We could see the thunderheads building fifty miles ahead as the sun set behind us. It was almost like they were waiting for the sun to go down before coming out to play. Built into the multi function display and moving map the strike finder was lighting up with clusters of little green X’s of death showing the latests lightening strikes and outlining the individual cells. I could see that the line of cells were all over the place but it looked like there might be enough big gaps to between them to allow us to weave our way through. (Notice how I didn’t add the word safely) The sun set and it got dark so fast it was like someone flipped a switch. With it dark we could see the big thunderheads flashing in front of us like big Chinese lanterns.
There were a lot of cells almost directly in our path so I called radar control to request a deviation of twenty degrees south to what looked like clearer air but was denied due to restricted airspace. I could see the big restricted zone just south of our course so I cheated us as far south as I could without actually crossing into it. But even though I only drifted a few miles off course control still bitched at me to stay clear. The closer we got to the line of storms the worse things looked. The radio was busy with airliners deviating around weather and from the looks of things the thunderstorms covered most of northern India. I was hoping that the cell in my way would move clear by the time we got there but no such luck. The big cell towered far above us and was putting on quite a light show. There was no way I was going to poke my nose in there and see how bad it was. I requested another deviation but control still wasn’t in the mood to be reasonable. As we got closer I tried to find a way in between the clusters of lightening strikes on the screen but there didn’t look like there was any kind of clear path through. Things were starting to get pretty bumpy when I finally said screw it! I’m not poking my nose in there. I told control that I was coming to a new heading that would steer me clear of the thunderstorm and put me right into the restricted airspace. It was either that or turn back and that wasn’t going to happen. Control’s response was “Roger, understood. Contact when back on course.” Really? If it was that easy why couldn’t they have let me do that fifty miles ago? I spent the next two hours weaving my way through the storms. We flew into some really heavy rain and moderate to severe turbulence but eventually put the storms in the rear-view mirror and were left with nothing but heavy rain and low clouds to contend with. The approach into Chittagong airport in Bangladesh was a fun one with low clouds and rain, I really love approaches like that at night because it always looks cool when you break out and have the runway all lit up in front of you. That is if you did it right. It only took us two hours to get the Caravan fueled up, with a slight mishap of dousing some poor fuel guy with jet A when the over-fill valve under the wing let go with him standing right under it. Then it was a quick one hour ride to the hotel, (super fun when you’ve been up all night) We finally got to the brand new Radisson hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was so new that they didn’t have their liquor license yet so after what was probably one of my most challenging of flying in 30 years I couldn’t even get a damn beer.