The next morning I woke up at 5am, in preparation of the first morning flight to Gilgit which departs at 7am. My friend AN picked me up at the hotel and mentioned the flight is confirmed going ahead. The Gilgit (and Northern area) flight is always subject to the weather condition, if the visibility are bad the flight will be cancelled for days. Knowing the flight will be operating is a big relieve.
We got to the airport check-in and found out my return flight from Gilgit to Islamabad is not yet confirmed. There was clearly a risk of not being able to return after flew into Gilgit. The only alternative way is to take a bus which takes over 20 hours compared to the 1 hour flight.
At this point, I decided to forge ahead with my plan even with a slight uncertainty whether I will be able to fly back later. My friend AN will try contact the local PIA chief at Gilgit to help me secure a seat back once we reach Gilgit.
Early morning check-in at Domestic terminal.
“Chance passenger”, I am one of those this morning!
Early morning scenes on the tarmac at Islamabad – Benazir Bhutto Int’l airport
I was the first passenger to board the plane among the pilot and crew. A PIA van took us across the tarmac to the ATR-42.
Surprisingly, the PIA ATR-42 have 2 classes; Economy Plus and Economy.
Here I am sitting in the cozy Economy Plus section before general boarding start.
Islamabad - Gilgit
Flight time: 1 hour
Flight Level: 17,500 feet
Seat: Standing behind the pilots the whole way
We took off just after sunrise. I was standing behind the pilots given that there is no jumpseat on the ATR-42. At this moment, I have no clue that the scenery enroute will be so spectacular later on…….
A clear morning flying out of Islamabad heading North. The air is clear, haze free.
After 15 minutes of flying, we can already see many snow covered mountain on both side. We were cruising at 17,500 feet from sea level and those mountains are not that far from us.
The flight became extremely interesting. The pilots have now switched off the Auto Pilot due to many terrains warning. They both know the route very well and weather visibility is clear.
Amazing scenery enroute heading to the Northern area.
View of Nanga Parbat (Naked Beauty), the second highest mountain in Pakistan. (9th highest in the world with height of 8126m) Some snows are blowing off the mountain top!
After 30 minutes in-flight, the weather suddenly changed, the clear weather gives away for more cloud in the ceiling. The pilot started to discuss whether we will go ahead or turn back to Islamabad. To go ahead and reach Gilgit, we will need good visibility with no low clouds hindering around. If one area has bad visibility, we cannot proceed and will need to turn back.
A decision was made that to continue ahead but taking cautious on weather.
See the line across the mountain, that’s the road to reach Gilgit!
Weather deteriorated and getting darker when we are closer to Gilgit. However with the visibility still above minimum required, looks like we are going to make it in!
Our flight track along the Indus River valley all the way into Gilgit.
Scenery near Gilgit, we started our descend.
A final turn before reaching Gilgit, but I still cannot see where the airport is!
Pilot told me we were on final, but without the runway insight!
Suddenly, I can see the runway emerge from the trees and fog just few hundreds feet before touch down.
It was a thrill on the finals; we landed at the exact touch down spot and rolled to the end before backtracking to the small apron. Within 2-3 minutes, from not even seeing the airport till now having landed safely. My feet are getting a little weak after standing for an hour behind the pilots.
To share with the thrill, please see my YouTube Video on the whole flight.
This is the new terminal building which opens in Jan 2013. The PIA chief at Gilgit came to greet us at the aircraft door. He handed me my return boarding pass; this man did the magic work to find me a seat confirmed on the return flight! The ATR-42 will be operating 2 flights that morning, I will be returning to Islamabad on the last flight.
Security with gun around the apron.
Looking surreal in early morning isn’t it?
We went to visit the ATC Tower (little wooden hut) and met with the controller. Some simple equipment was used in this hill station. Up to 2 PIA ATR-42 called into Gilgit daily. However, the traffic was down from several ATRs and B737s in the past. There were very few foreign tourists visiting Gilgit now compared to the past.
Later, the tower gave us permission to cross the runway with the Jeep to capture photo of the departing flight.
However this raised an eyebrow to the ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) and we were taken in after for some explanation.
This is the existing terminal building and tower of Gilgit.
An interesting sign but can you really tell who the terrorist is?
Gilgit area chart from the tower.
Simple check-in area with old fashion scales.
Since our ATR-42 took off back to Islamabad and we have about 2 hours waiting in Gilgit before the flight return, the local PIA chief gave us a city tour from his car.
We were taken to Serena Hotel Gilgit (5 stars)
Beautifully appointed lobby.
Great view from the patio at the hotel.
The carving on mountain says “Defender of the North”!
I was treated to this sumptuous Breakfast buffet.
This is the guest room looks like in Serena Hotel. Very few tourists are staying in the winter.
After an excellent breakfast and tea in Serena Hotel, we continue our circle Gigilt tour. You can see rift valley, lot of flowing river and suspension bridge around.
We rushed back to the airport as the last inbound ATR is on its way. The weather has cleared up by now revealing the gorgeous setup in the area.
The operating crew stands in front of the ATR for a photo before our flight.
Gilgit - Islamabad
Flight time: 48 minutes
Flight Level: 16,500 feet
Seat: Standing behind the pilots the whole way
The flight back is equally thrilling and scenic. We took the same track follow the Indus River and flew over those snow capped mountain before flying down to lower altitude into Islamabad area.
Final approach into Islamabad Runway 30. You can see there is no taxiway adjacent to the runway so planes have to backtrack on the runway after landing.
Apron of Islamabad
After landing, we headed to the end of runway for some spotting. Waiting for the Air Blue A340 inbound from Lahore.
After an hour of waiting, she finally showed! Air Blue A340 goes into Manchester usually at night so it remains a difficult plane to photo.
After spotting, we went to Faisal Mosque for some sightseeing.
AN met up with her Sister and family, we went to the Hills surrounding Islamabad for early dinner!
The view is amazing at the top. I was told Islamabad is not your average Indian Sub-continent city; it is surrounded with greeneries and hills.
Tasty BBQ and Pakistani Chinese food!
After a great afternoon on the hills, we rushed back to the airport for my flight to Karachi. We encountered some heavy traffic jam, but luckily AN had informed the captain who will be operating the flight. Amazingly he waited for me at the curb side, take my hand luggage in and hand me a boarding pass and we headed straight to the apron. I was the last passenger to be onboard (turn left straight into the cockpit) and we pushed back ontime! Luckily, I didn’t caused much of a delay because of many businessman/politician were onboard the evening flight to Karachi.
Islamabad - Karachi
Flight time: 1 hour 50 minutes
I sat at the jumpseat the whole way to Karachi in darkness. Except we can see a very bright partition line between India and Pakistan at night, as this is extremely well lit to avoid aircraft flying into other’s territory.
The takeoff scene:
Views from the co-pilot’s seat.
A very nice dinner was served inside the cockpit.
The A310 was a pretty awesome airplane to joyride with. The cockpit is semi-analog, semi-digital. The cockpit is also quite roomy for a medium size aircraft. While Middle East/Indian sub-continent region is still very popular with A310, it remains a rare aircraft in Asia/Europe/America.
Final approach into Karachi Runway 25L.