Delhi to Bhimtal: Wind beneath my wings

Paragliding over the Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand is a test of courage


Paragliding in Uttarakhand. Photo: Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times
Paragliding in Uttarakhand. Photo: Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times

The take-off itself wasn’t particularly tough; it was the decision to board that took courage.

It all happened on a recent whistle-stop tour of Kumaon’s “lake district”, with Bhimtal as the base.

A visit to Uttarakhand in summer is a travel staple, and it hasn’t been any different this time. Long walks around Bhimtal, retreating to a quiet corner with a book and making trips to my favourite chai shop in the bazaar was the primary agenda for the weekend.

Barring one afternoon, when I decided to hop into a cab and go for a short spin to the adjoining town of Naukuchiatal. Stopping on a hilly road to stretch my legs, I was drawn to the bustle of people milling around a large parachute spread out on the flat surface of a cliff top. As I watched, a young couple took wing, tethered to instructors who would help them stay in the air for the next few minutes of their paragliding adventure.

Boats docked at a harbour in Bhimtal. Photo: Alamy
Boats docked at a harbour in Bhimtal. Photo: Alamy

I knew that paragliding was popular in Himachal Pradesh, but I had not expected to come across it in this remote corner of Uttarakhand.

A few minutes later, as I prepared to get back into the cab, my driver inquired if I had ever gone paragliding. I mumbled a “no”, hoping he would drop the subject, but that was not to be.

A moment of hesitation was all it took for the paragliding team, who saw me standing there, to run with his suggestion. They said it was silly to be afraid when even a five-year-old could do it.

The clinching argument came in the form of a joke from the instructor who would fly with me—“Oh madam, remember, it is my life too.” Almost before I knew it, I had gone from curious bystander to intrepid paraglider, all harnessed and ready to soar. One, two, three, four steps forward—and the wind carried us up.

I was able to muster some courage on the ground, but my first minute up in the air was one of sheer terror. I confronted it with a volley of questions to Vir Singh, who is from Himachal Pradesh and has been an instructor for seven years. Singh was remarkably patient as he explained, yet again, that he had all the controls—for direction, altitude and speed—in his hand.

I closed my eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath; perhaps it was the feel of the wind on my cheeks or the sound of absolute silence, but when I opened them again, I had begun to enjoy the flight. There may even have been a brief moment when I let go of the straps and spread my hands in the air a la that classic scene from Titanic.

I had been on a hot-air balloon ride a few years ago, but this exhilarating sense of flying, strapped to a massive parachute and perched on a makeshift canvas seat, was like nothing I had experienced earlier.

When it was finally time to land, 10 minutes later, Singh decided to test my nerves one final time with a few trick moves—whoosh we went, swinging treacherously to one side, dipping low and high, almost upside down. Forgive me for not describing it in great detail, for all I remember is holding on tight and pleading for my life.

Unlike the flight itself, I didn’t have time to get used to it. But by the time we landed, I did manage a half-genuine smile for the camera that had been capturing every moment of my adventure.

That night, I had adrenalin-fuelled dreams of sprouting wings and flying high. My last coherent thought before falling asleep was that I couldn’t wait to try paragliding again.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.

Charukesi Ramadurai tweets at @charukesi

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