Paragliding in Sikkim-The adrenalin junkie’s flight
The North East has always appeared as a beautiful, mystical frontier to me, promising abundant natural beauty and promise of a culture so different from that witnessed in the plains of this country. My appetite had for long been whetted by the stunning imagery of this region, as presented time and again on various media. When a trip to Gangtok, Sikkim seemed ready to materialize, I wasted no time in finding out various experiences to partake whilst there. It wasn’t a very long trip so I wanted to soak in and absorb as much as I could of this beautiful State. The prospect of seeing Mt. Kanchenjunga (world’s third highest mountain) albeit from a distance, had all my nerves tingling and energised. If not a trek, then this was the closest.
There was indeed a lot to explore around. It involved travelling out of Gangtok in different directions to witness some of nature’s beautiful paintings and experience the serenity of monasteries, all nestled at various altitudes. For more snaps click here. High altitude lakes, passes and “view points” offering panoramic canvases for the eyes to soak in and marvel at what we miss out in the daily grind of life; the rich art work caressing the monasteries standing solemn yet welcoming against the backdrop of clear blue skies and tapestry of green forests; witnessing young monks following the footsteps of the older leaders in imbibing their spiritual legacy adorned in red robes; the beautiful plants and flowers in vibrant colours – it was a veritable kaleidoscope, a beautiful onslaught of sight, sound and colours on the senses.
On my list of things to do, was another very exciting option: Paragliding. Just reading about it had got me excited. I knew that this was certainly an experience I wasn’t returning without. A little bit of research showed the names of the couple of companies offering this sport. My cab driver drove me to the office of Fly Sikkim Adventure. I had read up about them and perused through the reviews on online sites, so decided to bank my money (and my life) here. There were a couple of flight options varying in duration and altitude on offer. Not surprisingly, I decided to select the longest and highest version, offering views of the majestic peaks of the Kanchenjunga range.
The Alpine Flight (as it is referred to in their brochure) involved driving for little over an hour to the take off point -Bulbuley Dara, at a height of 2300m above sea level. On the way you cross Tashi View Point. Do stop to take some of the most stunning shots of the Kanchenjunga range. As you drive further up the winding road this view is lost so don’t think twice about it. The vehicle dropped us at the base of a hill and a short steep trek lead up to the clearing that was the take off point. My instructor cum navigator, Hari Gurung Korangi, then got busy wearing his own gear, helping me with mine and setting up our parachute. He asked my weight and while working on my gear straps, tugging hard every now and then, instructed calmly that I have to walk and not run off the cliff.
“You want me to walk off the edge of the earth, you mean?” I asked half jokingly, but serious enough to ensure that I knew what needed to be done. “Yes. Walk. And keep walking. Don’t stop.” came the calm, preoccupied reply. When we were set up he thrust a long Go Pro stick in my hand and asked, “Ready?” I had not asked for the recording option and in any case it suddenly seemed to weigh a ton in my hand. I thought it would be best to have both hands free to grip the straps, given that I was just told to walk off in space to fly! I handed it back to him saying I didn’t want to record myself really. The last thing I wanted was to be captured looking tense and silly. But he firmly put it back in my palm closing my fingers around it, saying it was an option for me to buy the video later. I enquired if the Go Pro could be easily turned around while in flight to record the scenery and not my face. I know what my face looks like and have no desire to see any more of it than necessary, I told him. He assured me it was easily achieved. “So when do I sit?” was my next question. There was a big contraption strapped to my back and I assumed that’s what it is for after all. “You don’t” came the reply. “Huh? What do you mean?”, I belted as his partner now started pulling us forward towards the edge of the cliff. I wondered about the straps that were dangling tight around my legs as I walked, making me feel like a prisoner being carted away after the sentencing. (My funny visions were not affected by the task at hand, you see. At least not up till this point. And this is called an “extreme sport” on some sites, btw. Silly me and my sense of humour). As I continued walking, I repeated my question one last time, telling myself, what the heck! if I go he goes too – we were sharing a parachute anyway. And he looked like he valued his life and knew what he was doing. (Technically this is called Tandem Paragliding where there is a navigator to manoeuvre the chute to fly you around). All was calm till the last step that was taken in space. My heart then did a sudden flip, I heard him say, “You’ll sit on your own”, felt the backward sharp tug of the parachute flare up and next thing I knew I was in air with the wind in my ears and the world thousands of feet below.
Somewhere along those moments the body had slid back into the seat. When it sunk in that I was indeed flying, I asked if I could adjust my position to move away from the seat’s edge ( I didn’t dare risk us being shaken off balance with my wiggling). He affably asked me to make myself comfortable. He seemed to be doing his bit effortlessly and have everything under control. I wasted no time turning the Go Pro around to capture the world below. He leaned his body sideways tugging at the chute straps like a master puppeteer and flew in the direction of the mountain range. It was surreal. The snow capped peaks soaring in the horizon and us soaring over beautiful green hills below.
A little while later he asked me if I was up to some acrobatics in air. I gulped but with mock confidence said,” Lets do it”. I just didn’t want him turning me turtle. But before I could say so, I felt us taking sharp turns side to side. Then it seemed we were going around in circles. Just when I thought this is it, we began circles in the opposite direction, smaller and tighter and then everything was mixed up. The swirling, swaying, the dips….He once again asked my weight and remarked I was a little light hence he couldn’t spin me faster. “THANK GOD!!”, I silently sighed. His pleasure at being able to do all this was infectious but my stomach was threatening to come up and I was focussed on keeping it down while being masterfully tossed around. I repented gorging on the pancakes earlier. It seemed the elapsed hours had not pushed them down deep enough. Mentally making a note that next time I will keep a gap of a few days and not hours between my last morsel and this aerial acrobatics, I told him in mock disappointment, “Let it be then”. (The city life teaches you to mask your true feelings and feign indignation so well, I tell you.)
We covered an aerial distance of between 3-4km and were airborne for about 25 minutes. Approximate take off to landing was 3500 feet. The landing was a stadium track. As we dropped altitude and flew towards it, he instructed me to land standing. I was debating how my ending would be – shaken, not stirred or vice versa but before I could conclude we landed softly I must say. The gear was removed seamlessly and I stood feeling like the eagle has landed without too many ruffled feathers.
For full video click here
Don’t be fooled by his wiry self. He flew the two of us with great elan!My experience with flying was indeed memorable. If you thrive on adrenalin this is definitely an experience worth getting under your belt. The next best to getting trained, licensed and flying solo.
Some information that might be useful to know beforehand:
Weight for flying: 30-80 kg (it varies with respective age, physical & weather conditions)
Recommended dress code: Sneakers, high ankle shoes or snug fitting shoes (no slippers, easy to slip off footwear and heels for obvious reasons), jeans or trousers (no sarees/skirts), jacket if weather is cold, sunglasses if you don’t like the occasional glare of the sun catching your eyes.
No loose articles on you.
Leave a reasonable gap between the last meal and the flying experience.
The number of vehicles available for ferrying to flight base points are limited. Book your flight in advance to avoid waiting.
Connectivity is an issue so you may not be able to make on the spot online payments easily. Do it beforehand preferably or carry enough cash.
Not recommended for:
Pregnant women; Alcohol Addicted; Height Phobic; Heart Patients; Persons suffering from or prone to High Altitude Sickness; Persons with irregular Blood Pressure and any other medical condition that may render it unsafe (mentioned in their brochure)
P.S: Humour is the best friend to take along with you at all times. It spices up experiences like premium seasoning and tastes good every single time.
Would be glad to hear from you about your experiences and maybe plan my next one. Please feel free to share them in the comments section.