Flying over the Taj Mahal over looking the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra was certainly a highlight of my tour around India. The symmetry and intricate work put into the building of this iconic structure is undeniably awe inspiring. See my previous post for images and videos from the Taj Mahal.
Delhi was full of contrasts as I learnt a lot about the wealthy areas of the city and the opposite side of life, the slums. Whilst I believe that Delhi would be full of surprises and an assault on the senses, I am very excited for the next leg of the around the world tour.
This flight would be one of the longest flights I have undertaken so far, and also one of the most dangerous. (Virtually of course.) I have been getting myself into the habit of making my flight plans much more detailed and this flight would need to be mapped to precision as I would be flying through multiple valleys and canyons as I enter the Himalayas. There is a large risk of entering a tight valley and reaching a dead end, too high to fly over and too narrow to complete a turn. At high altitudes and with thinner air than at sea level, this was even more of a risk. All of these factors were playing on my mind as I spent many days checking the terrain of the area and ensuring I could copy the same route within the FSX flight simulation software. Although I don’t technically have a schedule to stick to, I was aware that I was long overdue this next flight due to the amount of planning involved.
Taking a full day out of my own hectic life to complete this flight I wanted an early start. 09:00 is early in my eyes on a day off work. Plus I was eager to get going as I was really looking forward to the amazing views and surreal idea of having so much terrain above my small plane. The Carenado Beech Baron 58.
Booting up my computer around 9:00 am and preparing for the day ahead with some snacks and drinks I didn’t actually find myself in the virtual aircraft until 09:30 ish. The outside air temperature read at 15 degrees. I was interested to see the difference as I climbed in altitude and passed the snow capped mountains later. Indira Gandhi International Airport was a bustling hive of activity at this time in the morning. Even without any simulation expansion packs for ground operations there were many vehicles unloading luggage and refueling aircraft, including the 2 A320s which were parked either side of my plane which was dwarfed in comparison. This also prompted me to fill my fuel tanks ready for the long journey. I requested fuel and only had to queue 2 places until the fuel truck reached me. I adjusted the fuel and payload and was all set by 09:45. During this time, the light cloud had thinned out and all but disappeared. It was looking to be a great day to fly.
The airport was huge and I had this confirmed to me when I received my taxi directions. I was to head to runway R10 by using the route R2, R4, 5, N1, P, N. At times like these I wish I had the corresponding “plates” for these larger airports. Plates are effectively maps for airports which pilots can use to navigate when taxiing. I found my way without getting lost and was granted take off clearance. I edged onto the runway, lined myself up for take off and slowly pushed the throttle all the way to full. Hearing the small plane rattle its way down the runway until all went quiet, the ride eventually smoothed out and I could raise the landing gear for 10:05. I was relieved to see that there was very little fog. I had grown used to expecting thick fog at low altitudes in India. It seemed to cover almost every other destination I had been to in this country. My headphones were buzzing with many different voices coming and going over the radio. The skies were certainly busy over Delhi.
The first way point I had set into my GPS was apparently 52 minutes away. This would mark the beginning of the Himalayas mountain range. Not that I would have been able to miss them. The horizon ahead of me was still flat for now and softened with the distance and slight mist in the air as I left Delhi behind. Once again, this fog soon cleared at higher altitudes and were replaced with clouds. I had plenty of time so set a pretty slow climb speed of 300 feet per minute and watched a large bank of cloud develop in front. As they grew larger I could see sporadic lightening illuminating the graying clouds. There was no way to fly around the large bank of cloud so simply held on tight and flew straight through. Surprisingly there was very little turbulence although the clouds blocked the view of the horizon so was relying on the artificial horizon in my cockpit.
By 10:25 I found myself flying over a wide river although I was unsure what this river was named. Peeking between the clouds I thought I could see the subtle outline of mountains on the horizon but in all honesty it was too hard to tell. The view below was also mostly a blanket of white cloud passing beneath as I reached 7,500 feet. A while later and I was certain that I could finally see the Himalayas coming into view as I looked North. At this point I also expected a second river to pass below. I was to be following this river north all the way to the start of the mountains. The GPS within my aircraft indicated that I would be reaching the mountains by 11:00.
The radios had been rather quiet for some time now as I left the bustle of Delhi and India behind. I reduced the throttle to descend a little and gradually arrived at 2,700 feet. Once again I was engulfed with that all too familiar fog so was forced to climb back to 3,300 feet until I could see clearly again with only 10 minutes left to the first way point. Getting closer to the mountains I could see the clouds forming at their sides, the dense forests covering the lower levels and the tiny roads and rivers snaking their way through it all.
As I reached my way point I was advised to change my radio to 124.7 – Kathmandu Center. Just in time for my turn to the north and the start of the gauntlet run through mountain valleys. The only way I could navigate through the many many routes was to use my finely plotted GPS route. At each fork in the valley I would reach a way point and be directed to the next. I would have needed an entire other person to help with navigation if I had not had planned so thoroughly before hand. I enjoyed the fast flying through the rolling hills and valleys, watching the small settlements and odd road go by, although had not allowed for a particularly high ending to one valley. The training I had done in the Cessna 172 regarding tight turns within valleys came rushing back to me as I completed a full 360 degree turn within a tight valley all whilst gaining enough height to make it over the ridge previously blocking my way.
On the far side of the ridge the terrain became a lot more rugged and even the valley floors were obscured by fresh formed cloud cover. Now flying at 7,500 feet I still had many peaks above my wings. With this terrain and the rapidly decreasing visibility I felt myself getting nervous to the dangerous conditions. Climbing higher all the time to escape the rising mist which seemed to be chasing me, I got my first look at snow covered mountain peaks at roughly 11:35.
Reaching 10,000 feet the fog and mist had finally disappeared and was soon replaced by lots of cloud. White clouds and white mountains made for a unique view from the windows of my tiny plane. The ground continued to rise and I tried my best to gain altitude to match although it was a struggle climbing to the 14,000 ft required to clear the following ridge marking the end of the current valley. I was worried that with out the altitude I would reach a dead end in which I would not be able to turn in. This of course would have resulted in a rather abrupt ending to the flight, and ultimately this whole world tour! (I have decided that in keeping with Amelia Earhart, if I was to crash during any flight, then I would not be able to continue. Especially so if in an incredibly remote area such as this.) Eventually I reached the end of the valley and my detailed route planning turned out to be a good use of time as it finally saved the day.
Continuing through the Himalayas I followed a small river which I considered to be very high as well as a small road. I doubt how realistic these details were withing the simulator. I know the views would be many times more spectacular in real life. Fuel levels were looking good but part of me wished I was even lighter so that I could climb a little faster. There were one or two close calls as I flew over ridges at 15,500 ft. I was pretty sure that this was close to the highest altitude I had ever reached in this aircraft. Soon to be pushed even further. The highest point on the journey was approaching and I struggled very hard to climb. Even with a slow 720 degree turn it was a heart in the mouth moment attempting to clear the final ridge at just under 18,000 ft.
The view opened up to a wider valley lined with the highest peaks I had seen yet. All of this was only fueling my excitement at seeing the tallest mountain in the world. Everest. This would have to wait for another flight but I was already looking forward to that trip. With clear skies above and potentially crippling ridges behind me, I continued to climb extremely slowly, purely out of curiosity to see how high I could get. Somewhere around was another thunder storm as the sound of thunder rumbled from the valleys below. I finally looped around the last of the summits and noticed the clock now displaying 12:30. The terrain quickly lowered but appeared to be extremely bumpy from this altitude. A personal best in the small Beech Baron of 20,000 feet!
The last leg of the flight took the longest. Simply pointing the plane in a straight line and letting her gradually descend all the way until I was in range of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. The landing was nice and straight forward which was a relief after navigating the harsh landscapes previously. The radio chatter from the airport was a welcome change from the lonely skies I had gotten used to. I touched down on Runway R20 and was guided to my final resting point, Gate 3. Surrounded by large mountains on all sides the city of Kathmandu seemed all the more impressive. I find it hard to imagine cities such as this forming and growing when so apparently far from any other populated cities. It’s going to be nice to rest here for a while. After all, the next flight will be to the worlds most dangerous airport, Lukla!
10 Things To Do In Kathmandu,Nepal -HD – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KypX5vqX34Q
Kathmandu – The Most Beautiful City in the World – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DvAjNuhtyw
The Nepal Documentary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW5kRBq30m4
30 Days In Nepal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbziahTLPAY
The REAL Nepal – Kathmandu – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WsQLB3Qrl0
Walking the Streets of Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwci70iJnqI
As intrigued I was by this remote city, I had already been exposed to many pictures of this place through recent news stories covering the recent earthquake which shattered so many historic buildings and displaced so many people. It is a shame to so see so much history lost to rubble but the real pain comes from the lack of preparation and response from the Nepalese government.
2015 NEPAL Earthquake – Full Documentary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weGUeZsX4d4
Raw CCTV footage Compilation of Nepal Earthquake (25/04/2015) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pts3o7f8Vg0
Everest Avalanche live during Earthquake Nepal 2015 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hoiv9nMCF4