Back in the Air… !!

Having experienced the purest form of adrenaline and thrill through skydiving, I was yearning to get “back in the air” !! And the closest I could get to that experience was through para-gliding !! The most soothing, calm and relaxing experience of my skydive(s) was being under the parachute – which was also an assurance that I hadn’t screwed up the freefall !! I was definitely looking for an opportunity to re-live that experience.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to go very far looking for a good and reliable paragliding center. Kamshet – just under 60kms. from my home – is famous for its paragliding activity. I only had to do a recce to pick the most reliable (paragliding being quite a serious adventure sport) and affordable center offering this experience. That’s when I remembered about a series I had seen on the Discovery channel – about the most unique and best jobs in India !! It highlighted people in India who had taken up some very off-beat and innovative careers. One such episode was dedicated to the Malik couple who run the “Temple Pilots” paragliding center in Kamshet, Pune. A quick phone-call to their extremely courteous helpdesk executives helped me fix the date and time for my jump.

The Company:
I had expressed my desire of going for paragliding to quite a few friends and family members at different times!! Obviously all of them had expressed their desire to join in. Two such people were Anmol and Swati – my colleagues from office. Swati was due to go on a long leave soon and she was absolutely confident that Anmol and I would definitely do these jumps while she was away . There was no way she would let that happen and thus, out of a casual chat in office, the plan was finalized.

D-DAY:
Knowing how these activities are hugely weather dependent, I wanted to give ourselves the best chance of doing these jumps in the first visit itself. Accordingly, I was supposed to pick up Anmol and Swati at 0700 hrs. from their society. While I do acknowledge the element of Murphy’s law in every plan, I must say I wasn’t fully prepared for what was to follow !! Both of them were fast asleep while I made frantic phone calls all along the 15 min. drive from my home to theirs’ !!! They were absolutely excited for this event just two days back and here they were – not responding to my repeated calls. I had almost decided to leave them behind and go all alone when Swati, magically, answered the call and assured me they will be ready soon. Both of them did actually get ready in time, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

Their quick turn-around , in-turn, turned my grumpy mood around !!

Reaching the Drop Zone:
We managed to reach in time at the rally-point on the old Pune-Mumbai highway, from where we were to be picked up in a separate vehicle. I was told the drop-zone (the area from where we would be doing the paragliding) was on a hill and was not easily accessible so we had to take another vehicle (a paid taxi service in a SUV) to reach. Initially we thought it was a way to milk the customers until we saw this ……

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There was no way I was putting my beloved FAB on this road !!

But even this off-road track vanished at one point. We were asked to get down and walk in the direction the driver pointed to !! Swati and Anmol still seemed half-asleep – even with their eyes open – and I was desperate to reach the drop zone so we quickly started walking. It was a nice little walk into the jungle and in the pleasant autumn weather, it felt all the more refreshing.

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As we came out of the thick bushes, the sight of these parachutes was the perfect adrenaline booster we needed….

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As we walked towards these parachutes, I could feel the same excitement and nervousness I used to feel when entering the skydiving center. Although I knew this wasn’t going to be as dangerous and fast as the free fall of the skydive, I was going to do something similar after a long time which made me nervously excited !!

The actual drop zone was absolutely calm, peaceful and organized. Unlike skydiving where the entire drop zone is dedicated to only one center, here all the paragliding centers operated from the same area. Moreover this drop zone was specifically dedicated to tandem paragliding wherein a paragliding pilot controls the parachute while the participant just sits and enjoys the flight and view !! This meant there were a lot of people like us, who were first timers there. In adventure activities like these, first timers generally panic a lot and that can surely cause a lot of issues. Considering all these factors, I must say, the drop zone looked completely in control of the officials conducting it. That was a big relief, especially to me, since I was the planner of this activity for our small group. Anything going wrong here would have had serious consequences !!

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Officials from Temple Pilots quickly took us under their control and briefed us about the procedures to follow. Thankfully, we had made it in time and there wasn’t a lot of rush. Moreover the officials informed that the weather forecast was also good for the rest of the morning – perfect flying conditions !! Whatever nervousness I had before reaching the drop zone had completely vanished and I was now enjoying being in the present !!

