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Muscat - Ahmedabad - Udaipur 10-11 November

At the airport this morning, all went smoothly.  Flemming enquired about fuel yesterday and we knew the refuelling company would be available early in the morning.  The Oman Aviation handling fee was US$ 108 and the landing and parking fee came to about US$ 44.   Flemming also filed the flight plan yesterday by fax  in order to expedite our departure, but he was told this morning that this would not be processed until he had paid the landing fee.  Tension rose for a while as we imagined long delays before we would be allowed to take off.  However, to our surprise (and delight!), they let us go as soon as we were ready.

As we taxied to the runway, we noticed more of the US airforce planes on the military apron. We had worried about this particular flight for a long time as it took us over four 'difficult' countries: Oman, Iran, Pakistan and India. To our surprise everything went smoothly, we crossed all these countries and their ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zones) with no mishaps in spite of fierce warnings on the aeronautical charts.

Our cruising altitude on this flight is 11,000 ft. so no need for oxygen this time.  However, I find my brain doesn't work so well as at 15,000 ft. with oxygen, so if the quality of my writing has diminished, you will have to forgive me!   The routing has taken us over Iranian and Pakistani air space.  We flew for some time over land, hugging the coast, then  over Karachi.   Soon after Karachi we spotted a huge delta which we reckon is that of  the Indus river.   Now it's over land the whole way to Ahmedabad and we enter India in about half an hour.

While we more or less followed the planned route along the south coast of Pakistan, others were not so lucky. Both a Kuwait Airforce plane and a US Airforce plane bound for Peshawar had long discussions with the female Pakistani controller about their routings and complained bitterly about the reduction of their fuel reserves due to the detours they were forced to make. We were given radar vectors to avoid overflying a particularly sensitive airport along the coast.

Resuming from bedroom in the Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur (14 Nov.)

West of Ahmedabad we could see areas where salt farming is being carried out.  That was of particular interest to me as IOM has a project in the area to provide shelter for salt workers who were displaced as a result of the recent earthquake.  By the time we were over Ahmedabad, the land looked much greener -   a welcome change after spending over a week in desert country.

On our arrival in Ahmedabad, we were met by some airport officials in civilian clothes.  This time we were all wearing our captain's shirts.  After greeting us, they disappeared again while we were unpacking and locking up the plane.   By the time we entered the terminal, they had all changed into their uniforms, presumably not to be outdone by us.  Ray remarked that he felt as though he was acting in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera!  While Flemming was filling in the numerous pages of forms, a customs official chatted to Ray.  He said he thought we had to be brave to fly round the world, particularly under the present circumstances.  We replied that we had had no problems up to now.  Then he joked: "Actually the worst land mines are right here in this office if you haven't done your footwork properly."    Fortunately for us, the footwork had been done and all we needed was a little patience to wait the hour or so while formalities were completed.

While in Oman I had e-mailed IOM Ahmedabad to ask them if they could make a hotel reservation for us with the special discount accorded to IOM staff.   They had replied to us without delay that we would be staying in the 5 star Taj Hotel and the special rate was only US$ 56 for the double and $41 for the single!  There would also be someone at the airport to drive us to the hotel. Sure enough, the car and driver were waiting for us outside the airport and we were greeted like VIPs by the Hotel Taj Airport Executive.  There was a lively scene at the entrance to the hotel as  a Ministers meeting was taking place there and many cars had driven up to the door.   Actually it was like a scene from the 1950s as the cars looked like 1950 models, although they were, in fact, quite new.

The hotel was fabulous.  The sound of sitar music greeted us as we entered the lobby.  The rooms were spacioius and superbly furnished and service was impeccable.  Thank you so much IOM Ahmedabad and in particular Rajnish and Sarat Das.

Once we had checked in, our driver took us on a tour of the city.   Ahmedabad has 5 million inhabitants.  It's an industrial city and the main industries are petrochemicals and textiles.  The amount of traffic was mind boggling.   How they all manage to avoid each other is a mystery to me.  You have cars full of people, scooters ridden by families of 4, holy cows, holy pigs, pedestrians, camel carts and the occasional dog all jostling for space, but all looking quite unconcerned about the chaos. King of them all: the holy cows. They don't seem to suffer from rush hour traffic stress at all.

We rose early the next morning in order to allow enough time for all the formalities at Ahmedabad airport.  As expected, it took about 2 hours from the time we arrived at the airport until we took off.  But there was no hassle.   Just the "normal" red tape, which we are taking in our stride: file a request for weather, file a flight plan with many carbon copies, collect numerous stamps on these, wait for the tower to get you an FIC (Air Traffic) clearance number and an ADC (Defense) clearance number. The tower staff were friendly and helpful and had plenty of time to chat. There was no handling fee and the landing fee was the most reasonable so far on the trip: US$33. We filled up the tanks as we needed enough to last us until Patna.  Price per liter was the same as in Oman US$1.47. It was an uneventful one-hour flight to Udaipur - more blue skies all the way. Arrival in Udaipur went very smoothly  and we were out of the airport within half an hour of our arrival - possibly record timing? 

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Beautiful desert colours along the Pakistani coastline

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VIP reception in Ahmedabad: tall Indian doorman at the Taj hotel

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Scooters, pedestrians, bicycles, holy cows, camel carts, tri-cycle taxis, rickshaws, etc. etc. in apparently happy coexistence

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The Udaipur Lake Palace in 1927. Photo: Nesta Heron.

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'Lake Palace Hotel', Udaipur. A large number of rooms were added in 1973.

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Warm reception at 'Lake Palace Hotel'

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Rajasthani beauty at 'Lake Palace Hotel'

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