Mumbai to Amritsar via Dilli – The Frightening Flight

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Travel travel travel! Leave home, reach the airport, fly to a destination, go to office from the airport, complete work (mostly trainings and meetings), rush back to the airport, take a flight back home and crash. Such was my typical daily routine three – four days in a week for nearly two years when I started working in a Life Insurance company; as the Head of Learning and Development. Occasionally it would be a two –three day long travel as well. The company was a new joint venture and hence very few people had been recruited by then. We were looking for quality people and I am very choosy especially about my team mates. There was just one trainer in my team in the beginning. Result – I had to conduct a lot of trainings across the country, myself! We looked after two very large Banks who were our channel partners – one PSU and one Private, due to which the range of cities that I travelled to was amazing. I didn’t regret it one bit. I love traveling and that is no news to you! For your benefit let me deliver my favourite punchline – “I was born with wings on my back and wheels on my feet.”

The Route
The Route

A colleague from the Sales team asked me if I could travel for a week to Punjab before the launch of the company, as he would be travelling to another region and didn’t want the money-rich belt to suffer. Bottom-line, he didn’t want us to take a hit on business when we launched. We had a huge target to cover right in the beginning and not training the bankers in Punjab meant a big loss. To be veracious I was very eager to make that trip because I hadn’t seen much of that state. And the first thing that came to my mind was shopping in the evenings after work hours. There was no way I would let such an opportunity pass. Not that there was any dearth of such opportunities, but my heart started doing cartwheels just looking at the itinerary. Mumbai – Amritsar – Jalandhar – Khanna – Ludhiana – Patiala – Mohali – Chandigarh – Mumbai! Now would you give that up?

I hate early morning flights, but since I didn’t like to waste a day by traveling the previous night, I preferred an early morning flight. I was to fly to Amritsar via Delhi and had a training session in the afternoon itself, post banking hours. It was a perfect flight with an hour’s transit in Delhi which would drop me off at Amritsar latest by 1 p.m. which meant I had a good two hours before starting the training program. That would also give me enough time to do some PR with the Branch Manager as well as the other important officers of the Bank. Happily, I chose to wear my white and pink lucknowi salwar suit – one of my favourites. It was time to show off all my suits to the people of Punjab and hence I packed the best! This was going to be the perfect office cum personal trip as I had planned on visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar as well as Wagah Border – places that were on my list for long.

The flight was on time. I usually pre-book my window seat and was merrily tucked in after I boarded. Since I had lost out on my morning sleep I wanted to sleep it off. Unfortunately the air hostess must have seen my size and thought I could do with some extra nutrition and hence she woke me up for breakfast. I normally hate the food in Jet, but their morning snacks are decent, so I didn’t mind eating. I quickly finished the uttapam and fruits, had some lemon tea and didn’t take a minute longer than necessary to doze off again. I was partaking in some wonderful play at school in my reverie when I suddenly got a sinking feeling! First I didn’t understand what it was. I thought it was happening in my dream, but then I suddenly realised that the plane dropped by perhaps a 100 feet. May be I am exaggerating, I don’t know but that’s how I felt. I forced my eyes open and realised that everyone was in frenzy. The plane was consistently dropping after every few seconds. It felt like we were hitting a vacuum and dropping down. Man! Was this turbulence or a death sentence! Being someone who loved flying, turbulence didn’t really scare me. But this was driving me crazy. The food plates were still on the tables and so were the water bottles and tea cups.  And for a moment I wasn’t sure whether I was scared of the turbulence or of spoiling my white suit.

Rendezvous with the land of Makkhan, #Phulkari, #Bhangra te balle-balle via Jaipur #Punjab Click To Tweet
Flight turbulence
Flight turbulence

I can’t stand a foreign touch and didn’t want to keep my hands on the arm rest because my male co-passenger was holding the arm rest for dear life. But in a moment he sensed that I didn’t really have any place to hold on to save myself from bumping my head into the front seat, and hence he held on to the seat in front of him instead. Thank god – now the arm rest had become my best friend. The turbulence didn’t stop and I realised we were just half an hour away from Delhi. My stomach was churning and all the food in my tummy was threatening to plunge out any minute. Plus the constant yelling of the passengers and children crying away out of fear, it was a terrible hour of my life. What was this turbulence about? I couldn’t fathom the reason, it was the month of May – no rains no winters and hence no fog, then why the turbulence. We soon learnt that it was being caused by differences in air density. If you are flying along and the air is very dense, and if you suddenly hit some that is less dense, then the lift the wings provide does not remain the same. At times it is also caused by downdrafts, which is basically the weather causing the wind to blow downward instead of sideways. A plane usually drops either from wind shear or from hitting a two-front wave that causes the craft to lose-lift, kind of like hitting a vacuum. Whatever the hell it was I couldn’t care less. I just needed to be transported safely, somewhere. Where?

