Tag Archives: Indian Air force

Two Premier Institutes of India- A shared history

HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. From the first aircraft, Harlow PC to be assembled at its stables to manufacturing the most modern helicopters, planes and equipment for present day requirements of the Indian airfare, navy, railways and space research, HAL’s journey has been a long one. One is bound to get amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all things associated in this subject of fantasy at the museum hall. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).

20200110_150500-016449904529442837535.jpeg
An exhibit of the Pushpak aircraft at HAL

That morning, I had ordered a plate of idlis at this little restaurant on the IISc campus. Just like any other day at that restaurant, the environment was abuzz with the chitter chatter of the people I was surrounded by. A typical scene on any given day includes the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food in what is one of the premier research institutes in the country! Irony has it that similar discussions happened under the same roof, sometime in history. But back then, the discussions were about something more strategic and destructive. It was right here that a bunch of people discussed a war plot. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of the aircrafts during World-War II.

In the late 1930s, a factory meant for automobile maintenance was setup by an industrialist named Walchand Hirachand in the present day IISc campus. History has it that on his way to China, Hirachand chanced upon a meeting with William D. Pawley who was attached to the Intercontinental Aircraft Corporation of New York, an American aircraft exporter. This connection lead to the procurement of the necessary tools and equipment from the US to setup an aircraft production line in India. It was in December 1940, with funds from the Mysore state, the Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited came into being. The plan was to manufacture the Harlow trainer, Hawk fighter and the Vultee attack bombers at this factory. However, this required huge manpower that was trained in Aeronautics which lead to the establishment of the department of Aeronautical engineering.

20200110_144004-016755996209539856526.jpeg

The structure that housed the aeronautical engineering department was designed by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. Otto Koenigsberger was a young Jew who had fled his country during the Nazi regime and was later in time, employed as the government architect of the erstwhile Mysore state. His architectural design is an amalgamation of European and traditional Indian styles and can also be seen in the present-day metallurgical department and the hostel office on the IISc campus along with many structures across India. Talking about the aeronautical engineering building- it is an oblong structure with high ceilings and narrow corridors that integrated natural climate control. He has also designed the closed-circuit wind Tunnel, the first of its kind in India and hydrogen plant among other things that are associated with aircrafts. With all the technical back up from IISc, it was in 1941 that Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) assembled the first aircraft in India: A Harlow PC-5.

20200110_143916-01353855705706501306.jpeg

Meanwhile, the threat posed by Imperial Japan loomed large in the on-going World War II because of which there was a need by the British Royal Air Force to boost its military hardware supplies in Asia. With all likelihood, HAL was most suitable as a base for the South East Asia Command of the allied forces for servicing their aircrafts. Hence, all the aircraft manufacturing plans in India were abandoned to support the repair and overhaul services of the American aircrafts and the factory was eventually taken over by the US Army Air Forces in 1943. This led to rapid expansion in the facilities and became the 84th Air depot for overhaul and repair of American aircrafts during WWII. The very same hydrogen plant on the IISc premises was used as a loading dock to supply hydrogen for the American aircrafts. Later in 1964, the factory was taken over by the Government of India and has morphed into the modern-day Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in its present-day location. However, the original Aeronautical engineering department continues to contribute enormously towards research and has its own little airstrip on the present day IISc campus.

As I finished my plate of idlis, I wondered how unassuming I was. This deceptively functional place had just served my meal that had just been cooked inside a hydrogen plant that powered the military aircrafts during WWII.

This article featured in the ‘Spectrum’ supplement of Deccan Herald National daily, on February 01, 2020 edition.

 

I’m supposed to tell you this

While I write this post today, it’s obvious for one to think that I’m venting it out because of all the drama happening between India and it’s neighbour. But, why I choose to do it now is the video of an Indian warrior has kept my heart pounding with anxiety over the last 2days. The video released by the Pakistan army shows that the enemy captors interrogate a severely wounded Indian soldier, his hands tied, blindfolded and there.. with all poise, dignity and calmness in his voice and posture, the captive soldier replies, “Sorry Sir, I’m not supposed to tell you that!”

So here is what I want to tell you all..

My earliest connections with the uniform are mainly two. First is being born in a community which has given some of India’s most decorated defence officers and that had its own regiment in the Indian army. Seconly, being raised in a family of strong women with one of them going on to becoming the first women cop in the state. Yeah! I had quite a lot of stories to listen to while growing up, of both men and women in uniform… Can I say uniform runs in my blood? Stories of heroics of the officers from my hometown and the adventures of my aunt in her pursuit of a job in a male-dominated area has fuelled my curiosity, inspiration and motivation to pursue a life of adventure. Admiration for the #MenInUniform (and the women) had come naturally to me. But these instances take me back in time on how I have always been inspired as a growing up kid to pursue a career in the Indian Military Services.

Growing up in a small town meant limited access to things. So the only ‘Air Force’ thing we could see were occasional choppers that flew in with VVIPs visiting the hilltown (These could have never been the IAF choppers if I guess). Like all kids of the 90s did, we waived at the choppers hoping someone waived back at us.

