Paragliding – A Tryst with the Sky Tasneem Chherawala
From times immemorial, we humans have had an innate desire to fly. Evolution however, denied us our own wings and gravity kept us grounded. This did not stop man from making disastrous attempts at flight, starting with jumping off towers with attached bird feathers and taking off on man-carrying kites. It was only in the middle of the nineteenth century that Sir George Cayley first laid down sound principles of aerodynamics, and soon thereafter, untethered gliders gave man the ability to soar – even before the Wright brothers invented the first machine-powered aircraft.
History of aviation aside, I recently had a personal tryst with the skies when I chose to step out of my comfort zone to learn paragliding. I was inspired by Lt. Gen. Ranjan Goswami, whose enthusiasm for aero-sports rubbed off on me. With his encouragement and company, I joined a 4-day paragliding course with a Kamshet-based flying school, aptly named Temple Pilots. And with that, I entered into a thrilling and gravity-defying new world.
To be accepted in this world, I had to face a beast of a glider, whose sole purpose initially appeared to be to drag me, throw me around and perhaps even kill me. Aided by some amazing instructors, I gradually learnt to overcome my fears, connect with the glider and tame it. The glider soon became a gentle creature, responding to my commands as I manoeuvred it in the air. Doesn’t this remind you of Jake Sully and his sky dance with the Ikran banshee in the movie Avatar? I have no words to describe the feeling when my own banshee lifted me off the ground for the first time and I flew, albeit briefly, into the wind.
The paragliding world is not just all about being airborne, although that is the best part. I made some wonderful friends. The people who pursue this sport are a clan of skilled warriors, just like the Na’vi tribe in Avatar – fanatic when it comes to flying, but also friendly, fun-loving and down-to-earth (pun intended!). I was introduced to a new language where familiar words like inflation, deflation, mushroom etc. took on a different meaning in the context of paragliding. My knowledge of aeronautics was enhanced with a more practical understanding of lift bubbles, venturi effect, gust factor angle of attack etc. My body learnt to adapt to new postures like running position, flying position and landing position. I reconnected with Mother Nature and its most basic elements of Earth and Sky with a renewed sense of awe and respect. It was a completely uplifting experience – physically, mentally and emotionally.
When my training period was over, I promised myself that I would revisit this exciting world and fly as often as I could, leaving behind the humdrum and stress of routine life.