Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 11:58 UK

'I'll remember eclipse all my life'


The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder watched the eclipse in India on board a specially chartered flight

Passengers on a special chartered flight to view the total eclipse in India saw spectacular sights. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, who was also on board, reports.

"Ladies and gentlemen, 30 seconds to go. Get your cameras ready and enjoy the view."

Captain Oswal's measured tones were in stark contrast to the frenzy his words unleashed.

Bounding with enthusiasm, passengers on board Flight 2279 whooped with delight as the sky slowly darkened.

The Boeing-737 had been chartered specially for a flight to view the solar eclipse above India.

It's the monsoon season and many parts of the country are covered with thick clouds.

So some people chose to fly above the clouds, at 41,000 feet, for a closer look.

Before sunrise, they gathered at Delhi airport, sleepy but keen.


There were veteran "eclipse chasers", first-timers, amateur astronomers, scientists and even young children.

For Deepak Bhimani, 70, it was his eighth solar eclipse.

"Each time it's as magical as the previous one," he said smiling, as he fiddled with his camera.

"Each time I learn something new."

A view of the eclipse from the special chartered airplane
'With the sky pitch black, you could see the galaxy in all its glory'

As we board the aircraft, special "solar-view goggles" are handed out, to protect the eyes from damage.

The best seats were on what was called the sun-side, where passengers would have an unhindered view of totality, the moment when the sun is completely obscured.

The privileged vantage point came at a steep price - $1,600 - while those on the other side of the aisle cost less than half.

"It's worth the money, man," grinned Sachin as he positioned his camera against the window.

He's travelled all the way from America to be here. There are others like Gerhard from Germany.

He was due to witness the eclipse in Shanghai, but was worried about swine flu and decided to come to India instead.

An hour into the flight and the sense of anticipation grew as the crew counted down the minutes.

The cabin lights were dimmed and people geared up for the spectacle.

"There it is, there it, is," shouted one man as ever so slowly, a shadow travelled across the face of the Sun.

With the sky pitch black, you could see the galaxy in all its glory.

"Look there's Mercury below us," yelled another. "Jupiter, Saturn," as he counted out the planets.

Even the cabin crew joined in, special glasses firmly in place.


And then we had the magic moment.

The sun transformed into a black orb, crowned in a dazzling white halo - totality.

Some cheered, others clapped and a few went quiet.

And then it was over, leaving everyone dazed and lost for words.

Even the veteran, Deepak Bhimani, was emotional.

"It's so hard to describe this feeling - the sense of awe, nature in all its glory," he said, his eyes misty, his voice shaking.

A sense that was echoed across the generation.

"It was amazing, the moment when you saw the diamond ring," said 11-year-old Shreya Sahai, the youngest on board.

"I'll remember it for the rest of my life."

The lights sprung back on and the captain announced that we were heading back to Delhi.

Flight attendants rolled out breakfast carts. But many on board remained lost in thought as they reflected on the moment when they witnessed one of the world's rarest natural events.

From 41,000 feet.

Print Sponsor

Your pictures: solar eclipse
01 Aug 08 |  In Pictures
Sound 'cause of shadow spectacle'
21 May 08 |  Science & Environment
Ancient Moon 'computer' revisited
29 Nov 06 |  Science & Environment
World marvels at total eclipse
29 Mar 06 |  Science & Environment
Antarctic witnesses total eclipse
24 Nov 03 |  Science & Environment
Millions wonder at southern eclipse
04 Dec 02 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific