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Dhaka - Mandalay 2 - 5 December

It was just as well we started the day early.  It took a record of 4 and a half hours to take off from Dhaka from the time we arrived at the airport. Lots of  'headwind' on the ground! I sat on a concrete hard seat for almost 2 hours to guard the luggage while Flemming went off to work on getting the fuel and Ray went to pay the landing fees and file the flight plan.  The idea was for them to work simultaneously at different tasks to expedite things.   But it was all to no avail.

We knew since our phone and fax contact in Jaipur with the fuel company Padma Oil that they had Avgas in 200 liter barrels but that they had no transfer pump and they adviced us to get help with this from the local aeroclub. Flemming waited an hour and a half in the plane for a taxi clearance to move the plane to the aeroclub, but they refused to issue it until the landing fee had been paid. Besides calling the tower numerous times for news, he made several phone calls on the mobile to Mr. Shaikh at the Bangladesh Flying Academy. He again called the tower as well as the Duty Officer at his home. They were afraid that he would take off without a take off clearance and without paying!!  After almost 2 hours they were still not paid so he returned to the terminal to find out what was happening. 

Meanwhile, Ray was struggling to get things done.  According to regulations the landing fee had to be paid at the bank and the receipt presented to the airport authorities.  Since it was so early in the morning, they had to wake up the bank staff first.  I saw Ray go back and forth past me several times.  He just nodded his head patiently.  Finally, almost 3 hours after arrival at the airport, the landing and parking fee were paid, but the plane was still not refuelled.  It came to US$ 119. After the usual baggage security checks, Flemming presented the general declaration form to an official and asked him to open the door for us so we could carry our bags to the plane.  Somehow our beatiful white pilot shirs, crew card and yellow stripes did not quite work this time. Of course, the offcial was totally unused to private pilots so after a lot of doubt and humming and hawing, he finally called a superior.  That didn't produce immediate results either.  It was an hour later when they finally let us through.

So at last we all three got in the plane.  But they still wouldn't give us taxi clearance for security reasons.  We had to wait for them to come with a car to "escort" us over to the aeroclub. 

It was a totally different story at the aeroclub.  We were cordially greeted by the chief flight engineer of the Bangladesh Flying Academy, 82-year-old Mr. A.R. Shaikh and his deputy. Flemming had already talked to him on the phone the day before trying to get the plane refuelled, but that was not possible since it was Saturday. The fuel company arrived simultaneously with the barrel of Avgas.  The aeroclub produced a pumping system for pumping from the barrel to the plane.  While they pumped,   the aeroclub offered us tea and we chatted to Mr. Shaikh, a charming gentleman who spoke excellent English.  He told us about his life, and in particular his time in England during the Second World War, working for the Airforce as engineer. Later, he had flown as flight engineer on a Grumman Goose Amphibian, which was being ferried from Oregon, U.S.A. to Bangladesh. Plane talk about Goose Bay, Reykjavik, Scotland etc. etc.

The Bangladesh Flying Academy has a couple of Piper Tomahawks, a Cessna 150, a Cessna 182 and a Piper Seneca. As informed readers have guessed, yes they do flight training.

It was a relief to finally take off from Dhaka.   Had we known beforehand that it would be so problematic - and Patna so easy (and cheap) in comparison - we would have returned to Patna after Nepal just to fuel up and leave again the same day for Mandalay.

Dhaka was the most polluted city we have visited so far. The visibility had improved from 200 meters to 1200 meters in pollution haze when we took off. So it was total IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) from 20 seconds after take-off, but it was another blue skies and tailwind flight once on top. Although the tops of the mountains we had to cross were only about 10'000 feet, the Myanmar authorities had required us to cruise at minimum FL 150, certainly due to danger of being shot down by the drug lords operating in the golden triangle. With tropical temperatures, this meant a density altitude of FL175, so it was a slow climb with the 200 liters we had added in Dhaka. After 2 and a half hours we landed in Mandalay airport, which contrasted sharply with Dhaka. It was a brand new airport, only opened last year, with attractive pagoda motifs.  There were no other planes (even commercial ones) around - but more than 20 people to receive us at the apron, including the General Manager Mr. Tuu Huang and his Assistant General Manager Mr. Myo Thant.  We were treated like VIPs.   I enquired tentatively what the handling fee would be and was relieved to be told "about US$ 15". Some impeccably dressed little Burmese men with white caps more appropriate for French chefs than fuel truck drivers politely asked us whether we needed any refuelling services. We politely declined as we of course knew that only Jet A-1 was available.





We spent three nights in Mandalay.  Long enough to rent a boat and driver to take us upriver to  the "deserted city" of Mingun with its old Buddhist temples and the second largest bell in the world. We were taken around in an ox cart.  That was a very relaxing and picturesque experience and just how one would imagine a river in the Orient - little fishing boats and men in coolie hats.  In Mandalay we walked up Mandalay Hill and visited lots of Buddhist temples. One of these, Mahamuni Paya, contains a huge golden Buddha, where faithful Buddhist arrive with very thin foils of pure gold, which they apply to the Buddha. Only men are allowed near this very holy Buddha. We also visited the workshop where they make the thin foils of gold by hammering stacks of them for many hours.

On the last evening we went to the puppet theatre, a traditional Burmese art, accompanied by live music of drums and gongs in different sizes to make different notes.  The last morning there, Flemming and I took rides in trishaws to go around Mandalay and see the colourful market and see some jade cutting and polishing. One of the trishaw drivers was a student earning money for his studies in his spare time. I had a discrete talk with him about Myanmar politics. They were of course proud the fact that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy, had got the Nobel peace price, but very much regretted that the Myanmar authorities are keeping her under house arrest. The movement has cost the lives of tens of thousands of students.

We requested permission to fly to Bagan but this was not granted, so we went commercially with Air Mandalay in an ATR turboprop. The excuse given was that the notice was too short (normally 14 days prior notice is required), but whether this was the real reason or just a polite excuse we are never going to find out.


A. R. Shaik, Bangladesh Flying Academy

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Refuelling at the Bangladesh Flying Academy. From left Mr. R.M. Muninuzzamon, Mr. A.R. Shaikh, and Flemming

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Mandalay International Airport

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Mingun Scenery, washing by the river

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Namaste! Ray on top of Mingun Pagoda

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Mingun Temple

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This Oxen cart was our local Mingun transport

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Burmese girl at Mingun

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Buddhist monk at Mingun

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Chinese lunch at rooftop restaurant in Mandalay

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Mandalay market scene

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Golden Buddha at Mahamuni Paya

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Burmese jade cutter in Mandalay

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