Strangers To Earth
Wow, I have returned to the desert; but am here only in body; my spirit remains in India. I absolutely loved it. Feb.22 : finished my day shift, went home and made sure I had everything I needed stuffed in my backpack. Was midnight when I arrived at the airport for my flight to Mumbai. I was already tasting the flavour of India as there were hundreds of Indians awaiting the same flight. My tall blonde head got me to the beginning of all the lines, and soon I was on the plane - the first one to embark. Thought the big bird was going direct to Mumbai, but had a short stopover in Dahran.
Sleeping for 4 short hours, I awoke to bright sun and found myself peering down at land. Thick looking air, fields spreading till the horizon, and loads of shacks interspersed throughout. As we descended over the Western Ghats closer to the city limits, there were nothing but shanty homes over every conceivable spot of land from river edges to cliff precipices. Was amazing. And of course garbage strewn everywhere. Even upon approach, there were shanty homes all alongside the runway!!!
Paragliding in India
We got to Colaba, where my accommodation was going to be. I wasn't sure what to expect, and my first impression was dismal. I had to make my way down this crowded dirty alley, find a small door looking like all the rest and climb 3 flights of stairs. I was shown my room - four white walls, two windows with bars, two single beds and a small washroom. I honestly didn't feel like hunting around for anything else. I took it for two nights until I met up with Jonathan, as planned.
I continued to wander the streets. Interesting sights, and such poverty and squalor. It is difficult to see it and understand it. But it's a way of life. Beneath the grime and dirt are smiles. It is indeed a way of life they have accepted. It is our self-indulgent eyes used to excesses, that cannot possibly fathom it. It is to a large extent a humbling experience.
I finally chilled out, and began to embrace the sights, sounds and smells. All the while snapping photographs of interesting faces and street life. It was fascinating. With stomach grumbling I found my way to the Leopold cafe for a tall bottle of Kingfisher beer and some nan bread and cheese, and curried veggies. DELICIOUS. There weren't many Americans around with the tourist season not having quite begun.
Next day I took a boat out to "Elephanta Island", where sacred temples were carved out of rock. These were carved out about 1500 AD : beautiful. Mostly carvings of SHIVA. With so many different religious beliefs, they respect and live in harmony. Unlike the rest of the world where different beliefs have caused war.
Next morning was up and off to the airport and met up with Jonathan. That evening went out for a nice dinner at Sanjay's Rec club. Very nice, never did really make it to a meal, just appy's and lots of drinks.........ended up in a club and danced the night away to Indian techno music. Was great. With a foggy head at 0600, we were on our way to Kamshet in a loud, suspension-less jalopy jeep. Mumbai never seemed to end. Finally got to the country side and made it to "Golden Glades":where 'peace, bliss, and happy landings' prevailed.
It was beautiful, and as the days went by, became even more so. India has a way of doing that to you. Our instructor Avi was a hip 29 year old guy who has quite the life. Spends 6 months of the year in Kamshet teaching paragliding, and the other 6 months when monsoons hit, he goes north to the Himalayas where he para-treks forever finding new places to take off from. Also does some tandems. Too cool!
We were soon settled into our own house, with a rooftop terrace with incredible views of the lake in front. The first couple of days we went over a lot of theory, equipment,and did some ground handling. There is much more to it than you think! We progressed to running down slopes and doing leaps and bounds, feeling the take-offs and landings. Early mornings and late afternoons we would be off to another site. By noon we would get back and relax as the winds would be too unstable in the heat of the day. The last few days we would end up on higher and higher hill tops, which were more and more intimidating.
I was also anxious to actually get up there on my own. Avi and I had done a tandem and that was great. Finally the time came: I was harnessed up, did my checks, and was waiting for the right winds
Steady 12-15mph winds are perfect. As I fought to overcome the overwhelming feelings of self-preservation, my body lunged forward. My chute inflated, and I tried my hardest to run and get some forward speed. Just then a gust of wind came and lifted me high into the sky. What a feeling. From intense loud rustling of my wings to complete silence, and soaring. I had one huge silly grin on my face I tell ya. Pure bliss. We had radio communication, and Avi directed me for turns etc, and eventually I landed. Great soft feather touch landing, just like he said!!!
Now I couldn't wait to get up again, and stay up. During our tandem flight, we had caught some thermals and soared to over 3,500 ft. There were birds flying beside us, wondering who this new big bright bird was. Ultimately, you follow the birds as they are the real masters of the sky. There is nothing quite like it. An overwhelming feeling of oneness. I felt like a glass of champagne, bubbling over.
Nirvana Adventures is truly an appropriate name for the company! My last day , we went to an even higher hill, and again, I was off. This time, I lost radio contact with Avi, but still felt comfortable with my wings, and soared along the cliff side and managed to catch a few thermal lifts. It was a beatiful flight, but unfortunately, that was the last...for the time being, that is.
We had spent one afternoon rappelling down a cliff side. That too was a great adventure. The entire vacation went way too fast. In my mind-space, I am still there, sitting on the rooftop terrace, watching the ladies draped in their brilliant saris, walking by, balancing big brass water jugs on their heads. And then there is the old man dressed in white on an old wooden 2-wheeled wagon pulled by his sacred bull with painted horns.
If I had to describe India in two words: colourful and mystical. I will definitely be returning. I am now a P1 pilot, and plan on meeting up with Avi for additional courses. Perhaps even in the Himalayas!!! Another great holiday, and I am already thinking about the next
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.