Saturday 14 May 2016

When I flew Like a Bird

Paragliding - a lifetime experience at Bir-Billing, Himachal. PC: Akanksha Dureja 

On the recent trip to Palampur in Kangra, Himachal I was very keen to do paragliding. So the moment I reached Himachal Heritage Village in Palampur where I was staying for couple of days I immediately headed to Bir-Billing. By the time I reached Bir it was already lunch time and on inquiry I was told that the weather conditions are not right for flying. For paragliding the wind speed, direction, thermals which provide uplift to a parachute and cloud cover do play a crucial role. In fact some of the fellow bloggers who had reached Palampur the day earlier were able to do paragliding in the morning but later on the conditions deteriorated. Listening to their accounts I was all the more interested to do it as well. I was disappointed but not defeated.

My team unloading the parachutes from the Jeep at Billing

Next day when we inquired about the weather conditions we were told that it is perfect to fly. So we headed to Bir. At Bir we shifted to a Jeep of the Paragliding agency to go up to Billing which is the takeoff point for the paragliding.

The takeoff point at Billing is among the best in the world

From Bir it is 14 kms of narrow, steep road along the flowering rhododendrons all the way up to 8000 feet (2400 meters). Billing is an excellent takeoff site.

A small video of takeoff at Billing

When it was my time to get ready I wore the seat harness and locked the karabiners. Being a mountaineer I am familiar with this equipment. Next the parachute was spread out fully at the back and the strings were checked that they were not entangled. Then I and my pilot fastened to each other. Once done we ran a very short distance together and were airborne in only 5-6 running steps. In this sense the Billing takeoff site is among the best in the world. The thermals lifted us immediately several hundred feet above the takeoff site. I was also filming the whole ride using the GoPro camera with selfie stick as well as using my own camera as and when possible.

I got amazing bird's eye-view of the valley below from my parachute

You get the adrenaline rush in the beginning and it is definitely an experience of a lifetime. Within seconds you can sit down in your bucket seat harness and soak in the scenery containing the mighty snow capped Dhauladhars, terraced farms, monasteries and villages 4500 feet below you. In fact taking advantage of thermals an experienced pilot can go up several times higher and higher instead of descending.

Another view of Bir and surrounding area from my paraglide ride

Now I realise what the bird’s eye view is and what fun they have up in the air!

Steppped fields as I approach the landing site at Bir

It was smooth ride that day as the wind conditions were very favourable. But when the pilot asked me whether I would like to get some ‘real experience’ of turbulent conditions and some wild swings I said why not. Then the pilot made the parachute swing like a pendulum and it did become a bit scary but I enjoyed that experience as well. We were up in the air for about 35 minutes and now it was time to land. 

Watch my short video as I land at Bir

I straightened my legs and had a super smooth landing. (I did notice one landing which was kind of a thumping abrupt landing). Again Bir as a landing site is very good as there is no obstruction nearby.

I approach the landing site at Bir. PC:Akanksha Dureja

And finally I land at Bir. PC:Akanksha Dureja

After the exhilarating experience I reached the software shop where they downloaded the GoPro video and gave it to me on a CD. Then I headed back to the Himachal Heritage Village after this once in a lifetime experience.

Also read:
In the Lap of Nature – Himachal Heritage Village Palampur