There was no time to spare. A shower, a round of packing and more repacking, we left home at 0700 hours, barely home for three hours. We were on our way back to the airport, this time with Mum and Dad. The two of us were awake as ever, while mum and dad had groggy eyes thanks to our arrival (thanks, AA! :P )
The India plan was a go since October 2015. However, things didn’t look quite serious till we actually booked our American (Etihad) tickets. Winter destinations in India are a tricky one - not only are they expensive, they are crowded. Left, right and center. I knew I had to show my girlfriend a national park. Would it be Bandavgarh, a first for me? Or would it be Ranthombore, continuing where I left off in 2010? It turned out to be Kaziranga in the north east. I last visited this park in 2006, when Dobby was a two month old puppy, when I was much smaller, and when Alliance Air ATRs scooted across the north Eastern skies out of Kolkata. I really wanted to try out Air India (a combination of a double bogey A320, and a return on the ATR 42-320s, ex-Alliance Air).
AIRLINE, AIRCRAFT ROTATION
Jet Airways it was. Our flight out of Kolkata was a JetKonnect one, a long rotation starting out in Bengaluru, stopping over in Kolkata, Guwahati before finally heading to Jorhat. A full day’s rotation. The 737-800 was based in Bengaluru. Rotational swaps would occur if the plane went over to Mumbai as S24393 after returning to BLR the same night, or to New Delhi as S24814 after returning to BLR. The return would be the last ATR service out of Guwahati. With their Konnect mess, one can’t even purchase seats on a S2/Konnect operated flight, let alone a seat selection. The ATR flight, I cold select seats as it was a Jet Airways operated flight. More on this confusion here. Keep in mind this information is from December 2016, so I might be a little off.
FROM A DREAM)LINER TO A 737 - HELLO AGAIN NSCBI, KOLKATA!
We reached the airport at 0756 hours and headed straight in to the terminal following the ID check. The two of us were back in this terminal a whole four hours after we got our luggage - QR541 was still on its way to Doha!
Baggage screening took some time, and we were at the check in line by 0807 hours.
Check in took forever due to the transfer baggage confusion that passengers in front of us had.
In to security check by 0822 hours, some people had to jump the line because their charter flight was departing soon. The CISF, nor the regular passengers had any of this, and shunned away these business folk. They were least impressed by it, but oh well. They should've just shown up earlier, easy peasy. We were in the middle of the no-baggage tag trials that was being held in the major metro airports during that time. Was nice not to wait for the CISF folk to stamp the cabin baggage tags - a practice that has been finally removed, perhaps a decade (or two?) late.
Boarding pass, before and after security…
The four of us reconvened at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf - my favorite coffee shop in this part of the world. Although, my mother didn't appreciate me having an iced drink in the winter. This wasn't half as bad as me getting an iced coffee in Fargo's -25C…..
I was honestly hoping for a no-winglet JetKonnect B737-800, however it was going to be my third flight on VT-JLE, and my second on this frame within four months! Frustrating to be on the same frame more than twice :(
Headed to gate 22 after about an hour at the coffee shop.
SPOTTING! A MORNING IN KOLKATA?! THAT ONLY MEANS ONE THING….
Spotting followed, starting from the south end of the terminal, with the usual Air India Dream)liner service. It was heartening to see my girlfriend see the plane from the distance, and then commenting - ‘wait, is that…? No it can’t be…is it?’ ‘Yes, it is indeed a Boeing 787!’ I had converted another person in to a (semi) avgeek! VT-ANM was operating AI401/AI21 DEL-CCU-DEL that morning
Some of the traffic included VT-JBF operating to Mumbai as 9W472, a couple of IndiGo’s troublesome A320neos, and some of the usual ATR/A319 of Air India bound for the northeast. 9W472 to Mumbai
Some NEOs - India has 4 airlines with NEOs as of today, and I think has the most NEOs for a country! Albeit how many flying right now is a different argument altogether :)
pmIC A319s - these are the northeastern workhorses
Old terminal - used for Hajj Operations, I do believe
Inside the terminal
Some more Airbus
JLE showed up, and just like the previous time, a little late from its previous sector (in this case, S24363 from Bengaluru). It was 0958 hours, 32 minutes to departure.
Vistara A320 to Port Blair, and an Air India A319
Way too many of these in Indian skies…
ZONE WISE BOARDING?!
Zone wise boarding started at 1019 hours, and it was strictly enforced.
A couple of pics from walking down Kolkata's long jet bridge…
I was onboard at 1026 hours, to a warm welcome by the cabin crew, and some nice decorations onboard the plane. The little things that go a long way, a nice festive mood onboard. This was in addition to some Christmas carols being played. Took my seat 14A, my girlfriend in 14B (another middle seat flight in the books!), and a Jet Airways pilot in seat 14C.
G8 plane parked beside us
Cabin - small decorations
Welcome announcements were done almost instantaneously, being interrupted by the Captain to arm doors. A 50 minute flight across to the North-East, we pushed back at 1037 hours, a mere 7 minutes late.
