It had been three long days. Even though the flight from Bahrain to the UAE had been short, when you add all the time spent in airports at each end, we’d had precious little time for relaxation. We’d therefore be taking a day off in Nagpur, to rest and prepare for the final couple of flights of this part of the journey. That morning we both slept in late, missing breakfast entirely, and met up for an early lunch.
The previous night, the waiter had recommended the “local hotel specialty” curry, and it certainly sounded good. Gavin dove straight in to try it; I made do with a sandwich and elected to save the curry for later. I was keen to see at least something of the city while here, and the travel desk at the hotel was able to organise a car and driver. I googled “things to do in Nagpur” and chose a few off of the first list I found. Some of these would later turn out to be slightly unusual choices, but not to worry. Gavin was trying to manage some issues that had come up with his business while he was away, and elected to remain at the hotel.
My first stop was the Maharaj Zoo. This zoo and biological gardens had clearly seen better days. Most of the area was given over to a very nice park and gardens with people wandering around and relaxing on the grass. There was a small selection of animals; some ducks, some emus, a variety of monkeys, a crocodile, a sloth bear and a single leopard. It soon became apparent, however, that the most interesting animal in the zoo for many of the guests was me. It seems not many foreigners visit Nagpur and as I wandered around there was a regular stream of people coming up to me to chat and ask for selfies. Everybody was friendly and welcoming, so I was happy to oblige, as long as I could also take one on my own phone!
It didn’t take too long to exhaust the entertainment value at the zoo, so I returned to the car and we set off to my next chosen destination, the Lata Mangeshkar Musical Garden. I should probably have been forewarned when my driver had never heard of it and had to call headquarters, then look at my phone for directions, despite it apparently being “the 6th most popular destination in Nagpur” (I now have reason to doubt the reliability of the website I found). We found the general vicinity of the gardens, and then asked a few more people for directions as we homed in.
The website stated “This place is filled with musical fountains, soothing tunes and music all played out by the musicians. This garden soothes the soul of every visitor.” It sounded very pleasant. We had to sit and wait for a while as it didn’t open until 5pm, at which time I was the first one in. Like the zoo, the garden had clearly seen better days and much of it was in a state of disrepair. There was a distinct lack of musical fountains. I wandered around the crumbling structures and creepy abandoned children’s rides. Despite all this, it was actually quite relaxing, and as time went on locals started arriving to exercise, play, and just hang out.
From here, my driver took me to visit a Temple of Ganesha, in the center of Nagpur. It was bustling and busy, but a lady noticed the confused Englishman and kindly showed me the way around and told me a little about the temple. After a short visit I continued to the final stop of the day, the Deeksha Bhoomi. This is a sacred monument of Navayana Buddhism located where the architect of the Indian Constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, converted to Buddhism with approximately 600,000 followers in October 1956. I certainly didn’t see all of it, but the vast main room contained only a small model of the building itself (a bit like architectural Russian dolls), and a series of photographs about Dr Ambedkar’s life. It was interesting to see something about a hugely influential man who until then I had known nothing about.
I returned to the hotel in time for dinner. It was a good thing that Gavin hadn’t joined me, because his “hotel specialty” curry had confined him to the bathroom for most of the afternoon. I decided to change my dinner plans and ate some pasta instead.
That evening also saw a number of changes in plan. The local agents in India had submitted the permit application for the Andaman Islands with 3 days to go before departure, and had then been told there was a 15 day processing time. This was quite disappointing but at this stage there was nothing that could be done. Gavin had also decided he’d leave the flight here, due to a pressing need to head home earlier than expected. He was booked onto a Qatar Airways flight departing just 20 minutes before my planned take-off time (0340 am), so we both headed to bed very early, ready for another long day!
