Flying in the sky like a bird had been a dream of man since centuries. This irrepressible desire of mankind leads to so many inventions like gliders, hot air balloons, choppers and aircraft etc. Many of us must have taken aerial routes many times, but believe me nothing comes even closer to paragliding, when it comes to satisfy the feeling of flying like a bird. The pleasure of being away from the earth is incomparable. Imagine a mind numbing adrenaline rush, a bird’s eye breathtaking views of distant vistas and a never fading life time memory.
It was a sunny December morning in Kalimpong district in West Bengal state of India. Kalimpong is a small scenic town, east of Darjeeling and full of natural beauty. There is a very beautiful Monastery named as Zang Dhok Palri Monastery, better known as Durpin Monastery and a Pine View Nursery, which in fact is a large cactus garden. We were travelling from Kalimpong to Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim (which is the second smallest state of India after Goa). Our cab driver Sonam asked me if I was interested in any sort of adventurous activities. I became super excited when he told me that there is a paragliding spot at a nearby hill. Like our ancient ancestors, flying in open air like a bird was a dream for me too. Since, I had never done any extreme sport before, I immediately said, “YES!!!” and without any delay I asked him to take us to the site.
The atmosphere at the site was full of energy, excitement and joy. For most of the people, it was their first chance of paragliding. We booked our turn and after waiting for half an hour, we were asked to get ready. A briefing by the instructor, some words of caution, wearing and tightening of gears, putting the harness, helmet and there I was, full of enthusiasm, energy, thrilled, happy like a child and absolutely no nervousness or fear, ready to fly rather eager to go on my maiden flight in open sky, despite all danger and uncertainties involved.
We waited for five more minutes for a strong blow of wind to take off. Sensing a strong thrust of air, I with my instructor, ran a few steps and whhooooo.. I was literary flying towards the horizon like a bird. It was really amazing how everything became so silent all of sudden and you can only hear the gushing sound of the wind… and your guide (also a loud, squeaky whistle of kites). Seeing the earth beneath your feet in ‘fish-eye lense format’ was a surreal experience. For next forty minutes, we kept soaring gently, high in the sky above the mountains until the roads and rooftops of the village vanishes from the view. To my good luck, my instructor was unable to find the right wind current and the air pocket to land and that gave me ten bonus minutes in air. 🙂
Finally we started floating down and the miniature world started to look more realistic again as I started to make out roads, cars, scooters and then people. I was turning greedy, didn’t want to return to the planet so early 😦 wanted to glide in air a little bit more but every dream comes to an end. In a nearby ground, we landed safely although reluctantly. It was a feeling like no other I had ever experienced: a mix of thrill, fascination, and wonder.
Being up in the open air, flying in the sky, made me feel tiny. It also made my problems, concerns, and thoughts seem minute. Up there in the sky, nothing matters. All you experience is purity and serenity. Yes, I do understood that life is much more fragile than I think but still I want to try skydiving for at-least once. Also, since it was a tandem flight (in which you are accompanied with an instructor), I want to go solo.
One thing I really liked is that they ask you to lend a GoPro action camera so that the whole experience could be recorded. So that you can just enjoy and not worried about your own camera being damaged or fall during the flight, you only have to keep enjoying and smiling.
In spite of the fact that Kalimpong is not considered as the best place for paragliding in India, I enjoyed thoroughly every bit of my flight. Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh is considered the best place for paragliding in India and second in the whole world only after Italy. In the year 2015, it also hosted The Paragliding world cup for the first time in India. Numerous places, like Manali, Barot and Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, Kamshet, Matheran, Pavana, Lonawala, Purandar and Panchgani in Maharastra, Nanintal, Mussoorie, Garhwal, Kunjapuri, Bedni Bugyal and Ranikhet in Uttarahand, Nandi Hills near Bangalore (also famous for it’s beautiful sunrise, read here about our experience), Yelagiri in Tamilnadu, Shilong in Meghalaya, Gangtok in Sikkim, Arambol in Goa, Pavagadh Hills in Gujrat, Vagamon in Kerala are ideal places for paragliding for people from various parts of the country.
The experience could also turn a bit unpleasant as it happened with my wife. Initially, at the beginning of the day, we didn’t have any plans of paragliding, so we left our hotel with our stomach full. Also my wife has fear of height and sensitive towards sudden changes in height. Although she was totally aware of her fears but to gain this life time experience and a little encouragement from my side to overcome her fright, she also got ready with all her nervousness. As soon as she started her glide and with the very first change in altitude, she started feeling nausea. She became sick and vomited. Thus her overall flying experience got ruined. Hence some words of caution..
Some Words of Caution
Yes, there is more risk of accidents and mishaps involved in paragliding as compared to any other sports and we could not abolish the danger completely. The adventure can turn into a nightmare at any instance, but after all risk is an inevitable part of our lives, be it driving, working in kitchen, in flight, in train or even in sneezing. Certainly, there are risks, that must be planned for and respected at every level of the flying experience. By doing proper preparations and taking into account the paragliding safety tips, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable flight. Always remember that you are flying for a pleasant memory/experience and not for challenging the nature in any case. I’ve listed here some precautions. The list is neither exclusive nor exhaustive. Your discretion is important in each and every case.
- Must be satisfied with the company profile and the instructor’s experience.
- Check the state of the equipment.
- Check the safety measures.
- Fly in suitable weather conditions only. Remember you are always on the mercy of nature.
- Do not fly if frightened of height.
- Do not fly if having any kind of heart ailment.
- Do not fly after heavy meals.
- Do not fly in drunken state.
- Do not become over confidant and don’t do radical stuff near the ground.
- Take time to assess your risk. When in doubt stay out of the sky. Do not test your limits there. It might be suicidal.
- Do new manoeuvres with height and away from ridge.
- When landing, you should do so into the wind.
- Always wear shoes and tight clothes.
- Take extreme care of your action camera. Be double sure that it is tied well.
- Do not use mobiles on selfie stick. It may slip out at any moment.
- Take proper medicine before flying, if sudden variation in height causes you nausea.
Sometimes, it’s important to do things despite knowing that it can be adventurous and dangerous. Paragliding is challenging but thrilling. The view from the top is the best. When you get a bird’s eye view to everything, you know how beautiful the things are. Adrenaline rush, the sense of joy and freedom that comes with it, is unmatched. You have to do it at least once to know what the experience is like.