Across the terrorist trail

Air travel is such an amazing thing. Thirteen hours in a jet aircraft sounds like torture to many, but have they considered what it is that they are really doing? I suspect that the answer is “not really” considering the number of closed window shades and active entertainment units in operation. I’d rather keep staring out the window.
Actually, I’d rather be asleep in bed right now. Alex, still operating on Sydney time woke me up at 5am Malaysian time (that’s 8am in Sydney). While he played with toys improvised out of some complimentary makeup pads and cotton buds I wrote my blog. B slept.
The Pan Pacific Hotel at KLIA is quite nice with an Outlook over soothing rainforest gardens. But our mission was a local breakfast, which we took in the same “Food Garden” as last night. Yong tau foo and Assam laksa, washed down with Milo tarik.

Then we passed through immigration and security before taking a look around the airport shops. Tempted to buy Alex some blocks, but he was more interested in the baby toys and refused to cooperate. He was tired.

KLIA and Suvarnabhumi airports both share an evocative grey light that is perfect for dreaming about flight. The sight that greeted us at the gate was a familiar one: Penang, the same 747 that we’d flown the day before from Sydney.

This time they let families with young children board first and we took our seats a row ahead of yesterday’s.
Asian cities look great at night, with lots of neon and life, but Kuala Lumpur looked a little bland as we lifted off into the morning air. Alex slept, B read a paper and I watched us soar into the clouds.

There were a few views of the Malaysian coastline, then mostly the blue of the Andaman sea. Finally we crossed over the coast into India. The country looked dry, even the rivers seemed to have little flow. We crossed the subcontinent diagonally, flying northwest across desert lands and into Pakistan.

There is something about deserts from high above that fascinates me. They are places we the human world is subsumed by geology, their emptiness a source of mystery and keeper of epic journeys.
Yesterday it was the red Australian desert, rippled by sand dunes and the odd low range. The Australian continent is old, stable and eroded. The people that lived there for tens of thousands of years have left little visible trace of their existence.
In contrast, the lands we flew over today are geologically young, rising even today as the Indian continent collided northward into its neighbour. This is a land of earthquakes and mountain ranges.

Yet the people who live in these lands have their roots in history’s oldest recorded civilizations. Somehow humans have managed to survive in these mostly harsh lands. These lands hold epic tales of war and conquest that continue to this very day. Yet sadly, because of this very landscape, they remain mired in the past, worlds away from the privileged flying above them.
At night you notice how few lights shine from the land below. During the day it is dirt tracks, or none at all, leading to compounds of mud brick houses. The isolation of the people is clear from above. While it takes us a day to cross half the world in our aircraft, it may take them days just to reach the next village.
From the empty brown of the Rajastani desert lands we suddenly came across the dark green fields surrounding the fertile Indus valley. Then it is back to brown dry lands as we flew across the foothills of the Hindu Kush. As we go deeper snow appears atop some of the peaks. You realise their scale when they loom up towards the aircraft.

Here is a place I’ll probably never see, except from above, and it is amazing. I am so glad we did a daytime flight.

The landscape becomes more gentle, though still as harsh, as we cross into Turmenistan. Irrigation enables desert agriculture, then it is emptiness again across a land so pockmarked that we could be above the Moon.

The blue Caspian sea marked the end of Asia and an entrance into European Russia and the Ukraine. Clouds covered the landscape, and I used the opportunity to try to get some sleep. I was so tired that I could barely focus my eyes, yet I couldn’t seem to drift off.

The clouds cleared again and we crossed cultivated fields, factories and towns that were somehow less interesting from above than the deserts of earlier. Contrails criss-crossed the busy European sky as we added our own brown trail.

It is an adage of mine that turbulence always occurs during food service and it was true during both our Malaysian flights, though none of it was bad. The food was marginally better on this leg. I had a western style snapper for lunch, in preference for the same chicken biryani as yesterday, and then chicken curry with rice for dinner, while B ate a decent beef dish.
Alex was too tired to eat dinner. He slept on and off, watched videos on my phone and played physical games with B and I. He demanded to land at the airport a few times late during the flight, had a little whinge with a couple of hours to go, but was incredibly well behaved considering the length of the flight.
Apart from the incredible scenery it was an okay flight without being anything special. I don’t know why Malaysia Airlines is a five star carrier and Qantas isn’t, but I would rate them the other way round. Their staff ignored call buttons and were not especially friendly, unlike Thai.
We descended in towards London’s Heathrow airport in evening light of gold and grey. Unfortunately we were out of luck on this flight and London city was mostly obscured by cloud – not like 10 years ago! We were about to touch down on the runway when the pilots suddenly applied full thrust and we returned to the clouds.

The captain eventually explained that the runway had not been cleared fast enough. Welcome to Britain, where things don’t just work!
After a long loop we touched down on the second go and taxied past obscure airlines from Central Asia and Africa into Terminal 4. The terminal was in a sad state, especially the open ceiling. There were long queues at border control and when we arrived at the luggage belt it was stopped due to a technical issue. I could see one of our bags there, but couldn’t reach it.
We soon collected our luggage and made our way out to the Heathrow Express/Connect railway station as the tube line was out due to trackwork.. There a ticket machine wouldn’t return someone’s change.
A short shuttle train ride to Heathrow Central station, then a half hour wait for our Heathrow Connect train to London Paddington station. These run less frequently than the Express, stop at stations along the way and take 15 minutes longer. They also cost half the price.

It would have been nice to arrive at the hotel a bit earlier. I needed sleep! The Novotel Paddington is in a new development a bit of a way outside of Paddington station, but it’s an interesting walk beside a canal lined with quirky looking houseboats. As we walked fireworks showered into the sky. It was Guy Fawkes day, a celebration of a piece of British terrorist history. Sadly  those lands I flew over today have been the source of some more recent examples.
The hotel itself is quite flash and a nice place to recover from the flight. I remarked to the young lady who checked us in that I didn’t know that Australian was a separate language – she had our flag on her badge.
I had to pop out to get some food supplies from the little Sainsbury’s located nearby. With the change in timezones we weren’t sure if Alex would need feeding during the night.
Then I collapsed into bed. Woke up at 3am along with Alex, our body clocks telling us we shouldn’t be asleep. Giggling play, then back asleep again. Timezones!
So we have made it to London and now our fun begins.

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