My newly returned-to-india, youngest sister, Veena, Raghu, Zoya and I went camping at Kamshet... that lovely place I've posted photos about before. The garden we camped in is part of a largish house that is like a bed'n'breakfast. The BnB is used mainly by pilots training in the vicinity and for para-gliding folks. They have a team that conducts training courses or gives you tandem rides on request. So this is what transpired while we were there.... Written in Veena's words....
"It started out of the blue. I didn't expect to really paraglide, and even if we did, we would go together and figure it out, right? All four of us, with Mother Hema taking charge, taking care of us all. Needless to say, it didn't happen that way! Zoya fell asleep just as the guy came down to announce that a paragliding team was leaving in 45 minutes. Raghu really wanted to go. I really wanted to go - but not alone, not without mother Hema.
"How many minutes left?" was the main topic of conversation for the next 45 minutes. I was praying for the tent to cave in so that Zoya would wake up and then we could all go paragliding - but it didn't happen. At 3 o'clock, the guy said they're ready to leave. Zoya was in Lalaland, with mother tied to her. Raghu nearly pulled my arm off my shoulder as he led the way up the stairs towards the exit. A bunch of guys hung around the exit, some smoking (no comment), all with enormous rucksacks and fancy gear. You know how you can always spot the aplha male in a troop of gorillas? Well, I spotted him - he took one look at us (woman with backpack holding hand of six-year-old boy, more for her comfort than his), and he said, "You know, we're not getting back until 6pm at least. All these guys are training to be paragliders, so we'll need time." It was 3pm - A-ha! A ray of hope for me - maybe I didn't have to shoulder the responsibility of taking my 6-year-old nephew paragliding after all! 3 hours to go paragliding was ridiculous, right Raghu? "No, that's okay, let's go." Yikes, this kid was serious.
So of course Mother Hema just added some dried apricots, raisins, Masti buttermilk, energy bars, and water to my little backpack and with a non-chalant "Have fun!", she headed for the hammock. The things I do for this girl, I tell you. What's the big deal, I hear you say! I'd never been paragliding. I'd never seen paragliding being done, heck I didn't even know what it meant, what it involved - and I hate free-fall - and I didn't want to train to be a paraglider, I just wanted a ride, and I'm taking my nephew with me....Can you imagine the dialogue in my head as we climbed the steps to leave the building?
We stood outside a van, waiting for the guys to load it with the rucksacks. I needed a source of comfort. So, I looked at Raghu. He stood there holding my hand, watching this skinny, all-muscle, guy standing on top of the van, hauling up these gigantic rucksacks with the ease of picking daisies. Raghu watched, so I watched. We took guesses at what was in the rucksacks... the parachute? i suggested... but raghu said it looks heavy - maybe food. Why not? I'll take my cues from him. I relaxed. The van was ready. We boarded. He climbed in on his own and on the advice of the alpha male, we took our seats in the corner, by the window, facing the back (I guessed we were in for a bumpy ride). We left with the alpha male in the front with the driver, and 5 guys with us at the back. I was glad to see one older white guy with a decent-sized belly - he must be a first-timer I thought...like us (I was wrong). The other older guy seemed like one of those healthy, fit, grandfathers. The other three were all skinny, all-muscle, younguns. The ride was terribly bumpy as we drove through winding fields and little villages for a good 30 minutes. Looking around in the van, I found boots on everybody's feet, except Raghu's and mine. I had on slip-ons and Raghu had crocs. I tried taking more cues from Raghu during the ride but he wouldn't give me any. He sat there, silent and serious. I finally asked if he was nervous. "Nope, I like the paragliding part. I just don't like the ride part". I was brimming with confidence once again. That led to an increase in curiosity so I asked the big-bellied, white guy if he had come here before. "Oh, I've been coming here 6 years now - I learnt to paraglide here, am an expert now - love it." Confound curiosity.
