When I left you hanging in Part 1, I was approaching the departure gate at Calcutta airport. I was headed out on the flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. I had no passport or any other form of photo id. In short nothing to prove I was who I said I was.
The gate was manned by this khaki-clad security guy carrying a rifle. I approached him, though sidled up to him would have described it better.
“How much”, I asked, “will it take to board that plane without a passport?”
“Do you have a ration card?”, he asked.
“Then you can’t go”
“ok – so answer my first question then. How much?”, I was quietly insistent.
“hmm – that’s a lot. Wouldn’t 50 bucks do it?
“Sahib, do you want to get on that plane or not?”
‘Well, yeah, but seriously 1000 is quite a hit on the exchequer, old chap. How about 100?”
<In the interests of good story telling, I have taken a slight liberty with the dialogue>
We moved aside to complete the transaction and within minutes I was on the tarmac, walking out to the plane. I climbed the portable stairs up into the aircraft and took my seat. I was to spend the next couple of hours wondering what lay in store at the other end.
I can normally tell you what kind of plane I flew on on every flight I’ve ever taken in my life. This is the only exception. It must have been either a B737 or a A320 or A300. I really did not enjoy the flight much. And there are some good reasons for that. To say that I was exercised in the mind is an understatement. The prospect of flying amongst some of the highest mountains in the world was a sobering thought. I didn’t have too many illusions about airports in the lesser-developed parts of the world. There was the excitement of the prospect of the biggest contract in our wee business career.
Then we were over the Himalayas and the pilot very chattily invited those “on the right hand side of the plane to look down and see Everest and Kanchenjunga”. I was amongst those lucky ones to see snow capped rocks straining to reach me where I glided on barely 8000 or 9000 feet above them.
As we approached the airport and turned for our final approach I was able to see what we were up against. The only approach seemed to be via a cleft in the mountains and would require a steepish descent onto the runway. The runway ended at the other end in mountains. As I looked down, I saw a road running along the approach with a jeep racing down it. 100 yards on was a small crashed plane, a Twin Otter or similar. <make a note of the De Havilland DH6 Twin Otter. You never know when it may appear again…> Feeling distinctly queasy now, I braced myself as the plane touched down and the pilot applied all the braking appliances he had at his disposal, reverse thrusters, flaps, engine cowlings and we shuddered down into a screeching halt.
Then it was time to disembark and go through customs.
With no passport or photo id.
<come back and read Part 3. Will be on soon, I promise you! This is just beginning to get interesting…>