I had enrolled for the 5 day course for paragliding through flynirvana.com – I was excited and a bit apprehensive as to what lay ahead. I had planned on going for the course with a few friends – but they were not able to join because of work pressures. So off I went to “Native Place” all on my own – not knowing what lay ahead. I had planned on joining the course on Friday afternoon – which would have given me 3 days during the first weekend and 2 on the next.
The start of the journey went from bad to worse – first I didn’t wake up in time – got stuck in the rush hour on the local trains and then had to wait for almost an hour in Dadar for the bus. Next the bus driver forgot to stop at Lonavala and went on the expressway towards Pune. Luckily I asked the conductor how much time it would take and he realised his mistake – but there was no way he could turn back on the expressway – luckily though after some time we saw a bus from the same company coming from Pune and he stopped so that I could change buses and head back to Lonavala. But this was not the end of the bad luck – I had to wait another hour for the train to Kamshet and then pay through the nose for an auto to take me to the “Native Place”. ( Of course later I realised all this was because I had not planned the trip properly and could have reached without all the hassles)
Entrance to “Native Place”
The space frame on the roof
However this was not the end of my woes – the instructors and students had already left for the launch site and I was alone at the hostel. Now I was really desperate enough to walk towards the site
. . . ..
Now luck seemed to change for me and one of the helpers at the place (Pushkar) came to my rescue – fished out a glider for me – and dropped me near the site. There I met the instructors (Ravi and Yogi) and they gave me a basic introduction on the parts of the glider and started me off with ground handling on the flat landing area. This basically meant inflating the glider and running from one end to the other keeping the glider right above
me and getting the feel of the glider and how to handle the brakes. Soon I had progressed to a higher area and once in a while I actually lifted off for a few seconds. Even as I look back at that moment – I remember the elation in those few seconds – and all the hardships (real or imagined) in reaching the place were worth it. The day passed extremely fast and before I knew it – it was time to pack up and go back. Though I was exhausted – I had really enjoyed my first day and expectations were high for the future. I met my fellow students (the Patel family – Pankaj, Amita and Monika) and an experience pilot (Doug). Just looking up at him while he was flying had me drooling for more and is even now pushing me to learn the sport and fly like a bird.
Coming back to “Native Place” all of us sat down and started talking. I had never thought it would be so easy to get comfortable with complete strangers – so much so that they became good friends almost immediately. We were discussing everything from college life to books and I guess the homely atmosphere of the place helped us to open up to each other and make a start at what could be lifelong friendships (despite all age differences – which were considerable). Then we met Ashish and Saveeta – who had come to the place only to relax on the weekend. They had booked the two tents and were planning on “slumming it” (their words). There were two other families who had come to relax on the weekend and for joy rides on the paraglider.
We had a very delicious dinner and were soon ready for the bed – bunk beds in a dormitory.
Despite being a late riser – I woke up at 7:00. I went out and took a few photographs from the roof and around the campus. The place is absolutely beautiful and my photos really don’t do justice to the surroundings.
View of the lake from Native Place
A view from the back – you can see the tents on the landscaped terraces, place for campfires and the actual building itself
I started reading the “Paragliding Training Manual” and soon it was time for breakfast. Ommelettes and toast with tea or coffee and Poha for the vegetarians. During this season the winds are more favourable during the evenings – we had the entire day to ourselves and I did what I excel at – sleep 😉
When I woke up – it was already time for lunch and to my surprise I found that quite a few people had come – most of them experienced pilots. All of them seemed to know each other and were almost like an extended family. Soon after lunch we went to the training site for more of ground handling now interspersed with bunny hops – wherein we actually flew for 5-10 seconds at a time learning to control the glider as per instructions given to us via radio. It was exhilarating – the time may seem very less – but experiencing it is simply out of the world especially when
you know that you are the one who is controlling the glider and any mistake on your part could mean falling flat on your face now – and possibly worse if it happens when you’re actually flying.
As it was the Patel’s third day – they were taken up the cliff to the take-off point and I was left down green with envy and also amazed at the fact that only after 2 days of practice on ground – flying was no longer a dream but a reality. I watched as they glided down from the launch site first turning one way – then making a 180 degree turn and finally landing on the fields nearby. It was simply amazing.
Soon after sunset – we headed back and on reaching we realised why most of the pilots call the place “ghar”. The entire place was transformed with good music, beers, and lots of laughter and conversation.
All of us got to know each other – exchanged numbers and email ids. Soon the party was shifted to the roof and we had boiled eggs and hot bhurji. Everybody accepted us newcomers as part of the family and we were brought to ease almost immediately.
Soon it was dinner time (Chicken and eggs with bhindi and dal) and as I was exhausted by now – I went off to sleep. The other kept at the party till the early hours of the morning.
The Gang at the roof
All of us on the roof
I woke up early yet again (despite myself) and was extremely excited as today would be my first flight off the cliff “top to bottom” as is termed by the pilots. Breakfast was the same as before – but afterwards I was too excited to sleep and started reading a novel to pass the time. Soon others also woke up and an interesting conversation started off. Simon – another pilot – had joined the last day and the conversation ranged from autism to politics to what not – and the day passed very fast.
After lunch we were again ready to go to the flying site (Shelar) and by now my nerves were literally tingling with anticipation. Today we also had more people joining for joy rides.
I decided to take my camera along – even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it up and nor would there be any photos of me – and here’s the result below:
The small hike to the take-off site from the parking area
The bleak but beautiful terrain
Another shot of the trek
Nearing the site – the take-off point is midway up the hill – at the point where the rocky vertical cliff starts off
The landing point where we had learned our ground handling techniques
I was sent up straight away and by now I was literally ready to jump off. The steep hike up to the take-off point
The surroundings from the launching site
More of the same . .
My paraglider coming up
. . . and Doug just behind it
Even though I was one of the first to reach up – I had a loong wait to actually jump off as the winds were not favourable for take-off – especially for beginners. We had strong cross-winds and even most experienced pilots were waiting for the winds to steady – except of course Yogi and Ravi (our instructors) – who were getting ready to give joy rides. These two are absolutely experts at handling the glider and the way they manipulated the glider in flight to get the required “lift” despite the bad winds was a treat just to watch.
Yogi – ready for tandem take-off — the winds were so bad – 2 people had to actually help them keep steady before take-off
And take off – you simply run off the cliff – Wow !!!
And soaring way above the launch site
. . . . . Most experienced pilots can stay up for hours if winds are favourable.
Landing site from above – though Yogi and Ravi were landing on the launch site itself.
Finally my turn to take off came – we laid out my glider – did a quick pre-flight check and I was ready for take-off. Yogi helped me inflate the glider and before I knew it I was running off the cliff – and I was up in the air. I went straight and up for some time then following radio instructions by Sanjay made a series of turns before landing in the middle of the landing field. The flight must have lasted about 2-3 minutes but the feeling of intense joy of actually having flown on your own stays for much much longer than that. The multitude of emotions that go through the mind while up there are so many and so complex that its almost impossible to explain – just has to be experienced. Soon I was back at the launch site for another and then yet another flight. And the day was over too soon. I had taken off and landed 3 times – each flight about 2-3 minutes – but left me with a wanting for more – and I’m ready for the next flight.
After sunset we packed our gliders and were lucky enough to get a lift back to Mumbai by Sandeep – another pilot with over 20 hours of flying. He told us about his experiences and ingrained the love for flying even deeper into my mind. He had had a crash landing the earlier day and despite the slight pain in the back – he had nothing but great things to say about flying – and even with my limited experience of mini-flights – I agree with him wholeheartedly.