Nirvana Paragliding

Ever since my first paraglider flight in Nepal in November of 2009, I have been dreaming about taking up paragliding.  The sensation is unbelievable: you sit in a comfy harness (more resembling sitting in a beanbag than a harness, really) and you are suspended from what, superficially, resembles a parachute canopy.  The flight could be way up in the sky, touching the clouds, or it could be mere metres from cliff-sides and trees.  There are no windows, no doors, no walls, no noise, no vibration.  Just the feel of wind against your face, fresh air, occasional eagles, and constant facial cramps from the huge smile on your face.

A young me, with "my" glider.  Not my car though...

A young me, with “my” glider. Not my car though…

I have been a flying monkee since my teenage years when I took up soaring at SOSA Gliding Club in Canada. Then I progressed to power flying, skydiving, and hot air ballooning, but that single flight in Nepal has sold paragliding to me BIG TIME!!!  The freedom, the simplicity, the exercise, the travel.  No engines, no suffocating rules, no great expense, usually a lot of mountains, and, most importantly, the fantastic feeling of being suspended a kilometre or two (or three) by a few square metre of nylon, and a few metres of string. Wikkid!  After digging around on the interwebs, I learned about Nirvana Adventures in India.  These guys were highly recommended by experienced pilots and newbies alike.  An instructor in Taiwan actually talked me OUT of taking lessons with him, as he said that a course with Nirvana will be a pleasant affair, as opposed to putting up with the bullshit of unpredictable weather and the non-social nature of flying in Taiwan (not too many people doing it there…).  Nirvana, on the other hand, gets plenty of people signing up for courses, which means you not only learn to fly, but you also make a heap of new, like-minded friends, from all over the world. All pure awesomeness!

Some of the Nirvana team... And me...

Some of the Nirvana team… And me… Let’s play “Find the White Guy”!

After browsing the company website and whetting my appetite, I contacted the boss of Nirvana, one Sanjay Rao, who gave me a good amount of info about various options available to me, and then it was up to me to show up and learn.  I got distracted a bit, and didn’t make it at the time, but I passed the info to a friend of mine, who DID enroll in the course.  Afterwards, Richard had nothing to say other than how awesome this was, how awesome that was, and how awesome that other thing was.  I just had to do it!  A few months later I was already in India, although in a completely different part but rather spontaneously I decided to spend 32 hours on a train from Kolkata to Mumbai, and then another 3 hours to Lonavala (near Pune), where the Nirvana staff picked me up at the railway station and took me to the Native Place, a comfy guesthouse near Kamshet, a dinky village by a lake.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do too much that evening as I had just acquired a good dose of “Delhi Belly”, courtesy of the sanitary conditions on the train… Note to all: say “NO!” to Indian Railways ice cream…

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Next day I recovered, and the course started. There were videos, books, lectures, followed by some ground handling practice which consisted of running around while strapped into a paraglider, learning to control it in the wind (no flying on that first day!).  Learning new stuff is always fun, and this was particularly entertaining as I had no idea what that damn oversized parachute was doing… However, as is the case with all learning, after a few confusing hours, I was beginning to get a feel for it, and the next day I was sent to a small hill where I was allowed to do “bunny hops” – very short flights up to about 4-5 metres.  This was done on a very gentle slope, and with constant radio contact.  One instructor helps with the launch, while another talks you down to the landing site, while yet another one or two help you manage the paraglider after the landing, as you need to pack it up, and then go again…

Flying above Tower Hill.

Flying above Tower Hill.

After a morning of this fun stuff, there was some more classroom time, and then next day, proper lights from a 50-metre hill.  Now the flights got longer, there was some turning practice, and proper landings.  By this part I felt like an eagle.  Granted, I was an eagle on a leash (figuratively speaking) but holy shit did it feel great!  As the days went by, there were more bunny hill sessions, more big hill sessions, then a really big hill session, followed by another and another and another.  In the end, I was making one-hour flights, soared up to about 2000 metres above the valley floor, and made my own landings.

One of the beauties of this experience was the fact that all the transport was sorted out for the students.  The instructors would decide on the locations and timings (for the best, as they clearly know what they are on about), and all the students have to do is have the required enthusiasm to fly.  Breakfast and lunch was delivered right to the launch sites, and the less fit could even pay local kids to carry their packs up the hill for them, and some of the youngsters even offered glider packing for a small fee.  I like doing my own exercise, and I like doing my own learning, so I didn’t indulge, but I could see that many other pilots did a fine job of supporting the local economy.  There was more supporting done after each day’s flying in form of large purchases of Kingfisher beer and, in my case, ridiculously greedy consumption of Black Forest ice cream. Whatever. IT”S MY LIFE, DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO EAT!!!!

…but I digress…

While this course is far from making one into an ace (it takes much more than 2 weeks to become one), it lays a very solid foundation as the Nirvana team has plenty of experience with all kinds of people, and their flying season is much longer than in other places, making it a premiere location for paragliding training, and a superb spot for having just plain ol’ fun.  See THIS VIDEO.  One of the greatest benefits of being there is that this place is far off the “tourist India”, which means that instead of stoner backpacker hangouts you actually get to see what real Indian countryside looks like, and get to chat with real Indian people instead of going through the frustrating experience of being taken for a ride by the social parasites that taxi drivers and shopkeepers in tourist traps.

Local kids enjoying the wind, but on a lower budget.

Local kids enjoying the wind, but on a lower budget.

The course fees I paid included accommodation in a dormitory (although a private room option is also available), as well as all the food… Now, this second part is good news to food lovers, as it is all Indian home-cooking.  I am not into spicy food, but this stuff was magic, and I actually managed to put on about 2 kg in 10 days, because it was hard not to.  A particular blessing (for me) was the fact that a lot of locals like to give their friends/spouses the paragliding experience as a birthday gift, which meant that there was some sort of birthday party every evening or two, and chocolate cake is definitely my vice…

When not flying or eating, I spent the bulk of my time on hiking, reading, and generally chillaxing. I am normally much more wound up, but the time I spent there was beautiful.  In contrast to my usual India experience which includes dodging the dodgy, fighting rickshaw drivers, monkeys, rabid dogs and various holy men, the time in Kamshet allowed me to read 3 good books, hike around in the hillsides, relax by a cormoran-studded lake, and spend endless hours yakking about everything with heaps of very interesting people.

After two weeks in Kamshet it was unfortunately a time to move on, but seeing that I am throughly addicted to the hobby (and the place) I already made plans to return for some more training (February/March 2013) and, hopefully, MORE CAKE!!!  I plan on letting this addiction run completely unchecked for as long as it takes, and while I am in the early stages of skill development, will keep on returning to India for practice whenever I can.  So, if you are similarly curious about taming the nylon dragon, sign up, train up, and lets fly!

Happy Landings!


 

The buzz is contagious!

The buzz is contagious!

"I believe I can fly..."

“I believe I can fly…”

A view from really high up above Tower Hill.

A view from really high up above Tower Hill.

Making friends, working on a tan...

Making friends, working on a tan…

Soaring time.

Soaring time.

Sunset view from the Native Place. Adrenaline and Serenity are sisters, and they both live here.

Sunset view from the Native Place. Adrenaline and Serenity are sisters, and they both live here.

One Comment

  1. Great Story, Emil!! Fabulous, Wonderful…what else can I say? Gregorio

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