Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great views from 9.5 kilometres

I can never understand why people ask for window seats and then keep the blinds drawn. With seat back movies, open blinds are less likely to bother neighboring passengers, but our location at the back of the section was perfect for hassle-free viewing as we flew over mostly cloud-free India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Passing over the coast of India’s Andhra Pradesh state.
The view from 12,000m of Pakistan’s Indus River showed a different aspect to the recent flood disaster: the area just beyond the river course is empty desert, so people in the valley would not have been able to just move out of the way.

The Indus River in flood. Punjab, Pakistan.
Afghanistan was a surprise. Our flight path crossed between Khandahar and Kabul over rugged dry mountains with almost no vegetation, and only the sparsest sign of agriculture in a few of the valleys.

Irrigated fields and orchards along a watercourse flowing
into Lake Istadeh, Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Roads were quite visible, and some had evident checkpoints along them, but otherwise it seemed incredible that there would be any reason to have our armed forced involved in conflict there.
The road on the left runs between Kandahar and Kabul:
with our binoculars, we could see a military checkpost along it.
However, the view from above reveals the geopolitical reasons for conflict: access to the Indian Ocean from the north, and the only land passage between the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East has doomed this barren land to conflict for generations.

Crossroads land: the rugged land below connects oil-rich central Asia
to the Indian Ocean, and the Indian subcontinent to Eurasia.
The eastern shore of the Caspian Sea was clear, but clouds covered most of Georgia and Russia as we flew westward.

The eastern edge of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan
marked the end of clear views for our flight.
We could catch occasional glimpses of neat farmland of Poland and Germany before descending through cloud to land on time at busy Heathrow.