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SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 324
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Sat Nov 26, 2016 3:11 am

Background

The Himalayas is known for its soaring peaks rising almost to a typical airplane cruising altitude and a flight in and out of the region will be an interesting experience whereby one is literally flying through the mountains, sandwiched between soaring peaks like a bird.

This route is also a rare thin route with only a single flight from Delhi each day. For information, little-known Kullu airport (from which the flight in this report departed from) is located in the Kullu valley, a couple of hours before the major tourist town of Manali in northern Himachal Pradesh just before the high passes to the tibetan arid lands of Ladakh.

So it happened that this recent September, which was also my birthday , I and a couple of friends put up a camping trip into the Great Himalayan National Park – a little known corner of paradise that even most Indian tourists hardly ever heard of. It was an amazing trip, and also a spiritual awakening for me after a hiatus of 13 years from the mountains. I went up by jeep which is how most people travel, and I flew back because I thought it would be an interesting experience although on a per kilometre basis, I think I paid the most expensive economy fare in the country (some USD250 for a 500km one-way hop).

The Flight

Number: AI 9806 (9I 806)
Seat: 1A
Class: Economy
Load: 25/70 (35%)

My journey started in the valleys just before sunrise to catch my 815am flight.

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It was a gorgeous morning whereby we drove alongside a river. It was mixed emotion for me as in the preceding few days, I thought I was in paradise, and now reality started creeping back.

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We also passed through a gorge.

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And then a tunnel.

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After the tunnel, we entered a relatively broad Kullu valley where the airport is located.

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Signpost to the airport

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There is only a single flight a day, so most of the time the airport is gated closed.

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A quiet drop off porch. I think I was just the 3rd or 4th passenger to arrive. This was 1.5 hours before scheduled departure.

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There is no need for flight information board here as there is only a single flight per day. And check-in is at this single check-in counter. How simple and straight forward.

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There is practically nothing here. And I was hungry!

There is a VIP lounge to which nobody seems to have any access to since the ATR flight has no business class. I am a Star Gold but in any case, the check-in counter was not open yet.


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Its furnishing is rather basic. I guess this must be only for politicians and celebrities, and I think mainly for the former. But then again, these people will only come at the last minute (or late!)

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A shop? How on earth do they survive with a single flight per day and just 20-30 pax each time? Anyway, I didn’t recall the shop actually opened that day.

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After a while, there was a small ‘commotion’. So that was Salman Khan, a Bollywood celebrity. I am not a fan so I didn’t bother to come closer. But it was a break from the quietness of the airport.

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Check in counter opened an hour prior to the flight and after obtaining my boarding pass, I got into the waiting hall which definitely has more interesting views.

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Salman Khan’s plane (No, he didn’t fly commercial as initially I thought he would be on our flight…) and a military helicopter in the background.

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The incoming AI flight was delayed. It’s quite common in these parts due to foggy mornings. I was tracking it and notice how it made loops to land into the linear valley.

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As the ATR landed, Salman’s plane headed out to take-off. What a rather grand view with the mountain backdrop.

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After Salman’s plane, it was the helicopter’s turn to take off.

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After some 20-30 minutes, it was our turn to board. And in such a small airport, one just walks to the plane. And what a glorious view and experience it was.

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It was a light load with just 25 passengers (as informed by the friendly FA whom I chatted).

And seats were surprisingly new. I was expecting an old dilapidated aircraft similar to the one I took from Pondy to Bangalore last year.

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I was seated on my emex row 1 and enjoyed my last few moments being in the Himalayas.

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We made our way towards the runway an hour behind schedule.

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This looks like their control “tower”

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We made a 180 degree turn at the end of the runway.

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And shortly after, we were racing down the runway in between mountains.

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Video of take off here. I was trying to play with different angles and ooops, it feels more like the plane is doing sommersault – or crashes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5Xkk2uJNVE

For the first 20-25 minutes or so, we were more or less level with the mountains.

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Video is clearly showing how we are flying through the mountains

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6slqe_bTSk

And then the flight took a 360 degree loop to altitude to exit the valley and then we were at cruising altitude towards Delhi. And this was my last view of the Great Himalayas (for now! Because I will for sure be back soon).

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SQueeze
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Posts: 324
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Sat Nov 26, 2016 3:14 am

The Great Mountains

Of course this trip, for me, is mainly about my trekking/camping ventures into the Himalayas and not so much of the flight, and I am happy to share these pics here as well. It’s a little known part of the range, and throughout the 4-5 days we were there, we didn’t meet any other trekkers – only shepherds, lots of cattle, goats, sheep, eagles, and of course the billion stars in the skies. I shall let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.