After the terrible turbulence which was thoroughly blamed on the weather as stated above, we were told that we couldn’t land in Delhi due to the bad weather. So we kept circling in the heavens above – seventh, tenth or ninth I didn’t know. But we were just going round and round. And soon came the other pathetic news – we were running out of fuel. Must all things go wrong at the same time?! While it was a perfectly natural progression to run out of fuel, did we really care for such a logical thing to happen? Over and above that was the hooting and shouting by all the passengers. All in all we were all shit scared. The pilot wasn’t nice enough to announce where we would land, he just mentioned he would figure out where to land and that gave me the jitters. Well most of the times, people do get scared when there is no reason to, but again that is a very natural phenomenon too, right? We safely landed at Jaipur airport. The pilot wasn’t bad and he did a great job of landing the plane.

jaipur-airportI immediately switched on my cell phone, not allowing the noise in the plane to get to me. People were literally trying to run out of the plane and the crew had a tough time handling the irate passengers. Some folks wanted to take a cab to Delhi, couldn’t blame them after such a lovely experience, can we? Anyway, I had to inform mom and dad where I was because I was way off the timing mark and I knew they would be worried like hell. I spoke to dad and gave him the picture briefly. Guess the first thing he asked me. “Are you sure you have safe-landed in Jaipur and this isn’t a terrorist hijacking the plane?” Oh god – papa stop being dramatic I wanted to tell him, but said, “We are in Jaipur papa, this is a small airport and I recognise it well, so don’t worry.” I told him I would keep him posted. The next call would be to my colleague in Delhi who was waiting for me to land and speak to him. Just when I was about to dial him, the cell yelled “Umardeep Singh” at me. I realised he must have finally found my cell switched on and called me in an instant. All I heard in the beginning was his devilish laughter. He knew about the turbulence and was following my flight closely, being protective about me this was a natural thing for him to do. But I wanted to slap him for laughing when I just had one of the most horrible and harrowing mornings of my life. He was worried about me and I promised to keep him posted as well.

By now, I had another big worry. I was way off the transit time and my flight from Delhi to Amritsar would have taken off. That meant another big issue. That also reminded me that I had to call my colleague who was to pick me up at Amritsar airport. Poor girl, she was waiting desperately for my call. I advised her to go to the branch and not wait for me at the airport and that I would call her when I took off from Delhi. Only when was the question. We were to travel from Amritsar to Jalandhar the same evening post the training program and hence she had to wait for me. Sweet girl – Sonia!

We finally took off from Jaipur after re-fuelling and a nasty wait of two hours. We landed safely in Delhi and I rushed to the Jet Airways counter to check on my Amritsar flight, only to figure that the plane hadn’t taken off due to bad weather. The next flight was after three hours. I collected my boarding pass and called another friend to pick come pick me up from the airport. I needed to head out and get some fresh air to clear my mind. Poor guy Vibhuti left office and rushed to the airport upon learning my plight. Usually airports don’t allow you to leave once you have the boarding pass for the next flight, but I was too adamant and signed off their register and stepped out. I had a good two hours and hence had lunch with my friend. He dropped me back to the airport on time. To my great fortune that day I found that my flight was postponed by another two hours. Could you make it worse, God? Oh luck! I decided to head to the lounge; eat, drink and make merry. And yes, write an email to my entire team about the experiences I went through today. I did exactly that! Lest I forget I ensured that I wrote about Umardeep’s devilish laughter in bold for the whole team to know, since that time I was fuming. More importantly I knew he wouldn’t mind. The moment I clicked on send, my cell started buzzing. I started getting calls from office colleagues asking me whether I was okay. “I may as well enjoy the limelight” I told myself and smiled.

Finally the flight to Amritsar was announced and I made my way towards the boarding gate. I got my usual window seat in the somewhat small plane and closed my eyes with the promise of opening them only when we landed… safely! I was exhausted with the day’s proceedings and the sad thought that my training program at Amritsar had to be cancelled. My colleague Sonia conducted a small presentation on my behalf. We landed safely and I called Sonia to tell her I would be walking out. The moment I stepped out of the gate I took a step back, alarmed. Something I didn’t expect. No! People weren’t rushing towards me with garlands or something, but I had never seen soooo many turbans in one go! It took me a minute to reconcile with the thought that I had just landed in Sardar-land and seeing so many Sikhs together was an obvious thing to happen. Besides, they all looked very warm and nice people who were ‘balle-balleing’ their way towards the arrival gate to pick up their loved ones.

I found Sonia; rather she found me. We had met for the first time, by the way! I was relieved and we headed for the car straightaway to get to Jalandhar before it got very late. On the way, I was desperate for a cup of tea and Sonia was sweet enough to oblige me by stopping at a decent and safe dhabba. The hot tea did me good, lifted my spirits and we went back to the car.

Mouthwatering Amritsari dhaba food
Mouthwatering Amritsari dhaba food

Though the beginning of my Punjab trip was terrible, it was an amazing tour overall. All the programs went off very well. I shopped till I could literally drop at every instance I could sneak out, in every city, visited the holy Golden Temple by the night (though missed Wagah due to paucity of time), met some lovely people and made friends for life. All’s well that ends well, isn’t it? 🙂

The Golden Temple by the night
The Golden Temple by the night

Featured Image Source: Flickr

Dhaba Image Source: Flickr

Golden Temple Image Source: Flickr

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