High in the sky

By : Manisha Pande
Last Updated: Fri, Dec 07, 2012 21:01 hrs

pWith great views and steady weather conditions India has some great paragliding destinations emManisha Pandeem lists the best places for the sport and what adventure seekers should look out forppIf you can walk and trek you can fly&rdquo We&rsquore not talking about the level of fitness required to fly a plane cooped up in a cockpit but the real deal &mdash free flying with no engines no noise just the wind in your face and a bird&rsquos-eye view to top it At least that&rsquos what Sanjay Rao has to say about getting to grips with the extreme sport of paragliding Rao an avid paraglider has been &ldquoflying&rdquo for about 15 years and first discovered the sport when few knew about it in India An electronics engineer he was fed up of &ldquochips and circuits&rdquo and took a break vacationing in Kamshet &ldquoIt was here that I met a bunch of foreigners who had their own paragliders and tried my hand at flying I was addicted&rdquoppSituated in the Western Ghats &mdash about 11 km away from the twin hill stations of Khandala and Lonavala in Maharashtra &mdash Kamshet has come a long way since Rao&rsquos first take-off back in the &rsquo90s to become a destination that is widely deemed to be a &ldquoparagliders&rsquo paradise&rdquo A great landscape and predictable wind patterns make it popular with &ldquohigh-flyers&rdquo as well as novices &ldquoThe Sahayadri range is friendly in terms of its topography The hills are not very high and offer large and ample landing areas that are extremely important for beginners&rdquo says Anita Deshpande Malik business head at Templepilots a paragliding school in the Kamshet regionbr  table cellpadding2 width400 border0 tbody tr td bgcolor929373font faceTahoma colorffffff size3strongSAFE LANDINGSstrongfonttd tr tr td bgcoloreeeedafont faceTahoma size2strongIf you want to learn paragliding br DO&hellipstrongfont ul lifont faceTahoma size2Register with a reputed school that has a good record infrastructure and most importantly an instructorfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Ensure that your instructor is a regular flyerfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Complete Elementary Pilot EP and Club Pilot CP courses if you are serious about flying This will take eight to 10 days with lots of short and medium altitude flyingfontli ul pfont faceTahoma size2strongDO NOT&hellipstrongfontp ul lifont faceTahoma size2Take to paragliding on your ownfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Rush into buying your own equipment unless you have completed EP and CPfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Buy old equipment preference should be given to a new set of equipmentfontli ul pfont faceTahoma size2strongIf you go for tandem paragliding&hellipstrongfontp ul lifont faceTahoma size2Make sure you fly with a reputed tandem pilot club or operatorfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Ensure that your tandem pilot has certified equipment &mdash wing harness for pilot and passenger helmet for pilot and passenger and a reserve parachutefontli ul pfont faceTahoma size1Source Paragliding Association of India wwwpgaoiorgfontp td tr tbodytable table cellpadding2 width400 border0 tbody tr td bgcolor929373font faceTahoma colorffffff size3strongBEFORE YOU TAKE OFFstrongfonttd tr tr td bgcoloreeeedafont faceTahoma size2strongMedical fitnessstrongfont ul lifont faceTahoma size2You should not have heart ailments asthama or epilepsyfontli lifont faceTahoma size2You should be able to judge distance motion and orientation as you move in three dimensionsfontli lifont faceTahoma size2If you can drive a car or ride a bike without having frequent near&ndashmisses then you are very likely to have reasonable spatial judgmentfontli ul pfont faceTahoma size2strongMental aspectsstrongfontp ul lifont faceTahoma size2A good judgementfontli lifont faceTahoma size2A concern for personal safetyfontli lifont faceTahoma size2Ability to make reasonable decisionsfontli lifont faceTahoma size2A positive attitudefontli lifont faceTahoma size2The will to flyfontli ul pfont faceTahoma size1Source Templepilotsfontp td tr tbodytableppTemplepilots along with Rao&rsquos Nirvana Adventures is among the four schools that conduct beginners and pilot-level courses in Kamshet A course for beginners can cost anywhere between Rs 8000 and Rs 16000 and can go on from two to four days Anita says paragliding is a fun safe way to experience flight in its purest form &ldquoYou simply lay out a wing on a hillside or mountain inflate it over your head like a kite run a few steps and before you know it you&rsquove stepped off into the sky&rdquo Once in the air a pilot is able to maintain and even gain altitude using lifting and thermal air currents Landing a paraglider too is extremely easy A pilot simply steers it into the landing area and glides down for a gentle touchdown back on earthppMoreover just about anyone can learn to paraglide &ldquoThe extreme sport is more about finesse than fitness&rdquo says Anita However you need to be able to jog run and walk up a hill and should not suffer from asthma epilepsy or heart diseases The ability to make sound judgements and concern for personal safety are also important In fact most seasoned paragliders assure that learning the sport is not as tough as it may seem Rao says a lot of people get scared thinking it&rsquos a dangerous sport but it&rsquos actually as simple as learning how to cycle or swim The key is practiceppEven as most veteran paragliders unanimously agree that Kamshet is the best place to begin flying it is Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh that is considered the Mecca for experienced pilots Nestled in the Dhauladhar ranges of the lower Himalayas Bir is a tiny Tibetan settlement about 80 km away from Dharamshala Billing a mountain top at an elevation of 3890 metres is where paragliders take off from to land 14 km away in Bir Needless to say the pull of spectacular views and high-altitude flying is hard to resist for those willing to push the limits Another attraction is the cross-country route from Dharamshala and back &ldquoTo fly in Bir-Billing is what you learn paragliding for&rdquo says Anitapp aligncenter ppFor those who want to experience flying without having to go through the rigours of actually learning how to manoeuvre the paraglider there&rsquos tandem paragliding &mdash which is basically a joyride that you can take with an experienced pilot In Bir-Billing you can take a tandem ride with India&rsquos top pilot Deb Choudhury who has been flying paragliders in the Himalayas since he was 14 Choudhury is of IndianItalian origin and has pioneered many of the routes including the first flight from Bir to Manali in 2000 He&rsquos now one of India&rsquos most experienced competition pilots ranked 46th among the world championsppApart from Kamshet Arambol and Anjuna in Goa too offer some of the best tandem rides that allow you to fly over the beaches Panchgani in Maharashtra Nandi Hills in Bangalore and Manali in Himachal Pradesh are other popular options A tandem ride can cost around Rs 3000 for 15 minutesppA number of paragliding fatalities reported in the media may have put the sport under a cloud but most veteran flyers insist that paragliding is as safe as driving a car or walking on the road &mdash provided you learn it right and practise it correctly &ldquoOf course there&rsquos an element of risk involved but most accidents happen because flyers throw caution out of the window&rdquo says Manoj Roy secretary general of the Paragliding Association of India PAI which was formed by the pilots community to promote develop control and regulate paragliding and paramotoring in IndiappRoy feels mishaps happen when people opt for unprofessional &ldquotour operators&rdquo rather than qualified flyers to learn or take a tandem ride India may be opening up to paragliding and has immense potential to develop the sport because of relatively steady weather conditions but there&rsquos lack of checks and government regulations So Roy cautions adventure enthusiasts to be very careful about who they learn from and fly with &ldquoPAI is trying to streamline training and infrastructure guidelines for learning and practising It has also formed a set of guidelines for tandem paragliding These will be implemented from December 14&rdquo says RoyppThe authority is in talks with various state governments sports authorities and the aviation ministry to implement a certification and a rating system so that more people can take to the sport without having to fear for their safetyp

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