by Ratanjot Singh
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What could be the perfect escape from city’s hustling bustling life, bumper to bumper traffic, honking horns day and night, polluted air of the roads and a corporate monotonous life where everyone is trying to climb an imaginary ladder, a ladder of self-proclaimed success, a ladder the more you climb the more you feel closer to dear loneliness and depression. What could be a way to feel a step closer to nature, to feel a bit happier and to feel peacefully relaxed in its own. A high of mind where no drugs are used, a leisurely activity, a hobby that can be enjoyed for rest of your life and a way to build your life joyfully.

I found paragliding to be the answer of all these questions whenever I sit alone in a self-critic mode analysing the days ongoing. 

People will say that I have gone mad, that it is risky to play a sport like this, that it is the adrenaline who is speaking and not the rational mind. However when you close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting on a chair – a very comfortable one, looking out from a window onto the clear blue sky, sparkling snow covered mountain tops with lush green arms coming out till the ground, and the cool air breeze coming over your face and kissing your cheeks you will automatically smile and with that smile there will be tears of joy, the feeling of hugging someone after a long time, that is what you feel in air, it feels like Nature is extending its arms to surround you, you will feel overwhelmed. This is paragliding – the art of flying.

I started paragliding back in 2019, The first time I did it was in Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh. Northeast is a very tranquil place and has a soft corner in my heart. I went to NE in late 2018 for the first time when I took a research fellowship in IIT Guwahati after graduating from IIT Bombay. It was June 2018 every one of my colleagues was stepping out of the college in to the professional world and starting to earn their living. I was joining the corporate world later in November. With a four-month period in my hands, I thought to apply for a JRF at Guwahati. I Stayed in Guwahati for 3 months and explored Assam, Meghalaya and some parts of Arunachal, and immediately fell in love with the untouched serene nature of the site. and since then, I had a strong urge to visit back the serenity of the place on my vacations. I heard about NIMAS – National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports during that time. An adventure school in the lap of eastern Himalayas, situated in Dirang, on the way to Tawang from Guwahati. Few months later, it was Oct 2019 when I first spread the wings into the sky from 150 ft. slope of NIMAS. A small achievement yet the first milestone. 

Learning how to fly a paraglider is easy, it is just the way you drive a car. A coated ripstop nylon cloth when put in air pressure turns into the very basic flying machine. An aerofoil shaped wing resembling the wings of an eagle when above your head in the air is closest to flying like a bird that any human can be. There are lines connecting the glider with the seat or harness where one can sit comfortably and enjoy the lush green hills, snowcapped mountains and free flowing rivers. The wing has its own dynamics and learning about it will hit the nostalgia and can take the learner back to the fluid dynamics class of college. The two brakes on left and right give the control of direction in the hands of the pilot. 

There are different levels of learning the skill to fly – P1, P2, P3. Each level makes the pilot more comfortable for the 1st flight. Starting from learning about the equipment, the inflation of the glider, the control of direction and the deflation is what consists P1, every paragliding pilot starts from the ground training. And to emphasize, it is the most important training of all for this art of flying. Each pilot, whether a beginner or an advanced one puts a habit of ground handling to feel the wing as part of their body, as an extension of the arms. 

You can see many pilots doing the ground handling exercises in commercial paragliding sites. Pulling the glider over the head with both arms and running on straight ground while maintaining the shape of the wing above them. A basic energy intensive yet the most important exercise to get rid of the fear of flying. If it looks effortless then try doing it and you will know how good it can be as a core exercise, one can easily lose the breath after 3-4 stints of inflation and deflation.

Flying is all about inflating the glider and running down the slope with a speed in wind direction until you are airborne, in air you maintain the direction with brakes and land on feet by applying both brakes together. Once you learn how to maintain the glider above your head in the ground, you are ready for next level – P2. This level gives pilot a feel of air, the level filled with small fear of the vast openness in front and excitement inside to take a leap of faith. Trusting the gut feeling and believing in your instructors you start running downhill on a command of go on the radio which is attached on your chest during pre-flight checks. Performing the same exercises that were done in previous level just on a different ground you lose the ground beneath the feet, the butterflies in the stomach start flying vigorously with you as you fly downhill smoothly. These are called chicken flights with people chickened out before the take-off. With 100-150 ft. of hill, flying from the top and landing immediately down the slope doesn’t take much longer than a minute but it fills one with extreme happiness once the feet are grounded. Because why not? You have started harnessing the power of wind! 

The next step is to get rid of the fear of height and start playing on real playgrounds. Learning different manoeuvres of gliding is also the part of P3 level. We have many flying sites in India, Bir in Himachal Pradesh and Kamshet near Mumbai being the famous ones for learning schools.

Once the skill is learnt, with sufficient number of flying hours, and, a confidence is built in airspace, all you need is a glider and some adventure seeking will to fly in any part of India except the restricted airspaces. The good thing about the sport is the sports community itself. Paragliding is a community of very special people, those who dare to share the special ability to fly with strong bonds. Very cheerful, helping and adrenaline loving people who can push boundaries for each other both in airspace and in life. Flying is fun when you share the sky with your gang, they will help you learn, and help you refine your skills. They keep you motivated and bring joy in small packets. And don’t forget the fun talks after landing that happen usually in small cafes beneath the hills.

Slow living, healthy lifestyle and mind tickling exercise, beautiful sunsets of the hills, calm winds and the smiling faces of people, if this life does not sound fancy, I don’t know what else do!

Ending this short note on paragliding from my small rented flat in Pune, made me realize how much I am missing the activity at the moment and I am fairly certain that the readers must be convinced to try it once in the lifetime. So go on pack your stuff and happy landings! 

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