Flight has been man's oldest dream. Ever since thought found place in the human mind, the desire to fly took place of merit. Today we have airplanes that span the breadth of the globe in a matter of hours, moving at several times the speed of sound. But for those who want to truly experience flight, there's no better option than paragliding.
Get your wings
Wondering why we're recommending that you fly suspended from a glider by a bunch of strings when you can just take a flight every time you feel the urge? Stop being chicken. You haven't flown until you've jostled with the elements, feeling the wind rush past your face, exchanged knowing glances with the birds, and been carried up and away by friendly thermal currents.
If you've ever looked at a bird in the sky enviously, or treasured the parachuting man toy you bought from India Gate as a kid, then you need to get in on this. Paragliding is different from skydiving, in which you jump off an airplane and use a parachute to reach the ground slowly, landing in one piece instead of as soft mush. Paragliders use a glider to 'take off' from a point, rise high and fly, travelling a certain distance to land at a previously chosen safe site.
In fact, paragliders are known for their penchant to set records. Like Dilip Kotecha from Pune, a veteran of paragliding in India, who once flew from Pune to Patan Taluka, a distance of 114 km that he flew in 5.5 hours. Or Shrikantha Pal, who started flying at the age of 10 and now has about 300 flights to her name. Both the 41-year-old and the 13-year-old say that once you fly, you can never stop.
Kotecha, who's been paragliding for 14 years, says he's so addicted that he finds time off from his real estate business to fly every weekend and, occasionally, even manages a month off to compete in championships. Pal considers herself lucky to be living in Panchgani, which is a popular flying site in the Western Ghats.
Ride the currents
Learning to fly takes time and dedication. You have to do two levels of courses, both of about 4 days each, separated by a 100 flying hours. The first instructs you in the basics of using a glider, taking off and landing, teaching you enough so you can fly at established paragliding sites and gain some working knowledge of how winds work. The second teaches you how to find thermals (column of rising air) and use them to fly higher and further, gaining as much as 4,000m in height.
It teaches you to find your own take off and landing sites so that you can become an independent flier, trying out new locations. Do remember though -- you should still never fly alone. Always take along a buddy. At some point along the way, you'll also need to buy your own glider, or 'wing', as the fliers call them. You can start with a second-hand one bought under the supervision of your trainer, and then treat yourself to a new one, that will cost you about a lakh (including harness, helmet and reserve).
Eric Menezes from Pune, who's been teaching for 17 years and has trained over 1,200 pilots, says India has great climatic conditions for flying and a large variety of sites. He adds that the sport is safe and easy as long as you've had proper training. There are popular flying spots across the country, from Himachal Pradesh to Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. For beginners, the best places to learn are Bir, Billing in Himachal Pradesh, Kamshet near Mumbai, Sohna near Delhi, and Bangalore.
Join the brotherhood
Like most sports that involve an element of risk, paragliders too find a sense of camaraderie among their own kind. Rakesh Morchhale, 33, a flier from Mumbai says, "When you meet a flier you know that here is someone who's evaluated the risks and decided that their knowledge, desire and competence are enough to counterweigh them. You know you're meeting someone who's made the same leap of thought, and so you obviously feel a greater sense of kinship with them than with regular people."
Temple Pilots (Pune, Mumbai)
Phone: Anita, Avi @ 9823384654
Wings and Flights (Pune)
Phone: Eric Menezes @ 9822023790
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Space Apple (Mumbai)
Phone: Samson @ 9822499281
Email : email@example.com
PG Gurukul (Manali, Billing)
Phone: Gurpreet @ 9418042337
Get off ur ass (Bangalore)
Phone: Santosh @ 9845442224
ZICE TRAVEL (Delhi)
Phone: 9911089423, 9891925475