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)
Load: 25/70 (35%)
My journey started in the valleys just before sunrise to catch my 815am flight.
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.
We also passed through a gorge.
And then a tunnel.
After the tunnel, we entered a relatively broad Kullu valley where the airport is located.
Signpost to the airport
There is only a single flight a day, so most of the time the airport is gated closed.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the ATR landed, Salman’s plane headed out to take-off. What a rather grand view with the mountain backdrop.
After Salman’s plane, it was the helicopter’s turn to take off.
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.
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.
I was seated on my emex row 1 and enjoyed my last few moments being in the Himalayas.
We made our way towards the runway an hour behind schedule.
This looks like their control “tower”
We made a 180 degree turn at the end of the runway.
And shortly after, we were racing down the runway in between mountains.
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.
Video is clearly showing how we are flying through the mountainshttps://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).