I now travel to some other faint memories from childhood. It was my week long stay with a relative at Hyderabad. They were an army family living in their army bungalow somewhere in the viscinity of the Golconda fort. That was my closest meeting with defence personnel and the army way of life until then. The discipline, etiquette, mannerisms and all those were something that really caught my fascination. Until then, I had only heard stories and now, I was seeing them all.

But the most fanciest days of my life were my summer vacations spent at our house in Pune. The Sukhoi 30s were newly inducted in the Indian pride back then. And our house being in the proximity of the airbase, ‘The Hunting Hawks’ as they were called, flew past during their sorties all day long. The various formations and the thunder that rattled almost everything in the house were an eye candy and feast for the ears. It is something that really caught my fancy for fighter planes and more so for the adventure that the defence forces had to offer if I happened to join them ever! I am FOREVER grateful to my folks for having a home there… cuz that’s where a spark for the forces was ignited and a fancy for fighters struck me. And then were my share of stories I got to hear from my uncle (a veteran officer from the British Army during the world war) and his many colleagues at their army society at Salunke Vihar in Pune. I used to be a curious cat listening to them all. Year on year, the travels during my summer vacations were eagerly awaited!

Growing up, I got some insights into the way of life through my participation in the NCC (National Cadet Corps) while in high school. With a continuous pursuit of adventure and curiosity to understand how things worked, I think signing up for a course in Mechanical Engineering was inevitable. Sometimes, it is really okay if you don’t get the best. You get what is best for you. With that, I mean the real deal of life that came to me in the form of an admission at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore. This is where I really got the whole Indian airforce thing into me. It’s beyond just an explanation of how fascinated and excited I used to be on just seeing a fighter plane. With almost all the planes from India’s might being there, it really opened up another world to me to learn about the airforce and its strength. I started to get back and google more to learn about each plane, the technology, its background, its history with India, what it takes to be a pilot in IAF and all those associated stories you find hyperlinked online. The more I read, the more I got thrilled. Ok, so a long story short- I too tried my hands at getting into the forces and failed a couple of times, if you asked me that question. So, yeah! Corporate world has me here by chance and not by choice. So if not here, you know where I would rather be!

Why am I telling you all these things today? Cuz, I’m hooked to the news channels along with a million other Indians praying for the safe return of our brave pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan’s release from the captivity of Pakistan Army. It’s an expression of anxiety I’m not able to get out of myself over the last couple of days. With extreme courage and poise, this brave son of my nation has stood by the motto of the MIG-21 squadron: “Siddhirvasti Sahase” which in Sanskrit translates to: “Success lies in courage”. Like literally! What more defines courage than his encounter with the Pakistan fleet? Can you imagine a Bison (that’s the nickname of MIG21) hunting down a Cheetah? (A F16 Falcon in this case) It rarely happens, and this brave warrior has done it! Chased death by the enemy back into its territory! Isn’t this what makes a true warrior? And our country divides its people based on caste and age-old professions…

Be it the Army, Navy, Airforce, BSF, CRPF, coast guards or anybody out there… with the kind of passion, selflessness, skill, precision our brave hearts at the forces keep vigil of our nation… A million million THANK YOU to each one of you guarding us all and enabling us live this happy life in our so called ‘Safe Havens’. As one of my friends rightly points out, with Wg. Cmdr.Abhi, what all of us have seen is just a tiny glimpse of what our forces holds. There are a thousand other equally skilled warriors in our forces who are all waiting for a chance to strike back. They are collectively an epitome of what India Truly is!

Image credits & patch designed by: Saurav Chordia

IMG_20190515_180626.jpg

 

Visiting the northern-most district of Karnataka- Bidar

Karnataka Bundh: The whole city of Bangalore was protesting against the Kaveri water verdict- 32 buses vandalized in the city and all that jazz. Well, I was away from the entire hustle bustle, where fighting for the water of Kaveri made no sense for the people. That day, I was spending time with my mom who was away from home since the last couple of months, on business travel.

My itinerary:
Friday: Leave Bangalore for Bidar
Saturday: Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple, Karanja reservoir, Basavakalyan (Basaveshwara temple, Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe, Akkamahadevi Guhe Anubhav Mantapa, Basavakalyan fort)
Sunday: Nanak Jira Gurudwara, Bareed Shahi park, Bidar Fort, Return to Bangalore by night.

The details:
People in the Mysore-Karnataka region know Bidar and the rest of the districts of Kalyana Karnataka or Uttara-Karnataka mostly through media that only talks about them when there is a drought in the state. This somewhat had influenced me to paint a dry and a dusty picture of the region inside my head. There was not much that I had heard about this part of Karnataka on a typical tourist circuit of state and that’s why I chanced upon travelling to Bidar for a weekend. Since my mom was posted there for some time, I thought it was an opportunity for me to go and see what is in the northern-most district of my home state. Mom usually has a vehicle at her disposal whenever she travels and stays during the entire business trip. This solves most of the commutation problems.

