Himalayan and then Indian adventures

Friday, October 25, 2013
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Knowing that, as happens all too often on this trip, we had a long day ahead of us, our day started all too early. Breakfast before 5am is always too early. Not a car was on the road when we left the hotel for the hour drive to the airport. The first signs of daylight at the airport also showed low overcast skies. We weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Things at the airport were very relaxed, almost a bit too relaxed as it took us a while to find out how to pay our fees . We spoke our mind just for a bit abou t the high fees and they were reduced 10%. (Note: we'd find out days later that we pushed to hard and hurt the pride of the handling agent there to the point where we crossed cultural boundaries. That was not our intent and we're remedying the situation).

Finally after more than a couple hours the clouds started to thin. Immediately a couple of the waiting passenger planes departed and planes holding overhead arrived. This delayed our departure even further. With only one plane arriving or departing in the valley at a time, it was patient going. It was late morning b the time we finally got our clearance to depart.

It was though, without a doubt, worth the wait. It took quite a while at that altitude to build up speed, even with Maggie's turbo. Once we departed runway 33 we entered the same valley where we'd done the 180 a few days prior. This time we flew in to the valley further until a nice opening allowed for a gentle climbing turn . By the time we'd circled back over the airport we had a healthy altitude and didn't need to make any more circles. Up the valley we went, slowly but surely getting higher than the surrounding mountains.

As soon as we left the beautiful Himalayas, we entered layered cloudy mirk. It was just unpleasant flying, not because it was turbulent (which it wasn't) but because for the entire duration of the fight there was no visibility. We could hear on the radio that a couple of other planes in our group had departed and made it out of the valley. The Cessna, however, had quite a bit of difficulty gaining altitude. We're grateful to have Maggie!

We had to fly to Patna, India because they had our sacred avgas. Ironically, the president of India was coming through that airport the following day so arrival for the other 8 planes in our group was denied. Instead, they had to fly in to Varanasi. We would therefore be on our own again in Patna . We didn't mind, but we'd heard stories about hounding do-nothing handling agents and slow bureaucratic paperwork processes that would do the heads in of even the most patient. It was going to be interesting and we were ready!

We had an ILS approach in to Patna after using the VOR as our initial approach fix. I'd never encountered this in radar environments of the US, but without radar it's difficult to get vectors anywhere. Whatever, we flew it and saw the runway in mirk and haze a few miles from the threshold. The excitement didn't relent though once we landed.

On the contrary, we'd find a different kind of fun waiting for us. The one called Hounding Handlers or Paperwork Piles. As soon as we got out of the plane we were greeted by at least 4 people. Most were just curious loiterers, but one in particular (we'll call him "brown pants" because he wore uniquely tight brown pants) took an interest in us . We asked if he was with the airport and he said yes. Believing brown pants turned out to be a mistake.

Inside we went and through a myriad of halls to customs and immigration. Rarely have I been in a dustier room with fans blowing at full speed. We filled out papers that had been recopied so many times you could barely mAke out the text. Papers and more papers were put in a folder not with a paper clip or stapled together, but rather hole-punched with a thread and grommet holding all the papers in the files together. It was, from our side, archaic.

Everyone was friendly. Things just took a while. Brown pants kept coming in and out of the small office and asked for a copy of our flight plan. We didn't think much of it until I had to get on the phone with one of his colleagues to clarify some points. At that stage it dawned on us that this was the dreaded
handling agent we were trying to avoid. We immediately denied his further assistance and that's when his persistence began.

Our next stop was the control tower to pay our fees and file our flight plan on our own. This was how we did it in Chittagong, and this was how we wanted to do it here. The handling agent company had sent an estimate for $800+ dollars for each of our three stops in India (Patna, Udaipur, and Ahmendabad) to do this for us, but we didn't want their services at any of them. Brown pants followed us through the various hallways to the tower arguing with us the whole time.

In the tower the persistence and annoyance continued. Even calls to the landline of the tower were placed by the pesky handling agent company. They kept threatening that handling was mandatory and that we had agreed to their services. It is not, however, mandatory, and we were willing to trade our time and some hassle in order to save a boat load of cash. An hour or more later, and after lots of back and forth, the handling agent was relegated to downstairs, we had filed our flight plan, and we had paid all of our fees: $24!

We filled Maggie up beyond full and set off to Udaipur. All told, we were in Patna for almost 4 hours dealing with the paperwork, immigration, filing of the flight plan, and refueling. It was already a long day and now we had a very long flight ahead of us.

Much to our disbelief, once in the air and in contact with the other planes of the group, they had all already landed, refueled, and departed from Varanasi. I guess there is something for the $800+. Still, we were happy with our decision. Time though was against us as the Udaipur airport closed at 9pm local time. Fingers crossed, we tried to do what we could to go a tick faster and shorten the route. Our flight was pretty straightforward with few surprises and the usual radio blackout areas. The darkness set in a d we had a couple hours flying in the dark. Fortunately by this stage it was longer cloudy so we didn't have the clouds and turbulence of the past few days flying to deal with. In the end, we made it to the airport with 7 minutes to spare. They would have stayed open for us, but at an ungodly charge. Whew!

It had been since San Francisco that I had visited a place before. On this trip. The parents and I had visited Udaipur early 2010. Between San Francisco and Udaipur everything had been new. While our hotel this time wasn't as nice or as central, it still had a similar rooftop restaurant with view that I remember from our last trip. It's a lovely city and Johannes and I toasted to the great flights, the money saved, and our luck with our arrival time.

Routing from Paro (VQPR) to Patna (VEPT):
Our breadcrumb GPS routing in reverse order, then PRO SUBSU BBD LOTPU NIRAB PPT at 16,000' and a flight time of 3h24m

Routing from Patna to Udaipur (VAUD):
PPT W44 BBN G590 BPL A791 PRA W75 UUD at 12,000' and a flight time of 4h45m
Other Entries