We reached a flattish ground, parked the van, and filed out. We were surrounded by farmland bordered by hills. Raghu held on to my hand tightly now - "We're going to paraglide together, right abucha?" Right Raghu. A group of teenagers from the local village helped to carry the enormous rucksacks in return for some money. I explained this to Raghu when he asked what they were doing with "our" stuff. Mohit then came and introduced himself - the fit grandfather guy - and revealed that this was his second time and he was training to be a paraglider, etc... I thought Raghu was a little suspicious of him - just my guess cause he kept holding my hand tighter, pulling me slitghly away. Mohit was the kind soul who informed us of our next step - a 2km hike across the fields to those hills there, where you can see the parachutes. Indeed, you could see them - beautiful spots of orange and yellow against the distant brownish green hill. But my attention soon turned to the fields inbetween - typical adult reaction. Raghu of course simply focused on the colors and marched on ahead, pulling me behind him. That's my cue! Mohit kept a kind eye on us as we trudged on, avoiding the sharp wheat stalks in holey crocs and slip-ons. Alpha-male and his troop of course were out of sight in no time. Raghu has great timing. Just as I felt my adult-ness take over, he exclaimed, "Look! It's wheat, this is where my cereal comes from. Can you believe it? They just crush and make flour and cornflakes - like what I have at home!!" Even Mohit was hooked - "He's six? He makes such connections? He's amazing" "He's my nephew" I replied. We spent the next 30 minutes focusing on the colorful spots and letting our legs do the work, distracted only occasionally by wheat, mud, snake holes, binoculars and windy paths. It was a hike - not easy in crocs - and Raghu was amazing. He just held my hand and took step after step, every few minutes reassuring me, "Look, we're getting closer, we're nearly there, just a little more to go, then we can paraglide together, look at the colors abucha, look!" I remembered the time when he didn't like the feel of lawn grass on his feet! The best part was when he turned and said, "You know what? I'm not feeling tired, even if it's sunny and hot. I'm not feeling exhausted. Can you believe it?"
"We did it abucha!" We plopped down in a shady spot under a tree, sitting on dried, cracked, mud, sticks, leaves, at the foot of a large hill... I asked if he wanted to eat anything (he hadn't had much of a lunch), but this wise child just drank water and Masti - I bet he knew that paragliding should be done on an empty stomach. We relaxed and watched our surroundings - people strapped on to these enormous wing-like parachutes, running, taking off a few meters into the air and gliding over the ground. It looked interesting, fun, but hardly doable for us - those things are huge. Then Raghu spotted a tiny flying dot in the sky - high above the hill was a guy paragliding alone. "I don't want to go up that high abucha. I want to paraglide with you, but not that high." "No Raghu, neither do I." Was anyone going to tell me what we were going to do? "Raghu, I'm going to find out what we're doing next." So I asked our bellied, white friend. "Well... it depends... are you training?" Training, he asked!! Perhaps it was the look on my face, for just then, one of the lean, muscle-fellows came over and said "You see that guy with the orange rucksack on that hill? see him climbing? You just have to follow that path about 400 meters uphill until that plateau there. You're going to take off from there." He left with those words. And so did my temper. I didn't want to express too much emotion in front of raghu, lest it was unnecessary emotion, so I got up, found the guy and told him "Can you please tell me exactly what we're going to do because I have a six-year-old kid with me and we need to know what's happening. He can't just climb mountains on demand." So I learnt that the gliders on ground level were trainers, just practising parachute control. And that we were going to take a ride with a professional pilot, who would have to take off from that plateau. So, if we wanted to paraglide, we had to climb up 400 meters. Well, cues from Raghu, I thought. So I carried the information to him and he said, "OK, let's climb". Ah - what do I know - I guess 6-year-olds do climb mountains on demand...
So, we climbed in crocs and slip-ons, on a windy, slippery path of hay, up the hill, behind a skinny-muscle-guy, followed by our white friend. I climbed ahead, and Raghu held on to my hand with both of his, pulling himself up every step of the way. It was tiring. But what did I care - we just kept telling each other, "watch out for that rock - it's loose. wow, look how far up we are. amazing abucha, look everything looks tiny, it's pretty cool, watch out, wow, keep going, then we can paraglide together, not too far left, look look at the view, wow...."