Day 1:
When I reached there after a long overnight bus journey of 12hrs, I had a roaring welcome in the city, quite literally…!! An IAF “Hawk” flew past right above my head during their daily flying sorties. Right then, I had my first GK (general knowledge) moment of the tour. Bidar has been an important training base since the early 1960’s for the Indian Airforce. Bidar serves as the main base for Hawk AJTs and the Suryakiran HJTs. The first thing that I learnt about Bidar and is never shown or spoken about on mainstream media.

My mom received me at the bus stand and took me to the Inspection bungalow where she was staying at. After freshening up and post a quick breakfast, we headed to “the Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple”. The myth mentions that Lord Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu and then proceeded to slay the demon Jalasura, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. After being killed by Lord Narasimha, the demon Jalasura turned into water and started flowing down the feet of Lord Narasimha. Today, devotees have to walk across a cave with water (1.7mts depth) to worship the idol. With bats flying around, roaches swimming with us and dimly lit path to lead us, it was a new experience for me, and I was seeing such a religious site for the first time.

Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol
Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol

We then proceeded towards our next destination. Enroute, we stopped by the Karanja dam, a small reservoir built across the Karanja river.

In a while from there, we had arrived at Basavakalyan- our main destination for the day. There, we visited the Basaveshwara temple, 108ft high Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe and Akkamahadevi Guhe. Then it was a turn to the right that took us to “Anubhav Mantapa”. This is a replica of the ShivanubhavaMantapa- an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the ‘Lingayat’ faith in the 12th century. Anubhav Mantapa is often referred as the first parliament in the world.

A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point
A view of Hyder Mahal at the Basavakalyan fort

From there we visited the Basavakalyan fort, sparsely visited apart from a few localites who come there to play cricket. But it is indeed a monument forgotten on the maps. The lights falling on the inner chambers of the fort called for some good photography. Some of points of interest inside the Basavakalyan fort for an explorer may be the open-air theatre at the entrance of the fort and the view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph viewpoint. With that, it was dark, and we returned to our place of stay.

Day 2:
We started the day by spending some tranquil moments at the ‘Nanak Jira’. This Gurudwara is known for being the second occurrence out of the supernatural powers of Guru Nanak. The first one was ‘Sri Punja Sahib’. This is now in Pakistan and strictly prohibited for free visits. Hence Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jira Sahib is referred to as the ‘Second Punja Sahib’ of India and hence a very holy site for the Sikhs. The sweet water flowing from a spring is believed to clear one off, all sins.

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara
The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

Next, on the list was the Bareed Shahi park. The tombs of the Bahamani rulers lay here. This is small but a nice park maintained just to provide some lung space for morning joggers and evening walkers. We were told that this was a neglected piece of history just a year ago and good efforts have been made by the authorities for its restoration.

We had an invitation from one of the colleagues at my mom’s office to visit his home for lunch. To think of it, it is by far and large one of the MOST sumptuous and wholesome meal I have had all my life. Hahaha call it the downside or the funny part of relishing such a wonderful meal- My mom and I were handed over a large towel to wipe off our teary eyes and watery noses. The regional cuisine here is notoriously famous for being high on chilly. But even with the hot flames flying out of our senses, we couldn’t resist the taste of the flavorful spread. It was a typical North-Karnataka cuisine with a spread of over 50 dishes. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and the flavorful cooking. Apart from the Millet roti and gunpowder, most of the dishes were new discoveries for me. I even had a box packed with roti and keema-curry for my return journey by train in the night.

The Bahamani tombs
The Bahamani tombs

The last and final destination was the Bidar Fort: It is a multi-layered fort to say in simple words. It does not have a quantifiable boundary, though a few localites specify some digits to measure its expanse. The entire city of Bidar is actually within a fort wall which was the area where the citizens lived back during the rulers’ time. The second round of the wall is where the ministers lived. The third and the innermost zone is where today’s tourism is concentrated, the area where the King & the queen lived. This fort needs a minimum of half a day to explore for a person interested in history, architecture or archeology. In a tourist circuit in Bidar that I barely heard of, this fort came in as a surprise when I had least expected. It is HUGE!

The Royal Residence within the main fort
The Royal Residence within the main fort

Bidar has so much to offer for a backpacker on a tight budget. Apart from the travel distance between places, everything else is very affordable. Even the entry to all the major landmarks on the potential tourist trail was free. In spite of it, very few people plan a trip to this district. Maybe because the name pulls down an image of a dry, barren, hot, poor, drought prone landscape. What my eyes met here was contradicting to the imagination that I had, largely based on what I heard in the media. In reality, the city was lush green, well fed with good rains and clean (at least compared to the cleanest places of Bangalore).

Souvenirs to take back: Bidariware is a local form of metal art that has a GI (Geographical Identification) tag and extremely laborious and artistic. It takes an 8 stepped process to create one piece of art and a symbol of royalty, that’s been carried on from 14th century, largely promoted by the Bahamani Sultans.

So, a lesson to take back: Stop imagining how a place would be; go there and see it yourself.