13 June 2010

Paragliding

There comes a time in life where you wish you could jump off a cliff - well, I did and live to tell the tale. Ahem... I do, of course, grossly over-exaggerate for dramatic effect, but I did jump of a cliff with a glider strapped to my back.

A couple of months ago GHAC organized a trip to go paragliding. Frankly, I had it mixed up with para-jumping and was looking forward to jumping off a plane in tandem with an experienced chump who would pull the chord so that we landed gently on the ground. Anyhow, the person who wrote it up on GHAC was nice enough to insert a picture of a paraglider so I was all cleared up on what to expect. Turns out that picture is only true if you have been gliding, like, forever...

The one cool fact I learned while on the trip was that Kamshet (about an hour's ride on the train from Pune), the launch point of our training, is one of the best places in the world for paragliding. The geography of the hills allows you to glide here for at least 10 months of the year. Ergo, we can have a 3 day course and actually fly a bit. Apparently, in other places that are not so conducive to this sport it might takes weeks for the conditions to be right for your 3 day course to complete. Mera bharat mahan right?

Our training school was called Indus and it was a Fri, Sat, Sun deal. They prefer if you do a 5 day course for the total experience, but since we are the blackberry-totting-instant-oatmeal-kinda-club, the 3 day training was negotiated. May is hot month anywhere in India. So we arrived sweaty and dusty at the local train station to be met by our trainers who curtly informed us that we were late, and to swallow our lunch because training starts in the afternoon, right away. The package, BTW includes food, acco, the glider and not to forget, the instructions.

Day 1 involves getting whipped in the face with a tight rope, that is if you are standing. Its technical term is ground handling - you are shown various parts of the glider and the theory of how it works (which your brain understands but muscles remain deaf to). The whole thing fits in a backpack (heavy) and you trudge it to where ever you have to practice from. Everyone was informed to bring a full sleeved shirt and full pants, but of course, the fashion people didn't and they had the best bruises to display that evening. Once you reach the spot, you open the package, wear the helmet and gloves, hold the two riders and run right into the wind. Now if you were really listening to the instructor, whose voice booms from a radio strapped to your chest, you may actually use the wind to fly. Instead, if like me your muscle coordination is non existent, you will fall flat on your face over, over and over again. One of things I am thankful for is that I didn't break any teeth.

Day 2 involves trekking through the plains to reach the base of mountain. The idea is to put your ground handling to test by launching yourself off about 20 ft. I have to report one bourgeois aspect of Indian adventure sports here - if you are really lame, you can employ a tiny tot from the village to carry your glider from the van to the base of the mountain. A weird economy has developed in Kamshet - the local kids know when and where to show up, and as soon as you land they storm the parking lot, willing you to use their services. I am not sure what carrying such items is doing to their backs - a 12 yr old should not be carrying a 20lb bag! But, like all other things about cheap labour - why carry your bag when someone will do it for a pittance?

Day 3 you jump of a cliff and its ironic how difficult Day 1 and 2 are as compared to the relatively low intensity strength required for the actual paragliding. You basically run to the edge of the cliff, hope your glider has inflated and get picked up by the wind. The backpack which was a ruddy pain to carry around till this point, automatically turns into a bucket seat and you can fly about in a very comfortable position. You use the riders to glide left or right and the brake riders to descend. The only foolish thing you can do is not listen to your instructor!

When I recalled this adventure to friends their reaction was geared towards my fearlessness rather than the thrill of flying. Funnily enough, it never once struck me that something may go wrong. It was remarkably calm and the instructors do a wonderful job of ensuring your safety by reminding you again and again, that the only reason you will injure yourself is if you listen to your dotty mind rather than the instructions - I'll vouch for the truth in that. In any case they do make you sign a legal document that should you die, they aren't to blame.

I would recommend paragliding to anyone who is looking for an active holiday. Being up in the air really makes it worth it. The season in Kamshet runs from Sep to May; I am definitely going back.

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