait.
Fortunately, the weather cleared up soon enough, and the planes started making their way to Leh. Kingfisher passengers boarded their respective plane first, followed by the passengers for the second Jet flight (mine). I'm not sure why they boarded the passengers from the second Jet flight before those from the first. But, off we went through the fourth and final security check, onto a bus, and up the stairs onto the plane at about 11 in the morning, only two and half hours after our scheduled departure.
After watching the Kingfisher flight jet off into the skies, we taxied onto the runway, turned around ...
... and lifted off into the mountains at about 11:30.
And what a fantastic view of the Himalayas!
It's too bad my camera focused on the dirt in the window, rather than the snow-capped peaks, in this last photo.
I had heard that, in years past, security on these flights had been particularly strict, with airlines going so far as to require the checking-in of all camera batteries. After all, Kashmir and Ladakh are right up against sensitive and disputed borders with Pakistan and China. But everything seemed pretty relaxed while I was there.
As far as the flight itself, I can't complain. Smooth skies, friendly and professional flight crew, the standard bottle of citrus lime drink, towel service shortly after takeoff, and a meal. Our choices were veg and non-veg; I went with the non-veg option, which was a Western-style breakfast with eggs, tomatoes, sausages, and so on. I guess I was still getting over altitude sickness -- I had driven up to, and slept at, 4500 m two nights before, which was probably a little dangerous -- but the food pretty much repulsed me. Quite a change from the far more edible veg meal on my Indian Airlines flight from Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu (IC 821) the month before.
We arrived in Delhi soon enough, overshooting it a bit to come back in from the south, with landmarks such as the Bahai Lotus Temple visible outside my window on descent. Of course, Delhi is a huge airport, so after what seemed like ages of taxiing, we were bussed back to Jet's domestic arrivals terminal. And, wow! Quite an enormous step up from Indian Airlines' domestic terminal, which felt more like a bus station than an airport.
Back in the searing heat of Indian summers, I took a pre-paid taxi to the seedy tourist area of Paharganj to recuperate for my next month of exploring the country...