The IAF is the 4th largest Air Force in the world with almost 1000 first line aircraft. It also maintains a string of bases all over India. One of the most important air base is at Baghdogra, which is 13 km from Siliguri. This base came up in th early sixties after the threat from China was established. It is located just south of Sikkim in the foothills of North Bengal and its strategic importance cannot be underrated.
Baghodra is what is termed a wing and houses fighter squadrons as well as helicopter units for communication duties in the hill areasof Darjeeling and Sikkim. Flying at Baghdogra requires great skill because of the proximity of the towering Himalayas. The weather here is also very fickle and shoers and bad weather is routine, but the squadrons have to keep flying as the Chinese Air Force in Tibet is just about 10 minutes flying time away.
Along withthe Baghdogra air base the army also has a full Corps located here. This is to counter any aggressive designs by China. The airfield is a full fledged runaway and has all the latest NAV equipment. it is also used by the IAC and other civil line aircraft and connects Delhi and Gauhati. During my tenure at Baghdogra the Gnats fighter interceptors were based there. But these are now obselete and are replaced by the MIG's.
Baghdogra itself is a lovely place with tea gardens coving vast areas. But flying is a tricky business and a number of fatalaties have occurred there. There is also heavy rainfall in this area making flyinga greater test than ever. But once you are airborne the beaurty of the snow clad Himalayas beckon you and you must keep your wits about yourself.