The first day was spent at lower altitude in the valleys which was pretty much populated along the rivers. But despite so, I thought this was paradise (at least for me!).

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It was steep switchbacks up the slope of the mountain to reach the end of the road in a village called Pekhri.

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From there, it was a day’s walk to our first stop in a meadow called Rangthar.

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Which was an amazing spot and I can’t get enough of this grand view outside my tent every morning despite the cold.

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But the final destination was another meadow another day’s walk which was even more isolated with an even better view.

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I look at these peaks every moment in awe!

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But wait till night falls and we see the billions of stars in the skies (credit: yashank chopra).

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And every morning when we feel so small amidst all the grandness of nature. (credit: yashank chopra).

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Yoga was our staple. And nothing is more perfect than practising here.

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We really had lots of fun 

And made lots of friends including with these adorable creatures

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One of the days, i also made a trip to the high pass about 4000 m. Lots of huff and puff in the thin air.

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and even in not so good weather, it was an incredible experience to watch the clouds roll below

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I am going to miss the Great Mountains soon!
 
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hirofumi
Posts: 287
Joined: Tue May 03, 2011 4:21 am

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Sat Nov 26, 2016 6:17 pm

Kullu Valley is my favourite destination in the Himalayas! So many natural wonders and interesting local culture. Glad you enjoyed it. You were luckily that the flight actually wasn't cancelled at least. The airport due to its geographical location deep in the valley can really affect the flight path even for a slight bad weather hence cancellation is pretty frequent. I agree, this sector is always exorbitant in price despite of such short distance. When you have longer holidays do try to hit Kinnaur and Spiti - Spiti is behind the Great Himalayan National Park but with complete Tibetan culture. It's like Ladakh but much more laid back and less tourists visited due to its remoteness. While Sangla Valley in Kinnaur is covered with flowers and greens and you'll feel like the true Shangri-La!
 
Luftymatt
Posts: 540
Joined: Sun Jan 25, 2009 7:27 pm

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Sun Nov 27, 2016 12:28 am

Thanks for the trip report, it was a fascinating read. Great to find out more about Air India's regional ops, and what an interesting airport to fly out of! Really nice photography and well written. I like the look of AI's new ATR 72-600's!
chase the sun
 
SonOfABeech
Posts: 207
Joined: Tue Jun 21, 2016 9:51 pm

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Mon Nov 28, 2016 12:06 pm

Beautiful pics, thanks! If only there was a bit less fog in the airport...
 
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CollegeAviator
Posts: 553
Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2016 2:55 am

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Mon Nov 28, 2016 10:58 pm

Lovely report, thank you for sharing!

I quite like the looks inside the ATR 72s that AI have recently inducted. I also love the pictures from the flight! The Himalaya bound flights always have something special: DEL-KTM-DEL is another example. Nice bonus pictures at the end, too. :)
 
SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 324
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Sun Dec 04, 2016 5:02 pm

Thank you all for reading and I appreciate the compliments.

SonOfABeech wrote:
Beautiful pics, thanks! If only there was a bit less fog in the airport...


That's not fog btw.... It was clear in mid morning onwards.
It's Air India's not-so-clean windows ... Haha
 
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WROORD
Posts: 747
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 5:36 pm

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Mon Dec 05, 2016 8:08 pm

Amazing trip and beautiful pictures. It looks like you had a wonderful trip. I was surprised how nice the AI ATR looked. Was the service ok?
 
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allrite
Posts: 2610
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:28 pm

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Tue Dec 06, 2016 12:55 am

Awesome photos. Was the airport built for more traffic in the past? Or are there a reasonable number of private or charter flights?
I like artificial banana essence!
 
sumantra
Posts: 30
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:12 am

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Wed Dec 21, 2016 3:36 am

Thanks for a lovely trip report, on a not-so-frequented route, and some amazing pictures, as well! I last did this route (in the other direction: well, not quite, as I did IXC-KUU) in 1981, on an Indian Airlines HS-748. You may like to post a link to your trip reports on an Indian Aviation forum as well, http://www.airliners-india.net This is quite an active site focussing on Indian aviation. I have loved your writing style, and your photography in your past posts as well...thanks for sharing this with us!
Cheers, Sumantra.
 
ojas
Posts: 1191
Joined: Mon Mar 10, 2008 10:23 am

Re: Soar like a bird: a Himalayan flight with AI's ATR

Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:02 am

Brilliant absolutely stunning pictures!

Love to see the small odd airports being reviewed.

Thanks for sharing your report.
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