It is an early morning scene in the outskirts of growing city of Guwahati. I am rushing to catch IC-7751 flight to Dimapur and Imphal. Low volume of traffic on the way ensures early arrival at the airport. Tempted, I try my hand at the wheels in the North East for the first time. A lady staffer of Indian Airlines is walking very fast to report for duty. She gets a healthy competition from a male colleague. In view of the fact that there is no other flight, I presume that I am not late. At the entry point, one is subjected to checking of identity twice. It is irritating but can’t be helped. Next, one has to confront a long que at the X-ray baggage machine. Getting past that, one moves to check-in counter. The process is very slow not only for me but also for a family accompanying an old man on a wheel chair. Papers and envelopes held tightly by him give an indication that Iobi Singh has just been discharged by Dispur Hospitals. Soon I notice that display board is showing yesterdays date (31st July 2010). Till 6.12 a.m., no security check is announced. Two policemen, therefore, refuse entry. Finally, we cross the security barrier. Though the departure lounge looks deserted, my joy knows no bounds. After all, this is my maiden visit to Nagaland, the ‘Switzerland of the East’, a land blessed with lush green forests and immense natural beauty.
At 6.15 a.m. two pilots report for duty. The co-pilot happens to be an overweight woman. They are followed by two young and tall air hostesses. Even though the scheduled departure time is 6.30 a.m., the dilapidated and fit for ‘denting and painting’ kind of bus of Indian Airlines arrives late to pick up the passengers. Within five minutes we manage to enter the ATR craft. In no time, the air hostesses see to it that the passengers, including a fat “Sardarji” (making maximum noise) and a hassled housewife(running all over the place), settle down. At 6.42 taxing begins and the mini plane is airborne with a rapid speed, something akin to a Maruti Car, say about 25 years ago. I am fortunate not to have a co-passenger. This particular opportunity and overall solitude is befitting to enable scribbling a few lines for posterity.
The routine welcome announcement indicates that weather is fine and soothing at Dimapur. The hills around Guwahati and the mammoth Brahmaputra look gorgeous. It is water water all over. A few islands and a long river bridge catch attention. As we move up, thin layers of white clouds move like smoke. GCI sheets over roof tops sparkle magnificently in bright sunshine. Dense portions of the largest city of NER are now visible. One cannot see any landmark, however. Green, low hillocks do make a statement. Some of them abound in typical folds, last seen by me during a heli-ride in Tripura. My irresistible visible romance with nature gets a setback on hearing an un welcome announcement pertaining to unfastening of seat belt. Soon my confidence is restored on hearing another announcement commencing serving of breakfast.
When I resume looking through the window, large areas appear inundated. The mighty Brahmaputra gives the appearance of a sea. A few meandering streams give Him company. It appears as if the flying machine is destined to go gently along its course. I have noticed that whenever I am in a mood to write something in plane, I am invariably seated on the left side, an indication, perhaps of my left-tilted, if not left oriented thinking.
When I look further, patterns formed by the paddy fields and tiled huts look beautiful. Not only I am enjoying the beauty outside but get a fair dose inside as well, off and on. While boarding, the plane gave a God for shaken look from outside. Inside now, it looks cool, cosy and comfortable.
At 6.55 a.m., descent begins without any announcement. But there is no trace of the break-fast announced ten minutes ago. I need it badly to gulp four of my tablets to contain blood pressure and regulate heart beat. At last, a pair of tall air hostesses donning new Laheria Sari patterns of red, white and black colours makes an appearance with their trolleys. I look simultaneously at the white clouds with streaks of blue, far behind and the sumptuous looking snack packets. All said and done, Indian Airlines continues to be far better in hospitality than all ‘cheap’ private airlines put together. The breakfast, however, came in installments. First of all water bottles were served. Thereafter, came, a closed tray having three items – a vegetable patty, a twisted biscuit and a thick slice of brown cake with a pouch of sauce. Tea was conspicuous by its absence. The menu was same as I got while taking IC-7756 flight (Agartala - Guwahati) on 8th of July. Even though it is early in the day, I eat nicely and to my heart’s content.
The time is 7.10 hours. The descent is more prominent now. Large water bodies are no longer visible, rather serpentine roads amidst green patches keep appearing. Clouds also hover every now and then. Suddenly my attention is drawn to a coughing passenger behind my row. It came from Iobi Singh, the wheel chair bound old man. Now that Dimapur was not far behind, he must be waiting desperately to get off and immerse himself in his sweet home. When the plane further loses height, one can see small hillocks, a river, a stadium in construction and probably the railway station of Dimapur. The ‘S’ formation of another river attracts. From the colour of its water, one can make out that it has rained heavily up in hills. Oh no, the plane, instead of touching the aerodrome, gains height. Sunrays touch my face. They provide warm, soothing comfort. After five minutes or so descent begins again. One can feel the difference this time, both through eyes and ears. A patch of dense forest is seen. Landing is taking longer than expected. The view on my side of the window gives an impression as if we are gaining height. A look through the right window, on the other hand, brings us closer to the ground. At last at 7.20 hours, the landing announcement is made. For a moment, however, the plane almost stops in the mid air. Flying so low over a green patch has its own advantages. We are fortunate to be in the lap of an eco-friendly zone.
Soon Dimapur having a ground temperature of 28 degree is visible. The scenario described earlier is being repeated. Sharp at 7.25 we have a smooth landing. I presume that Iobi Singh is happier than me. I request for an extra bottle of water. The air hostess obliges with a smile. When I get closer to the terminal building, I notice a thick growth of grass on both sides of pathway. Instead of an airport official guiding me correctly to arrival lounge, it is a security man who does the duty. Again, instead of Airport Authority of India welcoming the passengers, it is a hoarding of SBI which has been allowed to do the honours. Exactly four passengers assemble in the conveyer belt zone. What a waste of aviation fuel and manpower, I think, while trying to locate Takum and Showuba. Soon I find them. While I experience joy, Iobi, perhaps, is still undergoing a bout of sorrow. Getting into a white Bolero (NL-01/C/7082), I see that Captain B.P. Shah is taking him and others to Imphal.