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MY FLIGHT OF FANCY

The dream I have of flying like a bird was fulfilled in a way when I took off to the air recently as I para-sailed in Penang. The reassuring harness strapped to my body the speedboat took off with a great speed and noise and hurtled me into the air, feet dangling and all, for a sensation I wanted to experience since my childhood. As I soared higher and higher, I watched the Penang beachfront receding into the distance and the horizon widening to unveil a jewel of an island.

Flying was a novelty to most of us back then when I was a child, for both adults and children. Few aircrafts landed at Kathmandu and those pilots who flew them were legendary. Whenever I came across these pilots, pointed out to me in whispered awe by my minders, I used to look up to them both literally and metaphorically. I remember a Sikh pilot and another Anglo-Indian pilot frequently flying the Nepal skies. I cannot remember their names. However the real Indiana Jones of the time was a Polish pilot; more of him later.

It was sometime during this period that I dropped a bombshell sending the household into a tizzy: I would become an airline pilot when I grew up! The consternation this unexpected announcement generated caught my mother in a pang of anxiety as she slapped me and started sobbing. Flying for a living was a subject one did not broach ever after. But flying I did for the very first time in a Douglas DC-3 of Royal Nepal Airlines when I accompanied my father to Patna en route to a train journey bound for Varanasi and Lucknow back in 1962. The Dakotas were noisy and shaky and I remember father and son puking at the Patna airport washroom after a particularly violent flight.

DC-3 Aircraft at Kathmandu's Gauchar Airfield
Starting from 1950 the first commercial aircrafts to land at Kathmandu's "Gauchar", cattle grazing field, were the Dakotas of Himalayan Aviation, an airline company started by Nepal's political exiles Subarna Shumsher and Mahavir Shumsher based in Calcutta with 3 DC-3s acquired from the Burma Front. Both the Ranas would finance to the hilt many burgeoning but penniless political parties hell bent on ousting the Rana regime but I digress. It took Captain Stanislaw Bujakowski, a gutsy Polish WWII veteran of the Royal Air Force and accompanying good karma to fly passengers from Calcutta into the mountains up north and land in Kathmandu Valley. The couple Bujakowski - Halina and Stanislaw - were intrepid adventurers who embarked in 1934 on a transcontinental journey from Warsaw to Shanghai on a BSA G34-14 motorbike for "their honeymoon"!  Following Hitler's invasion of Poland Stanislaw joined the RAF in England and fought for the British. After the war he joined Himalayan Aviation and flew frequently to Nepal.

Halina Bujakowska's book on her journey with her husband Stanislaw from Warsaw to Shanghai in a motorbike

The Bujakowskis and their BSA motorbike
















After 1951 for the first time supplies were flown into Nepal instead of transported on the backs of porters over the interminable mountain passes. Himalayan Aviation was merged into Indian Airlines in 1953 while the Nepalese aviation industry would grow independently with the formation of Royal Nepal Airlines in 1958.

My dream to fly has been fulfilled in more ways than one since my childhood. I have brought in international charter flights to Nepal filled with tourists, represented numerous airlines such as Malaysia Airlines and Aeroflot and assisted China Southern Airlines to fly to Nepal. I was not destined be a pilot; that is all.

Transavia Airlines' maiden flight to Nepal, September 1998





Comments

  1. Subodh, I can see how evocative these memories are for you because you have communicated this fantastically and kept us spellbound reading it. A tour de force.

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  2. You missed out Capt.Bulsara the French bearded Indian pilot of Parsi descent who ruled the Nepalese skies in the late fifties and sixties and eventually died in RNAC F27 crash in New Delhi in the seventies. He and the air hostess died but all the passengers survived. What a way to meet one's end.

    Talking about pilots we cannot forget Emile Wick the Swiss and popularly known as the King of pilatus. - Gautam

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  3. Gautam ji, thanks for reminding us more of those magnificent men and their flying machines. I remember that one helicopter belonging to the Riblet Tramway Company was parked in Kiran Bhawan in those days. The company was constructing a ropeway from Kathmandu to Hetauda for transporting goods under US Aid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Subodh Ji, even today a Dakota aka DC 3 ( even a picture) makes me feel very very nostalgic. The lunch packets those days were no box but a roughly packed food in Nepalese paper distributed to passengers after the flight took off for Calcutta. On the return leg Calcutta/Kathmandu you got a proper box the kind we see around these days.

      The Menu on Kathmandu/Calcutta flight - Fried Chicken or Chicken Cutlet,one boiled egg, one raw tomato, a slice of fruit cake and salt and pepper wrapped up again in two small Nepali paper ( the kind you get Ayurvedic medicines). If I remember correctly the flight caterer those days was Coronation Hotel located in Bagh Bazar where currently the Celadon Complex is located. That is all I can remember- Gautam

      Delete
  4. The start of Winter school holidays and I remember looking forward to going home to Dang in a DC-3 plane in the `60s.
    The plane starting from Ktm. would make stops at Pokhara,Bhairawa,Dang,Nepalganj and back.It was difficult to get air tickets and I recall the price of air ticket from Ktm to Dang was just Rs 80 for school kids in 1964.It was an exciting and exhilarating trip and I felt completely safe.

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    Replies
    1. Those were the days Govind Ji. Kathmandu/Simra NPR 15 pp ( Late fiftees) and the Mt. Flight of RNAC started by the then Indian GM of RNAC Mr. Bajaj ( I cannot recall his first name)in the early sixtees initially cost NPR 50 per person. Any Airlines around to beat that price now? - Gautam

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  5. Subodh,
    Thanks for this excellent write up, through this you threw more light on Jeremey Bujakowski, whose father flew the first planes into Nepal. Jeremy I realised was the first person to represent India at the winter Olympics in 1964. It was while searching him that I came across your blog entry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Prem for your comment. Yes, I did garner this information during my research and perhaps I will tell this story in my future blogs. Best regards.

      Delete
    2. Subodh,
      Looking forward to that, I have already created Jeremy Bukowski's wikipedia entry and am looking for more information to build it up.
      Prem
      PS: I really liked your lead story on the sisters of Coorg. Even though Coorg is just a three hours drive away from where I stay there was practically nothing I know of their former ruler. Thanks.

      Delete
  6. Halina and Stanisław travelled not from Warsaw, but from Druskienniki (Druskininkai), nowadays in Lithuania, then polish city.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete

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