Tuesday 22 October 2019

Like a bird...with my wings!

On a sunlit mountainside surrounded by the Himalayas, a para-glider pilot stands facing the warm breezes that waft up from below. The silence is broken only by the call of a hawk and the swish wind felt by the trees. It’s a perfect day.. A perfect day to fly!!
The pilot lifts his arms and sprints down the slope while his soft canopy arcs upwards and ceases him into the sky. As the pilot climbs in the updraft, the glorious colors of the wings are lost in the brilliant sun.

 Beautiful takeoff site from Biling!!
An hour drive from the village Bir 

This was the first time I saw a person fly up in the air, just using a piece of fabric that sails up to those brilliant wings. It got etched in my memory so vividly that I was looking forward to learn this sport. Found a few schools in India from where there were certification courses. Luckily there was a school in the Himalayas which could teach me to become a certified solo independent pilot.
Bir-Billing it was! A small village in Himachal Pradesh near Dharamshala. It’s supposed to be ‘heaven for all the paragliders’ and the second-highest place in the world where you can paraglide. Arguably one of the best schools in the world – ‘PG Gurukul’ was the school I chose to learn the art of flying. I had registered for a total of 3 courses ( P1, P2 & P3 ) for a duration of 11 days. After successful completion of the course you get to be a certified pilot, accredited by BHPA to fly your glider anywhere in the world. Now that’s literally called a ‘license to fly’.
 Among the 11 days, the first 5 days was all about ground handling. Learning the equipment and perfecting your takeoff skills. You will be equipped with a full-body harness, helmet and the glider all of which would easily weigh around 20kg! Equipped with all the weight and remembering a specific set of procedures you have to sprint hard into the wind for your glider to inflate and listen to your controls. Repeat this all over for about 20-25 times every day and that’s how you learn how to take off. At one point, there’s a part in you that gets mentally exhausted and asks you to quit, but that’s when you look up at the sky and see all the gliders flying above you so majestically. You muster all that confidence again and start repeating it all over until you get this to your ‘muscle memory’. This part of the course was demanding a lot physically and mentally.

The stage when I had to develop my patience.

I used to get so angry and impatient when my earphones get tangled, and here I am trying to remove the knots of the lines which can get tangled like spaghetti.

Unlike other sports, paragliding is an extreme adventure sport that also demands you to learn all the physics behind processes we follow. Our typical day initially will be those grueling ground handling sessions in the mornings and evenings followed by theory classes in the afternoons. We would be studying in-depth about the science of flight, understanding the weather patterns, winds, clouds, knowing all the airspace regulations and air laws, etc.

This was my first solo jump!! U just have to rely on your muscle memory which you learned in your ground handling skill last 3 days.. Sprint..realease and damp.. hands behind.. and pitch and roll correction... All these maneuvers just within seconds and at the right moment for a perfect take-off!!

Nervous and excited for the first flight!

All these efforts were going to be fruitful and the day had finally arrived! The day where you will be having your first flight! The place where you take off is called Billing which is a 1.5hrs drive from Bir. Imagine yourself being at the tip of a mountain cliff. Your landing site is exactly 2km below and 15km ahead of you. A small patch of land seen as a small dot from the take-off area which is barely seen is where you have to land. It’s the time where you have to take that leap of faith and trust in your instincts which has become a part of you. And you finally Jump!! Looking at the small patch of land where you have to reach in the next half an hour.

My First Flight from Biling ! The leap of faith !
Trying to tame the wing – Called as Kiting the glider

You are no longer thinking of mundane things of this earth, but you are soaring far and wide. Your personal wings have become a part of you. You start seeing everything in a broader perspective with the panoramic view of the snowclad Himalayas. You start experiencing nature to it’s best. You feel the rush of air and the surge of lift. As you climb higher catching these thermals, the horizon recedes and you swear you can see forever. It’s only you and your wings, often welcomed by the birds. Your spirit knows it has found its place and you are truly alive. My coach in the course always used to say, down below is the world of land, you get to experience all the phases of time (your past, present and your future), but high up in the world of air, you just live the moment and be in your present. There’s no past or future! So true. The complete duration of the flight would be around 30mins and I assure you, you would’ve completely lost the sense of time.