Once again, the alarm went off far too early for my liking. It wasn’t yet 2am. I staggered downstairs and into the airport shuttle. At this time of the morning, the traffic was light and before long we were being met by our handling agent at the entrance to the airport. The security staff at the entrance to the terminal were initially reluctant to let me in without a boarding pass, but that was soon dealt with, and our agent vanished off to deal with paperwork while Gavin checked in, and I relaxed. It didn’t take long before the handler was back, my goodbyes were said to Gavin, and I was quickly escorted through security and immigration and headed out to the aircraft.
The fuel that I had requested on arrival was already there and waiting, and the three fuelers quickly helped me to pump it into my many tanks. The handling agent made sure to get every last drop out, upending the drums into a bucket to make sure none was wasted! We finished much quicker than expected, and my agent refunded some of the money he’d taken for airport fees; they’d turned out to be less than forecast. He disappeared off to handle the Qatar flight which was just taxiing in, and I hung out on the apron taking stupid selfies and waiting for my flight-planned time.
The allotted time drew near, and I received my flight clearance and permission to start the engine, and fired up. One pleasure about setting out in the dark was getting to use my absurdly bright Quasar wingtips. Visibility in front was no longer an issue at night, an incredible improvement over the stock setup! I arrived at the holding point a little way ahead of the Qatar A320, and they waited for me while I pushed in the throttle and sedately climbed out into the night.
The flight would take me due south across India, and then down the western coast of Colombo. I’d timed my departure based on the day’s weather forecast; storms were expected along the route at various points but with this timing I should avoid the worst of them. The plan worked well, as I ended up seeing barely a cumulus cloud, and certainly nothing I had to deviate for. As the sun gradually rose in the east, I took advantage of the spare seat next to me. Part of it had been given over to the liferaft, and the other half was now dedicated to snacks and drinks!
I droned on, on autopilot, heading steadily south. The weather was hazy but otherwise benign. A few hours into my flight, Gavin had landed in Qatar and was now looking at the weather information and sending me updates over the Garmin satellite messenger. It was very comforting to know that everything was looking good along the route! I left the Indian coastline behind on a slowly diverging course, striking out from the city of Chennai towards the northern edge of Sri Lanka. The distance between the two countries is small, and it didn’t take long before I was passing over Sri Lanka’s northern tip.
The cloud had slowly thickened below me as I continued south along the Sri Lankan coast, in line with the forecast, and as Colombo Approach gave me vectors through their airspace they directed me into a descent. I passed through multiple layers of cloud, and leveled off at 2,000ft, below the bottom layer. Conditions down here were misty with the occasional light rain shower, and it wasn’t until I was a few miles out that I saw the airport and was cleared to contact tower and join final approach. I was landing at Ratmalana airport, a joint military and light civil airport south of the city and the main airport. I touched down in a strong crosswind and taxied in to meet my welcoming party.
I was particularly looking forward to the stop in Sri Lanka, because I was to be hosted by Captain Anil, an ex-Sri Lankan Airlines and Cathay Pacific captain. He seemed to know everybody in Sri Lankan aviation, from the director of the CAA down to the security guard at the door to the terminal! As I arrived, there must have been 30 or more people waiting to greet me; airport staff, flight students from the school, mechanics from the business I’d be parking with, and various others. A fantastic welcome! Captain Anil guided me quickly through the small terminal, taking care of customs and immigration, and we then headed back out to relocate the aircraft to the hangar that he had arranged. This had been a good call, as moments after we pushed it in the heavens opened and torrential rain poured down!
Captain Anil drove me in to town, stopping for tea and snacks along the way. This was welcome, as I’d barely eaten since the night before. I was staying at the Hilton, also organised by the Captain. He’d been at school with their events director, who met us on arrival and treated us to a great lunch in their restaurant before I retired for a few hours sleep.
That evening, Captain Anil picked me up and took me to his house for dinner, prepared by his lovely wife. We spent an enjoyable evening chatting about the trip, and Captain Anil’s career and family, only briefly interrupted by a power cut. They were well prepared for this, so we spent a while under candlelight before the electricity came back.
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