Sunday, March 24, 2013

Flying

Waking up in cold areas is always difficult, but I had a reason to get out of bed that trumped the warmth of the sheets - I was going paragliding! The vehicle picked me up from near my hotel at around 10, and we drove to a higher position from where the gliding would begin. Two fellow gliders would go before me. We climbed onto an isolated sloped hill, where I watched each of them being strapped, hooked, harnessed, and then attached to their pilot, the professional that would steer and land the paraglider. A white piece of cloth fluttering on a wooden pole determined the intensity and direction of the wind as suitable for take off. One by one, they ran off into the air, the wind lifting them into the sky. The knots in my stomach began to tighten. I would be next.

One of the two pilots would have to come back before I could descend so I had time to kill with the driver. Naturally, we got to talking. He was the youngest of three brothers, the oldest working in the Delhi police and the middle one employed in Dubai. Unemployment, he claimed, was rampant in Darjeeling which is why many migrated to other places for work. His job of driving was becoming decreasingly lucrative as the competition in the field was increasing. "If I charge Rs 1000 and another charges Rs 800 the tourist will go with the other. But I also have to survive, right?"

We spoke of safety, particularly of females. According to him Darjeeling was quite safe for women, largely because of the presence of so many tourists. In fact, during the peak season in November police forces were brought in from other places such as Siliguri. This was also, he added, because there were no discos and casinos in the area. "When people drink, there are fights. Besides, there are some places where girls are out as late as midnight or 1 am, so of course it would be unsafe for them. It is unbecoming for women to be out so late in our Indian culture." I nodded, staying silent. This was not the time to pick a fight.

After half an hour my pilot arrived. I was hooked up with the proper equipment fairly quickly, but had to wait for the wind to pick up and be in the right direction. As we stood on the precipice all eyes were on the white cloth. It lay limp against the wooden pole. Suddenly, it rose. I got the signal. I ran, down into nothingness. Soon, I was running but my feet were no longer touching the ground. I was flying!

This was the closest I  would ever get to being a bird. I even stuck my arms out to the side to simulate the process; my pilot assured me it was completely safe. On one side below me lay small colourful buildings stacked on layered hills. On the other side lay magnificent mountains and unending greenery. And all around me was a softly whistling wind which gently ruffled my hair. The experience was quite pleasant. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she was flying back to Kansas through the sky. A large football field loomed below my dangling legs. This is where we would land.

After a brief tour at the Happy Valley Tea Estate, I head off to the train station to book a ticket for a scenic toy train ride. I stopped by the mall to pick up chapstick (I lost my old one. I know, it's a pathetic addiction) where I ran into another TISS alumnus. Two days in Darjeeling and I had met up with two TISSians. We are truly everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, you never told me about paragliding!!!
    I wish there would be a pic, to see. Now I have to depend on my imagination only. LOVE U

    ReplyDelete