Day 0 – Flying to Leh via Delhi

After months of research, preparation, phone calls to various hotels & taxi drivers, the long patient wait was over. It was April 25th and the day had arrived to fly to Leh! We did have a minor hiccup with our Jet Airways flight reservation, as mentioned in this post, but it was all sorted in the end. The good thing about Jet Airways was that it was a full service airline. So at Mumbai we were to depart from Terminal 2, while in Delhi we were to depart from Terminal 3. Both these terminals in Mumbai and Delhi are the newer and nicer terminals than the ones used by budget airlines. Nicer terminals means more things to do at the terminal during longer halts. We had a 9 hour overnight halt in Delhi airport, and though Delhi T3 was average, Mumbai’s T2 certainly did not disappoint.

The new terminal 2 in Mumbai has to be one of the best in the world. The most unique attraction at the terminal is a 3.2 km multi story wall filled with architecture and art representing all regions of India. It is unlike anything I have seen in all my travels around the world and you can easily spend 1 or even 2 hours just walking along and enjoying the beautiful work of art. We checked in our bags (checked all the way to Leh, as we wanted to be free of luggage in Delhi), and headed straight for the art wall. We did not know where it was, and asked a couple of airport staff, who guided us on where to go. After security, there was a food court area. The walls were located next to this food court area, along the path towards the boarding gates. We must have spent a good 1 hour around this wall as time simply flew by us.

Mumbai T2 art wall

                              (colourful art at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (art wall at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (art wall at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (art wall at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                      (a section was dedicated to the sea-faring history of India)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (art wall at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (art wall at T2 Mumbai airport)

Mumbai T2 art wall

                                                                       (beautiful marble carvings)

After a while, it was time for us to board our flight. We headed to our boarding gate, which must have been a good 15 minute walk from the section of the art wall where we were. We had chosen left side seats on our flights into Leh. I had read that while going to Leh, the left side apparently gets good views. Our journey had gotten off to a good start, and we even saw the Sea-Link as we took off from Mumbai. Within 2 hours, we landed in Delhi. The terminal 3 in Delhi was a bit confusing, and there was no art wall or anything of that sort there. We knew beforehand that in Delhi, once you exit the doors of the terminal, the security guards do not let you in until 3 hours before your flight departure. So, we had to be real careful and not exit the terminal, as we did not want to hang out in Delhi all night. We found a place to eat dinner (overpriced and not very good, but hey its airport food!) and then carried on to try and find some sleeping chairs. Those were badly needed, as our next flight had a boarding time of 4:40 am the next morning!

There were only 2 places in the entire terminal that had furniture which was fit for sleeping. One was at a food court located inside the terminal past security, and the other was at a traveler waiting area on the first floor. Besides these two places, there was also a very expensive hotel in the terminal and some sleeping pods, which apparently did not have very good reviews. We saw the food court, which had sofas where you can straighten your legs. But it was not the place to get some rest; it was crowded, noisy, and not very clean either. We were not too keen to spend a fortune on the expensive airport hotel or the pods either. That left us with only one option, the traveler waiting area. When we reached the area, all the sleeping chairs were occupied. Almost no one was leaving, and most people were going to be there the whole night. After a few minutes, one person left, and then another one. After some more waiting, all people in our group managed to get a sleeping chair. Though not very comfortable, the sleeping chairs did allow us some rest. This was really important because all flights in to Leh are during the early hours. So, most people reach Leh tired and sleepy. The tiredness just makes the whole acclimatization process in Leh longer. So, some rest before the early morning flight is always a good thing.

We woke up around 4:15 am and headed to our boarding gate. The boarding gate for our flight to Leh had a very different feel to it than the other gates. We noticed lots of foreign tourists, Ladakhis and Nepalis. Other than that, we also saw large groups of people from Jharkhand. They were service workers and contractors, who would stay and work in hotels and on highways in Ladakh during the summer months. Though it was dark outside when we boarded the plane, the weather started to brighten up as we took off. It was a 5:40 am flight, and we would be in Leh by 6:45 am. The first half hour of the flight was pretty uneventful, but once we were over Himachal Pradesh, the scene outside the window changed dramatically. The last half hour of the flight was an absolute treat, with the snow cover on the mountains increasing gradually as we went further. Then at one point, there was nothing but fully snow-covered mountains till the eye could see. The flight into and out of Leh has to be one of the most scenic in India.

Leaving Delhi at dawn

                                                                       (leaving Delhi at dawn)

over Manali

                                                  (flying over Himachal Pradesh and Manali)

Himalayas from the plane

                                               (gradually the snow cover increased)

Snow capped mountains from plane

                                      (fantastic views outside the plane, flying over Kashmir)

Leh from the plane

                                                                       (just before landing at Leh)

The town of Leh is at an altitude of 13000 feet, and just before landing at Leh airport, we went past a couple of mountains which were close to the airplane. Upon landing at Leh, we got out of the plane and on to the tarmac, and the first thing we felt was the clean unpolluted air of Ladakh. For anyone coming from a large urban area surrounded by polluted air, that is just precious. The air temperature was also cooler and we needed to put on our jackets. Remember that if you fly to Leh, do not put your jackets in your check-in luggage. You will definitely need them when you land.

The Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport in Leh was tiny. There was one conveyor belt on which all the luggage was coming through. Most flights to Leh arrive around the 7am-8am timeframe, so it can get a bit crowded at the airport. Luckily for us, we were the first ones to arrive and so there was no rush. We got our bags in less than 5 minutes and headed out to meet our driver, who would take us to our homestay. We were now in the famous Himalayas, in Ladakh – the land of the Lama!

outside Leh airport

                                                                               (outside Leh airport)


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