We reached the top and sat down for a well-deserved break. We shared a Masti in silence, savoring the view. A few minutes later, my adult mind was back in top gear (we never learn do we?) and I started watching for clues. I spotted the alpha male, who said "Ah, good, you reached" No comment, just what now? "Well, you see that man there - Ravi - he's the pilot, he'll take you on the ride one at a time. Just a few more minutes while these other guys take off." One at a time?? I confirmed it with Ravi - no double harness sorry - one at a time. But how? Ravi explained, showed me the harness and said he'd do one trip with me and one trip with Raghu. Notice the number of the times Raghu kept saying "paraglide together" - now what? Once again I thought, cue from Raghu. So I carried the information to him once more. I still hadn't learnt! "Raghu, see the pilot over there. His name's Ravi. He says we can only go one at a time. That means I have to wear this harness and helmet and can go for a ride with him for like 15 minutes, while you'll have to stay down here. Then, after my turn, you'll get a turn to do the same thing. But we can't go together." "OK" "So, I go alone and you go alone, you understand?" "yep, OK" "So, I'll go up and ride in the sky with Ravi and then land back here at the same spot and you'll wait for me here and then you get a turn." "Uh-huh, OK" "Are you sure?" Raghu must have thought me insane "Yep, I'm sure, go, I'll wiat here". Of course I asked him a few more times and then resigned myself to leaving him sitting on the hill, surrounded by people he didn't know, with a bag, as I put my harness on. He watched, with a look on his face that can only be described as contented acceptance - he wasn't ecstatic - he was content with accepting the turn of events. At least that's what it seemd like to me. My face probably just showed incredulity.
So I took off and enjoyed my ride - floating in the air, waving to Raghu (a little red spot on the hill) and flying higher and higher. Ravi was a very good pilot - I had to test him of course - I was going to send Raghu with him. He listened to me, made sure I was comfortable, answered my questions, helped me relax and enjoy the ride, etc... I told him that I didn't think Raghu would want to go this high and he assured me that he would listen to him. We landed and Raghu watched carefully. He seemed happy to see me again. But he was very clear, "I don't want to go that high" Alpha Male joined us too. Raghu explained his idea to both of us. "I want to take off from this hill and go straight down, okay? Not high up there" I spoke to Ravi about it and he said that he would listen to Raghu and I felt more confident that he would make sure Raghu felt comfortable. I suggested to Raghu that he talk with Ravi and Raghu readily agreed. As they got his harness and helmet on, he looked so tiny but not vulnerable. He turned and said, "Listen" and Ravi listened. "I want to take off from here and go straight down to the ground, okay? Not high up there." Ravi said, "We'll see. We'll do what you want when you take off". I told Raghu that I would climb down hill and wait for him at the bottom, where we were sitting in the shade. He said ok, and then took off...
I watched them glide off into the air for barely a few seconds. I rushed to go down hill to meet him there - I figured it would be a short flight. I kept turning and looking for his bright orange parachute in the sky, but instead of coming down, it seemed to be going up. I reached the bottom of the hill and waited and waited and waited for a full 15 minutes. They were just paragliding all over the place, as high up as I'd been. Somehow I wasn't worried though. Raghu flew for 15 minutes at a height over 700 feet!!! When he finally landed, I asked the obvious question. "Good. I can do that again".
That summed up my attitude to the hike across the field back to the van. Before that, we settled back down to relax under the shady tree. This time we were both hungry. He ate both energy bars and I ate all the dried apricots and we shared the Masti. We watched the others still paragliding. We took guess at which ones we thought would land first. We admired the distance we had climbed uphill, watched the others climb down, and were finally ready to head back. We waited until the last paraglider landed as every began packing their parachutes into the rucksacks again. An ancient, white-haired, dhoti-clad man offered us chai, which Raghu declined. The man asked where we had come from, told us about his farm and left after announcing his prediction that Raghu would become a pilot when he grew up. Raghu pulled my hand "Let's go". We trudged on ahead towards the van while the alpha male and gang finished packing their rucksacks. My head foggy with confidence and happiness, I decided that I knew the way back and Raghu wisely would periodically ask me to wait and keep a look out for the others. We did and eventually, reached the van at dusk. "I can't wait to tell Amma and Zoya"."