Farewells are always difficult and with my sister at the airport to see us off, did not make it any easier. On top of that, we had been planning for this for six months and now it was time to move on. I wanted to stay longer but we have a mission and we must move on….
Our departure for Sri Lanka was delayed as we had planned to take on a little extra fuel for insurance….just in case. It was a good thing we took some extra….The weather forecast for India was all wrong and there were massive buildups and the controllers were having a heck of a time as everyone was deviating, ducking or just refusing clearances. Our initially filed plan was modified by the Indian controllers that added an extra 100 miles to our trip. They kept up over water until we were well past Mumbai and then the weather took over. We kept deviating until almost close to Goa, when we found a hole in the weather and slipped thru it. The good news was that our strike finder was helping us in finding were the lightning strikes were and which clouds to avoid. By the time we got done, after a bunch of anxious moments, we were well on our way. One of the peculiarities of the Indian air traffic control systems was that the civil ATC does not have very good radar coverage, therefore, they require people to fly the airways (highways in the sky) and report distances to and from specific waypoints/fixes with the appropriate radials. At times they require position reporting every 10 miles to determine if the radio contact is still intact and at the last minute they try to relay the VHF frequency for the next sector. This technique left Haris and I in limbo several times so much so that at three instances, a local airliner flying in our sector had to give us the frequency for the next sector. Despite this challenge, the controllers were very professional and easy to get along. We finally came to Madurai VOR and started tracking 165 radial outbound for our exit from the Indian airspace and entry into the Sri Lankan airspace. The Indian Ocean looked pretty rough below. we spotted a single container ship on its way to deliver its heavy load to some far away port and continued on our way towards Colombo.
The weather at Colombo was overcast at 1600 feet. By this time we had been in the air for about 9 hours and we were given the ILS22 into Columbo. The Columbo airspace is quite interesting. The approach controller either sends you to a hold or gives your a new frequency to contact the “Director”. The director’s job is to sequence the inbound flights to alleviate congestion in the Colombo airspace. By the way, Colombo has only one runway, so the director has to be on top of his game. Haris hand flew the ILS approach to perfection and a great landing. We met out handler, the Sri Lankan Airlines and they requested fuel for us. It took the fuel guys about 3 hours to bring the fuel to our plane. By the time we got done and headed to our hotel, it was almost 9:00 PM local time and we had not eaten anything since 6:00 AM. The customs people found some irregularities with our paperwork….at the next opportunity I must fill out at least two GenDec (General Declaration forms in accordance with the ICAO-annex for chapter 9)…lesson learned. The drive to the airport was spooky to say the least. Our courtesy car driver took us into what looked like a dark alley and then turned into a darker one still. He parked in front of a large gate that opened and we entered the hotel compound. To our surprise, this was a gem of a hotel with immaculate rooms and great service.
The name of the hotel was quite unassuming as it was called : Airport City Hub. Our initial skepticism was replaced by serious admiration, once again Eddie Gold, our program manager and dispatcher hit gold. The restaurant in the hotel has a limited menu but everything is cooked to perfection. During the night the phone started ringing and the call seemed to be from Pakistan. I finally got connected and the young man introduced himself as Umer Akmal, a Pakistani cricketer. He was very complimentary and wanted to talk with Haris. I informed him that Haris was fast asleep and so was I being that it was 12:45 AM in Colombo. He offered to help us in any way he could and wanted to just be in contact with us as he appreciated what we were doing. The next morning, we did not have our landing permit for Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to stay an extra day and go sight seeing. Upon our request the hotel arranged for a cab with the driver for the whole day for Rs 7500, which translated to $58. We jumped at the opportunity and with the local driver, went to town to see Colombo and Nogambo beach.
Our first stop was the famous Budhist temple. The whole temple was quite an amazing sight with huge amounts of Ivory everywhere. They even had a live elephant in the temple. There were some expensive cars and an assortment of jewelry, probably things donated by ardent followers of their faith. Gave a little feel for the alms giving that goes on at Data Darbar in Lahore….similar principle – different religion. By the way, before entering the temple one is required to remove their shoes prior to entering .
After visiting the temple we decided to see the beaches, where the Indian Ocean was a little rough and the surf was coming in at an almost regular and rhythmic pace. For some reason, Haris and I thought that the water of the Atlantic was a little cleaner than that of the Indian Ocean. It could have been a consequence of the rough seas whereby a lot of dirt and debris had been dredged up giving it a dirty hue. Next we drove to the town of Nogambo, where a lagoon was lined up for miles with resorts. We found out that a lot of Australians and Europeans come for vacations. Certain parts of town seemed to be run over by fair skinned tourists.
Finally we decided that all the fun and frolic must come to an end and we returned to our hotel. We plan to depart Sri Lanka for Kuala lumpur by 8:00 AM which means we must be up and about before 6:00 AM and be at the airport no later than 7:00 AM…..