In 1994, me and my wife were busy doing medical practice in a small town. We could not take our children on frequent trips because of our tight schedules. With their summer vacation approaching, we made a plan to visit Manali for three days. As it would have taken two days of travelling back and forth had we gone by road, we decided to go by air.
Jagson Airlines operated a flight from New Delhi to Bhuntar via Ludhiana in those days. I called up their office to buy tickets. They told me that there was not much rush on this route and they always had vacant seats. Hence, there was no need for advance booking.
We packed our bags on D-Day and reached the Ludhiana airport, which was half-an-hour's drive from our place. I went to the counter to enquire about the flight status and to get the tickets. The counter clerk told me that since there was no booking at Delhi as well as Ludhiana for that day, the flight had been cancelled. We were quite disappointed. I told the person that after making alternative arrangements at my nursing home, I had managed to get these three days for my family. "We may not be able to come again. Can you do something for us," I asked him.
He said, "Please hold on, I will ask my head office." He told them that four passengers were ready to go to Bhuntar. After a few minutes, he told me that a plane was leaving from New Delhi shortly, so we could buy our tickets.
After an hour and a half, when the plane arrived and we went to board it, we were surprised to see that it was a 16-seater and all seats were vacant. We had to bow a bit to reach our seats, and there was not much space in the aisle. We came to know that we were not going to be served anything during the one-hour journey. However, the airhostess did offer us a plate of condiments.
I boasted to my children that I was taking them on a chartered flight to Manali. Even during this short journey, there were scary moments. Whenever the plane passed through the clouds, it wobbled like a roadways bus on a broken road. Thank God we reached the Bhuntar airport safe and sound.
I asked the airlines people about the return journey. They told me that they were going to stop this service after three days. Hence, if I wanted to go back by air, I should come the day after tomorrow.
On the return journey, we had some fellow passengers on the bumpy ride. Two days after reaching home, I read in the newspaper that a plane carrying Punjab governor Surendra Nath had crashed in those hills. The news sent a shiver down my spine.
I have travelled a lot by air alone or with family after that. Things have considerably improved over the years, but that chartered flight to Manali remains etched on my memory forever.