PRIYA KHANNA vividly captures the panoramic view of the majestic mountains during her first helicopter ride, which was all the more memorable because the destination was Kedarnath

My husband doesn’t talk much, which is why he often manages to startle me, when he actually shares his thoughts and plans. Earlier this month, he suddenly told me that he had planned a trip to Kedarnathji during the long weekend for Eid. His idea being that we would visit the Char Chote Dham (Kedarnathji, Badrinathji, Yamunotri and Gangotri) , one by one, while we were in Uttarakhand. 

I thought of protesting and asking for more time to think about it, just because he had the whole thing worked out without even telling me that he had been planning this trip. But he said we had to hurry, as by mid-November all visits to the temple are stopped and this long weekend was the only one before the end of the visiting window. So, I put away my sulks and took out my winter woollies and got ready!

We drove for many hours to get to the point from where we were to go by helicopter! It had been my dream to fly by helicopter, because while a ride on a plane, train, ship, boat, and so on, had been done and dusted, many times over, I had never had the chance to sit in a chopper. Due to the nature of his appointments, my husband had flown in a chopper many times before. One lady I had spoken to, who had experienced a chopper ride, had told me about how scared she felt, being in a glass bubble and it felt as if she would fall out and it was a very scary moment for her. Nevertheless, I wanted to experience this for myself.

The author Priya Khanna waiting to board the helicopter

So, we were in the office of the helicopter service providers the evening before our early morning flight the next day. Besides the documents and other formalities, we had to get our weight taken so they could easily calculate the optimum load that was allowed in these mechanical birds. 

Taking my weight in public is my worst nightmare. Being told that I’m cute and cuddly soothes my soul, but when the doctor hovers over the weighing machine and grunts in shock, it does much to puncture my rosy pink cuddly balloon. Let it suffice to say, I was not a happy traveller when I got on the scales in a large hall with at least four men sitting behind the counter focusing their beady gaze on the digital panel and any number of waiting passengers eagerly watching the spectacle around the weighing machine.

Of course my weight was over the permitted amount and we had to pay a fine for every extra kilo. I tried to say that we weren’t going to carry any luggage, so that should be adjusted against my excess weight, while another person tried to say that whenever weight is taken, doctors always subtract at least two kilos for the clothes, ok, that other person was also me, but I realised that the weight has to include all clothing and shoes, as the complete package was going to be on the machine. Sigh…I just hoped that I would never see these people, who knew my inflated weight, along with the weight of my shoes and clothes, ever again.

So, all formalities sorted, we hurried to our guestroom for the night, as it was already pitch dark at 6 pm. On the way we saw a gorgeous full moon, as it was Ashwin Poornima. In the mountains, the skies appear to be closer, stars brighter and the moon bigger. 

Alas! I was unable to take a good picture as we kept driving and I could only get a blurred shot. Of course all my Facebook and Instagram friends posted many pictures of the gorgeous moon, but in the mountains, the view is different. One can’t get the same view from a dusty city in the plains. I put away my phone camera and tried to drink in the glorious view of the full moon hanging between two mountain peaks, looking as big as a perfect blue batasha. I would have to rely on my mind’s eye to experience this beautiful scene again. 

Exhausted with our lengthy journey by road, we quickly fell asleep. The next day we needed to be at the helipad by at least 6 am, as the flights were on a first come, first served basis and people started trickling in as early as 5 am. We hurried across to the helipad and got a number for our turn in the helicopter and then were given the news that an army VIP was flying in for darshan at the temple and so all other flights were suspended until his chopper had landed.

I took this opportunity to click many photographs of the mountains and the grounded helicopters that were visible on the helipad. Soon the flights resumed and after a few helicopters had come and gone with passengers who had got their number before us, it was our turn. 

We were finally allowed on to the helipad and asked to wait on one side. I darted across to the large H and tried to get a shot of the mountain peaks behind me, when a bunch of agitated men started shouting and asking me to stop clicking. Apparently you can’t take pics on the helipad, even if there was no helicopter around at the moment.

And then it was our turn and we were asked to line up on the tarmac and a guide gave us instructions, no loose clothing or headgear, everyone was asked to remove their caps and scarves. If anything flies off, don’t follow it, an employee will fetch it for you, lower your head and walk fast. The guide also arranged the travellers on his left and right and we were told which seats we had to sit in and which side of the helicopter to approach. There was no ambiguity, it was very clear they had done this millions of times before. 

It was fast and efficient. As soon as one helicopter landed, passengers were hustled off, while simultaneously the waiting passengers were hustled on, in one smooth manoeuvre. Doors clicked shut and we were up, up and away!

It was a very smooth and stable ride. No dipping or swaying or fear of vertigo. The helicopter turned and lifted elegantly and smoothly flew along the path of the river below. It was just as if I was sitting in a sturdy car and driving smoothly along the mountainside.

From my position I saw houses perched on the sides of the mountain, all a cheerful pista green or pink or blue, pretty candy colours, crowded together between the cultivation on the rounded steps along the hillside. There were scores of helipads all along the route. If you knew flying, this was where you were assured a job. A few helicopters crossed on the other side, carrying returning passengers. Business was booming!

Flying definitely gives one an excellent view of the general topography and you see things better than you could have imagined, as the Geography you learnt in school comes alive in front of your eyes and suddenly it all makes sense and rings true. 

I closed my eyes in thanks to the Almighty for making me one of the fortunate ones to fulfil my dream of flying in a helicopter, while also beginning my journey to the first of the Chote Char Dham of Uttarakhand. 

Before I realised it, we had landed and a new set of handlers quickly and efficiently hustled us off the chopper and I bent my head below the rotor blades and ran forward, another step closer to Kedarnathji. 

An offspring of two fauji doctors, Priya Khanna is now a full-time, stay-at-home fauji wife and mother to a teen terror and a gorgeous golden cocker spaniel. When she’s not reading, Priya Khanna is likely bingeing on a crime series on Netflix and reminiscing about the time when she was jetting all over the world for her work as an instructional designer with a Gurgaon MNC. 

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