Can’t keep my mind from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I…
The Pink Floyd song played in my head all through the weekend. It was about half past six on a cool Saturday morning, and we were standing in an open field, next to Shinde Hill. The January sun wasn’t completely out yet. A gust of wind blew past, waking me up from my half sleepy state. I was surrounded by a dozen energetic, peppy, chirpy bunch of early morning enthusiasts, all gung-ho about learning to fly. These early mornings aren’t my cup of tea… sigh.. a cup of tea would be good.
Our group consisted of six twenty-something boys from Nepal, a German lady who’s also a professional climber, two techies from Hyderabad and two guys from Bombay. I believe in keeping my feet firmly on the ground– so I was there just to watch friends learn to take their first solo flights, to cheer for them, give moral support, roll my eyes.. you know the usual. (I was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Fly you fools’.)
‘Ok guys. Carry your gliders and start climbing the hill. We’ll be doing bunny hops today.‘ Sanjay Pendurkar, the instructor and founder of Indus Paragliding announced, pointing towards a small hill with a tiny palm tree. Sanjay has trained over 800 students over the last decade, pioneering teaching and promoting Paragliding in India. In addition to winning several national and international paragliding competitions, he has also been credited with the discovery of popular flying sites in Maharashtra around Pavna Lake and Shinde Hill. Sanjay, who started off as an avid mountaineer, soon realised that while climbing uphill is fun, he doesn’t really need to walk back downhill. Getting a glider meant a different kind of thrill and a great substitute for getting back to the base. Thus began his tryst with flying which eventually resulted in him starting Indus Paragliding school – a member of Paragliding Association of India.
Between carefully monitoring each learner’s take off and landing and giving directions to the flyers on the radio, I caught Sanjay giving a wide smile when one of the learners gave out a small yelp as his feet lifted off the ground and he floated for a few minutes. ‘The first lift off is the most memorable one.’ he said, looking proud of his student.
I am sharing a few important tips and pointers here. Keep them handy if you’d like to experience flying with Indus:
- Executive Pilot (EP) course is for absolute beginners. It’s a four day course which includes about 10 solo flights. Day 1 & 2 includes theory and a lot of physical training and handling of the gliders. By day 3 you will be taking small solo flights under close supervision and by day 4 you will be ready to take your first proper flight from Tower Hill (300m jump)
- For those who want to experience paragliding without learning it, Indus offers tandem joyrides with very experienced fliers. These are great fun and ideal for those who are in and around Lonavala / Kamshet and would like to try out something different.
- Training hours are mostly early mornings – from 6.30 am to noon at one of the flying sites. This is subject to favourable wind conditions.
- Sometimes the wind/weather plays a spoiler. Waiting for hours at a stretch for ideal wind conditions is a reality. Be prepared for slow days.
- Once the day’s training is over, you’ll be taken back to Indus base – where you will be provided with all meals and accommodation.
- The rest of the day is mostly free. Carry books/music other pass time or come with a plan to do nothing but relaxing on hammocks and chilling by the lakeside.
- They provide a dorm style accommodation for both men and women. There’s also an option to stay in tents but there are only 2 to 3 tents available, so book in advance. Do not expect anything fancy. It’s a very basic, simple, practical place that’s clean, well maintained and run by a few awesome guys that double up as amazing cooks.
It takes great courage and some bit of madness for you to agree to fly. Jumping off a cliff isn’t a normal thing to do. I watched so many girls and guys do it and I wondered why would they go to such lengths to experience a few minutes of thrill. But I think getting to fly like a bird high up in the sky is an experience one can understand only when they take the plunge.
There’s no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, a state of bliss
The smiles on the fliers’ faces when they’d land back was priceless to watch. Also addictive. So by the fourth day, even though I had planned only to watch and photograph, I took a tandem joyride myself. As we soared into the sky, we did crazy somersaults up in the air. It was like a very scary theme park ride, only several notches higher, both literally and figuratively. My screams could be heard in Bombay they said.
This trip was originally published on SUITCASE OF STORIES.