Mountain flight (1987)

Updated: Mar 19

Chitral is a mountain town situated on the Chitral River in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It serves as the capital of the Chitral District and likewise served as the capital of the Chitral princely state that encompassed the region until its direct incorporation into West Pakistan in 1969.

The Chitral valley, which is bounded by mountain ranges in which many peaks reach 5,000-6,000 m, can be entered only by following the riverbanks upstream or by crossing several high passes or by air. It is a secret paradise on Earth.

The easiest way to get from Peshawar to Chitral is by air, weather permitting. The problem that I faced was that bad weather had resulted in a backlog of flights. With great difficulty, I managed to get a seat on a flight that was due to leave an hour or so after dawn on the following day.

In the morning, the skies were clear, so I went to Peshawar airport feeling optimistic that the weather would stay clear all day. I checked in and waited in the departure lounge for the flight to be called. Tea and cakes were being served in grimy china cups. As soon as we were called to board, I watched as the tea server collected all the dirty cups and poured any dregs back into the teapot. I was comforted by the knowledge that our flight was only the second flight of the day.

I was expecting a twin engine Fokker, but instead, I was told to board a Pakistan Air Force C-130 transport plane (similar to the one shown in the stock photo above). My fellow passengers were a mix of Chitralis and Afghans. It was likely that some of the Afghans were Mujahedeen fighters as the fighting against the Russians was about to restart after the winter pause.

The plane was fully laden with people, mail, goods and a generator the size of a small car. I strapped myself into my aisle seat and sat with my knees in contact with the man sitting opposite me.

The take off was abrupt and noisy. My webbing seat was basic, but comfortable. Our route took us close to the border with Afghanistan, where Russia was losing its fight against the Afghans. As we descended into the Chitral valley, the plane twisted and turned. Occasionally, I could see snow-capped mountains above us through the nearest porthole.

The landing was very heavy and for a brief moment, I thought we had actually crashed. When the aircraft eventually came to halt, the Pakistan Air Force crew immediately started to disembark the cargo and passengers.

As I stepped out into the sunshine, I looked up into the clear blue sky. Two F16's were circling high above us. The navigation officer saw me looking at the F16's and invited me over for a chat. He explained that this was the first flight since a Russian transport aircraft had been shot down not far from where we had flown.

"We were worried that they might have tried something with this flight".

Some of my fellow passengers picked up my bag and threw it onto the back of a four wheel drive pick up truck and encouraged me to join them.

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