My father worked for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in India - as the name suggests, it was an organisation devoted to constructing roads in "Border" areas for the Indian army. It is indeed a unique organisation because the BRO (also known as GREF or General Reserve Engineering Force) is highly respected for what it does : it gives the Indian Army its mobility!
As a consequence of my Dad's unique job, I have had the opportunity to travel to some of the remotest corners of India - mostly in the Himalayas or close to them. My hope is to bring you some of these experiences throught these pages.
On Top of the World - 1972
My earliest memory of traveling to the Himalayas is from when I was seven years old. Dad, Prince(my brother) and I got on a bus to go from Delhi to Chandigarh - the ride was only a few hours or so and we spent the night in a "camp" (with real tents!). It was the middle of summer - and the mosquitoes were there in full force. But, at least we weren't cold - that was to come later.
The next morning, we woke up early and made our way to the local Air Force base, where we proceeded to board a huge plane - I was to later find out that it was a Russian AN-12 transport! This was no ordinary plane - the passenger area was mainly empty, but for the two rows of seats running down its sides (kind of like the transport planes you see in war movies!). No cocktail service, no roasted peanuts, nothing. Just the three of us and some other "lucky" passengers who had managed to sneak a ride aboard on this once-a-day flight. The alternative route was a 12 hour train trip (from Delhi to Jammu), a 12 hour road trip (from Jammu to Srinagar), followed by yet another arduous 24 hour road trip (from Srinagar) to get to our final destination!
We were soon airborne, and my first plane ride took us over the clouds, and very soon, it started getting very cold - partly because we were flying North towards the Himalayas, and partly because this "transport" did not have very good heating (or maybe the pilot was just saving fuel!). In any case, it was a heckuva ride because it was my first time on an airplane!
After an hour or so of flying - most of which was over snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas - I remember the plane making a huge circle as it started to make its descent. But, wait a minute - where in the heck was this huge thing going to land? Peering out of the window, all I could see was more snow-capped peaks and huge rock formations here and there - there was nary an airport in sight! However, after a brief descent (brief as compared to a lot of other flights I've been on since this first one!), an airfield sprang into view. We were going to make an approach to land into a valley, through a narrow opening, which was guarded on three sides by mountains!
Ladies and gentlemen - welcome to Leh - the highest airfield in India at 12,000 feet above sea-level! I was later to learn that only a few chosen pilots are allowed by the Indian Air-Force to fly into Leh because you get only ONE shot at putting the plane down - no touch and go (in case of a missed approach) is possible because the plane would never clear the surrounding mountains!
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Created 12/14/95 by Kumud Ajmani