The most important formality that needs to be completed before any such adventure activity is signing the self-declaration form – which basically says we accept the risk that comes with this activity. Although every care is taken by the officials in terms of the safety and comfort of the participants, the fact remains that – in the worst case – these activities may cause death or a serious injury. I doubt if Swati was in her complete senses while she signed this declaration…….

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With all the formalities done, it was time to soak in the atmosphere of the drop zone – something I am very fond of !! It was extremely professional, organized, systematic and yet extremely friendly. Everybody present wants to have a good, memorable time giving safety and rules paramount importance. And that’s exactly how I like to have a good time!!

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Gear-up :
Finally it was our turn to fly and the first step to it was – getting hooked on safely and securely !!! It’s in situations likes these that one realizes why hooking up the right way and to the right person is extremely important !!

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In the AIR …. finally !!
With all the pre-flight checks done, it was time get some wind into the parachute….

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The only thing that might scare a new person is having to run towards the valley for the take-off. And that was one thing I myself just a bit worried about. But even that amount of risk was taken care of – thanks to the winds – there was no real need to run into the valley………………..

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Everything about paragliding is slow and soothing and I realized this with the take-off – it was as if someone gently picked me up from the ground !! And soon enough I was gliding over the lush green valley, enjoying the beautiful panoramic view of everything between me and the endless horizon !! I remembered how peaceful I used to feel once the free-fall of the skydive was over and I was under the chute – everything felt like coming to a standstill. And that was exactly how I was feeling now – calm and peaceful.
In the words of my pilot for the day – Sachin Sir – paragliding is a meditative experience and it sure was proving to be one !!

Doing a tandem para glide has this unique advantage of socializing quite literally in the middle of nowhere !! And that’s exactly what Sachin Sir and I got into !! Through the ice-breaker questions, we understood that our native places were close by and that made us pals almost immediately. In that short little flight of about 15 mins, we got to know a lot about each other !!

I was inspired by the fact that Sachin Sir, just like me, was pursuing an office job for about 10 years when he finally decided to give it all up for paragliding and since then he has just been living his dream every single day. I was particularly jealous when he told me his yearly schedule – he flies in Kamshet (Pune) for about 3-4 months, then goes to Himachal Pradesh then Indonesia for a few months before heading to Europe in their summers – all this doing what he’s absolutely passionate about !!

He also described how the paragliding community is a closely knit group and how they have get-togethers in different parts of the world. We also discussed the differences and similarities in skydiving and paragliding. While the maximum duration of a skydive is about 7-8 mins, paragliders do these cross-country flights wherein they remain air-borne for more than a few hours covering 100s of kilometers !!

I realized I have never had such exchange of thoughts……. mid-air !!

Meanwhile, it was time to get the Go-Pro out and capture some candid images of our flight…..

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Fortunately,  even I got an opportunity to handle the Go-Pro for the very first time. Though I am not a trained photographer or cameraman, I very well understand that capturing moments as unique and rare as a paragliding jump is extremely challenging. There’s absolutely no scope of re-takes and the problem with me is, I generally don’t get things right in the first attempt !! I didn’t really know what I was doing but Sachin Sir somehow felt what I was doing right. Maybe he had a point…….

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This was the most exciting maneuver where we flew straight into the valley for a few seconds …..

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The final part of the flight is reserved for some acrobatics wherein the pilots put the chute in some fast spins and descent at the same time. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when I felt a little puke-ish and as is the general guideline, we have to inform the pilot of any discomfort we may be having during the flight, at the earliest. Sachin Sir immediately acknowledged the same and directed the chute towards the landing zone. Just as the take-off, the landing was a very, very smooth one and I touched ground as gently as I had left it !!!

Swati was due to get married just two weeks after this “adventure” – one of the most important reasons why everything HAD to go right …….

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Anmol got an offer of being the “poster boy” of Temple Pilots Paragliding….

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I had been waiting to do this for a long time and my patience had been very well rewarded with a perfectly executed plan…….

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Off late, I have been focusing a lot on myself, doing exactly what I feel like doing – be it traveling solo, no-fuss birthday celebrations, managing my finances, dietary changes or something as trivial as carrying the grey hair !! The common denominator of these changes has been the feeling of empowerment that comes with the ability of knowing and doing what’s right for you, without getting bogged down by peer-pressure !!
Reason why I have been able to keep…………………… Smiling At Destiny !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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