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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Off the mountain, into the blue sky : My first tryst with Paragliding

Off the mountain, into the blue sky : My first tryst with Paragliding

I will come back one day and learn to fly, and I will spread my wings and soar back into the sky.
On this beautiful cold morning, as I embarked from the bus at Bir, the aura of the place imbibed me completely. On one side there were small fields of tea plantations, and on the other side was a beautiful Tibetan Monastery called Chokling Monastery. The life in this small Himalayan town was slow, yet refreshing. The locals seemed content sipping on their morning tea, and just enjoying the view, for one can see the Dauladhar ranges from here. From having kings at the time of the Mughals, to a large Tibetan settlement now, Bir is a very diverse little town. The Monasteries located in Bir are quite well known in the World of Buddhism. And not to forget the fact that Billing (14Kms ahead of Bir by road) is the World's second best paragliding spot. We freshened up quickly and got ready for the 7Km hike to Billing that lay ahead.

We started our uphill climb only to be welcomed by the beautiful Rhodendoron trees and the alluring red flowers lay on the path ahead. The sun was out but on this cold winter morning it was more like a blessing. Just weeks before (and one week after), the very same place was laden with bucket loads of snow, which was now only visible on top of the nearby peaks. The way was rocky, but stunning for we were passing through a trail of towering trees. The trek was a bit strenous but easily doable, as most of our luggage had already been transferred to our campsite. After toiling for 4 to 5 hrs we reached the top of the mountain, and the view ahead just blew me off my feet. Right in front of me I could see a few paragliders taking flight in the distance, and the snow clad Dhauladhar peaks acted as the perfect backdrop. I could see my fellow travelers beaming at the pleasant sight.


As I made my way to get a closer look at the paragliders, the thought of jumping off this mountain (tak-off point) sounded less and less pleasing, as I am not too good with heights. I could see a few of the first time tandem paragliders falling during a failed take-off attempt. But I decided to concentrate on the ones who made it on their first go, but alas, the human mind is differently wired. The thought of running off this mountain top made me sweat even with the cold wind blowing around me. I contemplated backing out and saving my life, but I decided to wait atleast till the next morning.
Billing is a very windy site, which makes it an ideal spot for paragliding. One could see the entire valley from up here, and it was just splendid. There were a few trails here and there which lead to very picturesque spots. A lot of people had pitched tents close to the take-off point. It was a good gathering of adventure enthusiasts.


Slowly we made way to our campsite and after some much needed bonfire and jamming session, we hit the sack. We woke up early the next morning in time to witness the sunrise. The first rays of the sun felt really good after the bitter cold night. Even after soaking-in the warmth of the sunlight for quite some time, I stood jittering as the thought of the upcoming event of the day made me anxious. I gathered all the courage that I could and decided to go ahead with my initial plan. After a quick breakfast we headed off to the take-off point to try our hand at what we came here for - Paragliding ! This time the take off point was a little less crowded, and even more scary. I walked up till the edge of the mountain, constantly whispering to myself - "I can do it. I can do it." but just one look down the mountain slope and my stomach lurched. The "I can do it" chant, quickly turned to "I can do it NOT". Before I could make up my mind, I was caught offguard by my paragliding partner (instructor). He put all the safety harnesses in place, with us attached to each other. He made the glider ready for his next flight, and my first flight. We walked together to the edge of the mountain, where he winked and said 'get ready to jump off the mountain, and fly!". I whispered one last time "I can do this" and took my position. I was standing facing the slope of the mountain, whereas my partner, who was to be my guardian angel for the next 20mins, positioned himself next to me facing the opposite side, holding the glider. All of a sudden, presumably when the wind was strong enough, he asked me to RUN! I thought no more, my mind had just one mission, and that was to just jump off this mountain, so I ran down the slope.


I ran and I ran till I could not feel the ground under my feet anymore, and I ran some more till my partner asked me to stop. I had done it! I was finally off. I was soaring like a bird. I could feel the cold wind hitting my face, but I was not sweating anymore. I was a bird, and not a flightless one. My guardian angel gave me a nudge and pointed towards the Dauladhar ranges, and what a grand sight it was. On one side was the valley, and on the other was this snow capped range of mountains. It was an exhilerating moment as I had finally conquered one of my greatest fears (atleast for the time being). We soared through the mountains with the valley opening up in front. The beautiful landscape left me perplexed. I could spot the few monasteries with their tops gleaming under the glorious sunlight. We flew over the many settlements, changing our direction with the wind. The sky was blue, the ground was green, and deep inside I was feeling as if this is all a dream . We neared the landing site and made a near perfect touch down. I was happy and thrilled and confident and proud. I sat down for a while to absorb this moment of contentedness. I stood up and looked up at the mighty mountains with a dream in my eyes, "I will come back one day and learn to fly, and I will spread my wings and soar back into the sky".



Can't wait to relive my experience of Bir?
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