Yup That's me looking out for that small speck of land

Paragliding is flying reduced to its essentials. There’s little difference between you and the sky and that’s what makes the sport so enjoyable. So naked. In its purest form, making your wing as an extension of your body and mind is the goal.

“Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return “– Leonardo Da Vinci

Later it’s more about improving your spatial orientation in the airspace and be aware of your surroundings.                                            
Back to the course. After you are successful with your first flight and perfected your takeoffs and landings, you will get to experience an interesting part of the course. You have to perform certain maneuvers high up in the air and keep your glider stable! Manoeuvres where you have to take tight 360 degree turns spiraling down to the ground, making certain flips, intentionally deflating your glider, etc. You start experiencing the G- Forces crushing you at certain times and often you find yourself going on a freefall. There is one drill wherein you literally have to do a pull-up holding a few lines of the glider while you are high up in the air to intentionally create stall in mid-air. These experiences give me Goosebumps even now when I think about it.

Beautiful everyday sunsets from Bir! Always captivating with its different shades

More than the course, it was really amazing to interact with such great people in this small village which is totally isolated from all the urban clutter. The people here are so down to earth. Each individual has his own stories and experiences to share. I am happy to see such groups exist even now. Learning to fly helped me to be in my present, push my limits, understand my risks and follow the process to overcome it. It has inculcated me to develop patience and sculpt me as a different person altogether. These lessons which I have learned in the 2 weeks of my course will always be etched in my memory and surely a lot to take back home.

How can I miss talking about food at Bir :P
Yes, they were all the authentic local dishes like momo's thukpas to the amazing fulkas and sabji's, but one south Indian restaurant which you should surely visit is Avva's cafe in Bir. Having those perfect dosas in the Himalayas is next level!

For those who are keen on knowing where this place this beauty lies and more info about this course. Here are a few more details below:
Bir is a small place in Himachal which can be visited in all seasons to experience the different shades of the valley. Personally, I would suggest you to visit the place in the winter (October to Feb) when the winds would be good and ideal for paragliding. Anyone can try paragliding with a tandem where you can sit along with the pilot and experience a breath-taking view of Himalayas This place is not only about paragliding but also a lot about adventure sports like cycling, trekking, camping, etc. It’s also known as a spiritual destination for others. You can find a lot of monasteries and meditation centers to calm your soul and invoke your inner peace. There’s regular bus services available to reach this place from either Delhi or Chandigarh. There are also other quite interesting places like Dharamshala, Manali etc in the same vicinity.

One Of the few Monasteries. When the weather gets bad and not suitable for gliding, we used to go explore Bir 

Buddhist Prayer Flags making the place more colorful

One of the very few narrow gauge trains in India which pass thru Bir

A day off to Dharmshala & Mclodgunj...Feels sad to see the place becoming too commercialized

Also not to forget, there’s Paragliding world championship hosted by Bir-Biling this year from Oct 27 – Nov 3. This event brings in almost around 200 pilots from all around the world showcasing their skills and battling for the title of World Championship. This is happening after four years at Bir and I would say this could be the best time to visit.
If you are looking to take up this sport and learn the course, I would recommend you to go to the same school ‘ PG-Gurukul’ Here’s the link http://www.paragliding.guru/

Few Pictures can't be justified with a caption I guess :P

Few more snippets from the journey J

Can't get more creative than this :P

Little did I know that even these many clothes didn't prepare me for the sudden unexpected temperatures in the mountains... The sudden burst of rains and temperatures which was dropping to -2 degree at certain times...
One of the very few narrow gauge trains in India... It's sooo small that you can literally shake the bhogis from your bare hands :P

Few snaps from Delhi !! you know the places and the dishes in these pictures. 

Random Train-ed Thoughts :P
Coming back to reality.. from 15000ft above MSL in one day to 0MSL to the other.. Every sweet beginning has to end .. for a new one :)

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