HALF an hour before touching down in Kandahar, all passengers aboard the Tristar RAF flight put on their body armour and helmets and are plunged into darkness.

The Tristar, which is like a large civil airliner with a medical bay, is at its most vulnerable to Taliban mortars as it lands.

Several hundred passengers, mainly soldiers, have spent the last day since leaving RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, laughing, telling stories from their leave, watching DVDs and sleeping in a number of contorted positions.

In the darkness, everyone is silent and, kitted up, stares straight ahead.

I had spent the day completely immersed in a murder mystery based about 4,700 kilometres away in Sweden, and it came home to me, as the change in mood affected everyone else too, that we were about to land in war-torn Afghanistan.

The first intrusion on the senses, while still on the plane, is the stench of the open sewer as we fly past.

I later find out this is affectionately known as "Poo Pond" and is on the list of landmarks Media Ops, our hosts for the trip, want to show us.

Outside the plane, the dust in the air lines every exposed surface, gets into your nose and coats your teeth.

The camp at Kandahar Airfield, known as "KAF" is about 15 kilometres from Kandahar City in the province of Kandahar, the eastern neighbour of Helmand Province.

Kandahar was the Taliban's capital city before allied forces invaded. And inside KAF is an old bunker named the Taliban Last Stand, or "the TLS". This is the last place the Taliban was hiding out when British and American forces invaded.

The bunker has a hole in the roof which remains a reminder of this victory and the walls inside are still black from the smoke, which provides a canvas for artistic soldiers and messages.

KAF, which houses more than 20,000 people, provides a decent standard of living. Accommodation is in the form of a portable cabin-turned-dormitary with camp beds and air conditioning units.

There are also showers, running water and flushing toilets, which was all music to our ears.