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Jaipur - Patna - Kathmandu 18 November

We got up at 4.15 a.m. to leave the hotel an hour later as we  wanted to be sure of making it to Kathmandu the same day, and before dark.  When we got to the airport, Angela   regretted not having an air crew card like Flemming - they wouldn't let her through the security check without a credential since she didn't have a boarding pass.  Her captain's shirt didn't impress them in the least.  They let Ray through without one but he's a man!  Flemming and he went straight to the tower to pay the landing fee and file the flight plan. 

It was still pitch black night night when we arrived in the tower. Everybody was half asleep in the dim light as in the Main Control Room at CERN in the early morning hours. Soon the female shift leader (ATC Duty Officer) arrived from another room where she had been sleeping, dressed in a beautiful sari. The flight plan was filled out with the usual 5 carbon copies, and provided with many stamps and signatures. We had a friendly chat with the duty officer, read a bit in the local newspaper while the airport charges were calculated (a reasonable 1147 Rupees =24 US$), and after about 40 minutes in the tower we were ready to go to the airplane.

Meanwhile our travel agent tried without success to get the security guard to let Angela through.  In the end he had the bright idea of phoning the tower and  the duty officer told the security guard to let her into the departure area.  We and all our bags then had to pass a thorough second security check (after effect of 11 September) and we were able to take off about 1 and a half hour after arriving at the airport.  A huge orange sun quickly popped up over the eastern horizon as we took off.

It was another fine day for flying although there was quite a haze up to about 6000 feet. Above the haze we had another day with tailwinds and clear blue skies. From shortly after take-off, we could see the mighty snow-covered Himalayas far away to the north.

The first Patna weather report we got announced 1500 m visibility and sky clear, so we were a little concerned that Patna approach might not clear us for the ILS approach, as the minimum visibility for an ILS category I precision approach is 2000 m for a foreign 'non-approved' operator (..and it is 3700 m for any non-precision approach).  But fortunately the controller didn't enforce this regulation. 

Patna was quite busy when we arrived, so we were number 4 for the approach. As all 4 aircraft arrived almost at the same time all except the first one had to make several rounds in the Patna VOR holding pattern at various flight levels as the tower had no approach radar. The arrival rate in this environment is only about one aircraft every 10 minutes as the missed approach airspace has to be kept clear. One 'Air India' aircraft asked nervously for the runway lights at maximum intensity as he approached. The controller was competent and professional. Finally after about 20 minutes it was our turn, the visibility had increased to 1800m, and as expected we had the beginning of the runway in sight only on short final a few hundred feet above the ILS decision height. We were happy that Patna had an ILS and touched down after 4:20 hours.

The availability of AVGAS is a constant worry in this part of the world, so we keep large reserves and call ahead to confirm that the AVGAS is actually available. We had called already from Geneva before leaving, and called again from Jaipur to make sure we could get it on a Sunday morning. We asked the tower to send the fuel truck, and only seconds after shutting down the fuel truck was there.

As we had to pass immigration and customs, the red tape in the tower and in the Customs and Immigration office took slightly longer than in Jaipur. A General Declaration (..we have our own forms) had to be filled out with 4 carbon copies, many more rubber stamps had to be put on both flight plans and General Declarations. One customs assistant actually had the important job of holding the rubber stamp and the ink pad for his boss so it was immediately available when he needed it!! The large pile of customs documents we filled out in Ahmedabad was handed over and every page of it had to be signed one more time.

In spite of all this, the efficiency of the Patna airport officials was so good that we were in the air only 1 hour and 45 minutes after landing and that included a 10 minute wait for an approaching airline. The obligatory FIC (air traffic clearance) and ADC (defense clearance) numbers arrived just minutes before take-off. And amazingly, the landing fees came to less than 8 US$.

To summarize our flying experience in India, it was a very pleasant surprise. Especially since we have heard so many horror stories about 4 - 6 hours spent with red tape in New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta or Madras, 1000 US$ handling fees and similar which gives all light aircraft pilots goose pimples. It was great flying in India. But I think it is important to plan ahead, stick to your schedule and choose the right airports. It is not a country to do last minute changes to your routing and schedule.

After take-off in Patna we noticed that we were now in a much wetter part of India as there were lots of rice paddies and we flew over the huge Ganges river. Soon we  were out of the thick Indian pollution haze and heading north for the top of the world, the Himalayas. We could clearly see all the way from the Annapurna ranges to our left to Mount Everest to our right. Shortly before Kathmandu, we had to climb from our cruising altitude of FL105 (the old quadrantal cruising rule applies in India below FL150), to 11'500 feet to cross the small 9000 feet foothills of the Himalayas before doing the steep descent on the VOR/DME approach into Kathmandu. We were glad it was mostly VMC (few clouds at 3000 ft, > 10 km visibility) and daytime. It is a very steep descent, where the slippery Mooney had to be throttled all the way to idle, in addition to lowering the landing gear. The early part of the approach requires a descent of 330 ft/NM, then the middle part requires 700 ft/NM, and the last part again 330 ft/NM. The missed approach path is also hairy with lots of   'cumulus granitos' around: the steep wall of the top of the world is just beyond the end of the runway. The approach path took us over beautiful hillsides with terraced fields, a dramatic change from the flat Indian countryside we had seen for the last week.

On arrival in Kathmandu we were met by an army of Nepalese working for the 'Royal Nepalese Airways' and a shiny new airport bus. We were kindly and politely asked by the supervisor whether we needed their services, and they politely accepted our refusal. We then got approached by the managing director of 'Prasant Tour & Travels', who informed us that he was MUCH cheaper than the US$ 1200.- or so which the 'Royal Nepalese Airways' wanted to charge us. He wanted us to pay US$ 400.- for his services in obtaining the flight permit and additional large amounts for handling services which we refused. This is a large amount in a country where the average annual income is US$ 120.

As we already have an agreement to pay FSI in Germany for obtaining flight permits, we of course refused to pay even his charge for flight permit. As we walked back to the terminal carrying our luggage, he was underlining the fact that he was NOT providing handling as he did not offer to carry even the lightest bag of our luggage.   By the time of writing, the misunderstanding concerning how the local agent should be paid for the flight permit seems to be cleared up. We assume that the high cost of obtaining flight permits for certain countries like India, Egypt, Nepal and others,  which all require the assistance of a local 'authorized agent', is due to the fact that the permits will only be issued provided a certain amount of baksheesh is paid to the civil servants issuing the permits.

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Mighty Himalayas snow clad peaks

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On the approach into Kathmandu

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Short final at Kathmandu

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The steep Kathmandu VOR DME 02 approach from the south

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Beautiful Nepalese girls

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