Engines fired up, we taxied to Runway one-niner right for departure. While holding short, Captain Rohit took the time out to make his detailed announcement - we were delayed due to the late arrival of the aircraft, currently holding short of the secondary runway 19R, departing heading South before turning towards the East/North East, overflying Bangladesh at 350000 feet. We’d reach Guwahati in 57 minutes, at the speed of 0.78 mach. He also announced a choppy flight, which in Delta’s terms would probably just be a light chop.
Taxiing - more IndiGo A320s
Blue Dart B757-200F
There was no time left on the table as the pilots were certainly in a hurry to get things going, with a quick taxi to 19R. The lovely amazing sounds of the CFM56-7B24 engines got a smile to my face as we blasted down the runway at 1054 hours in to the hazy winter skies over Kolkata. JLE banked East/North East for quite some time before finally setting course for Guwahati.
1121 hours, service started pretty instantly, with a snack. As has been the case with Jet Airways/JetKonnect on such short flights, the meal was as predictable as the sun rising in the east the following morning.
The tray contained a wrap (either chicken or vegetarian, probably paneer (cottage cheese)), a bottle of water and a KitKat for dessert. There was the customary Jet Airways tamarind candy too. While the tray did look empty compared to what one might've gotten in 2010, the snack was petty decent for the time of day/duration of flight. ‘And here I am stoked when I get an extra packet of peanuts in the USA’, I quipped to my girlfriend. The crew were indifferent too. Not too many smiles, but very very efficient.
The SkyMart stuff…
The floodplains of Bangladesh were very nice to see. The rivers and tributaries, taking the course paved by mother nature, before finally heading to the Bay of Bengal.
Used to be some ads here. Now its just plastic…
Obligatory winglet picture :)
1130 hours, this time the first officer gave us his arrival briefing. We were on course for an on time arrival despite the delays, and that Guwahati had clear visibility. 9 minutes after service started!
DESCENT AND ARRIVAL
1137 hours, 7 minutes later, sixteen minutes after service started one could see the foothills of the Himalayas as we approach Guwahati. Yes, the crew cleared up all trays as well! How about that for efficiency!
Lined up with Runway 02 and a very smooth touchdown at 1144 hours, 4 minutes late. With Guwahati not having any rapid exit taxiways, we had to backtrack to the other end of the runway before finally turning towards the bay area.
Unsurprisingly, it was a remote bay disembarkation - an opportunity to get some pictures from the ground level. VT-JJA, Skyone Airways MI 172 was parked on our port side. This reminded me of my previous visit to Guwahati, where there was a rolling take off for a helicopter - a first for me.
Quite a few buses ready to take the passengers
Disembarked, and in to the bus, which later took us to the old terminal.
Bags took very long to show up since there was an IndiGo flight (from Delhi) which was using the same belt. Pictures from inside Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Intl.
And for those of you who are interested in the pictures and stuff from Kaziranga - look no further!
Bonus : Click here displayhide
While the drive wasn’t ideal since I was jet lagged (hence all the trip report coverage :) ), Kaziranga was just mesmerizing. Chilly mornings with hot tea before boarding the jeep in to the safari. We had no less than 46 rhino sightings - left right and center! These one-horned rhinoceroses are mostly found in the Northern belt of India, leading in to Nepal and Pakistan, and parts of Bangladesh. Aptly called the Indian rhino. In addition, there were the usual deer, birds, reptiles, tiger claws….and elephants. The very end of the Kaziranga trip was the highlight as we were circled in between many many elephants. My father loved it, my mother loved it, my girlfriend loved it, and suffice to say I nearly died there, not helped by the fact that I desperately had to pee….. ah well :P
We were taken good care of by the people in the resort. The tent was nice and cozy. The food was just simply outstanding. I regret not taking too many pictures of it. I quite liked taking a hot shower there - nothing better than some solar warmed water, right?! Here are some (plenty) images from the Kaziranga trip. In the next part: the biggest contradiction as I’m on a JET Airways ATR…
A chopper that flew over us during lunch
Lunch - I had the soup noodles, and my girlfriend went for dosa - straight from Southern India!
Day 1 of the safari - getting back to grips with the camera was not ideal… Tea gardens
Doggo? Wild doggo?
Closest we got to a Tiger in Kaziranga - a tree that's been clawed extensively by the big cats
Black Necked stork
Couple of the predatory birds
Breakfast by a tributary of the Brahmaputra
First of many rhinos
That same evening - rhino and hornbill
Very close to the rhinos
The next morning - everyone wants to ride on an elephant's back!
That evening, the climax - just look at the herd of elephants!
Indian Uber? lol
Mama elephant was pissed off because we stopped - all ready to charge!
These bunch of elephants. Scared me. A LOT!
Cultural performance at the resort
Some pictures from the resort of itself - tea was on point!
Kolkata - CCU
Guwahati - GAU
All in all, a pretty standard flight on JetKonnect, there were still the usual signs of confusion (JetKonnect on the boarding pass, JetKonnect flight, but Jet Airways announcements, different PNR for the JetKonnect and Jet Airways tickets, etc). On time flight, reasonable food, crew were efficient. Kolkata and Guwahati airport terminals and had vast differences, but that’s down to the fact that these airports were catering to two very different crowds. From the delay in Fargo on the 18th of December, to the long transit in Manchester and an even longer in Doha, we had made it to Guwahati on the 22nd of December. The trip to Kaziranga was up next!
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