When we set off for India, the adventure we had in mind was to buy our own Rickshaw (tuk tuk) and cruise around India and Nepal before driving it to Thailand. When we arrived in India and started looking into what was involved in buying a rickshaw, it quickly became apparent that the bureaucracy there was going to snub this adventure pretty quickly. Namely, to take a vehicle out of India, it needs to be registered in your name but to legally register a vehicle in your name, you have to be a resident of India. Not to worry, experience has taught us that plans B and C generally work out better anyway. We jumped on a train from Mumbai down to Goa to put our feet up for a few weeks.
One afternoon while splashing about in the sea, I noticed a paraglider soaring along a ridge at the north end of the beach and I had one of those Eureka moments. I legged it out of the sea, ran past Carly who was lying in the sun, (seemingly determined to change race) and shouted 'Let's learn to fly!' as I legged it past her to go and get my laptop to look for paragliding schools in India. Turns out paragliding is actually quite big in India, and most importantly, it was a fraction of the price to learn. In the UK to get your Club Pilot rating, it'll cost you about $2000 (£1300) for the 10 days. In India it was about $750 (£500) for the 10 days AND included accommodation, 3 meals a day and copious amounts of chai. That and the fact it was guaranteed 30C and blue skies every day for 5 months quickly made this Plan B.
A quick search of the Google yielded no less than 4 paragliding schools in a small town called Kamshet, some 100km from Mumbai, all offering a Swiss paragliding qualification. After a bit of research we decided to book in with Paragliding Mantra for the 10 day course. After an overnight train from Goa and a couple of local trains, we arrived in Kamshet and were met by TJ, the head honcho and after lunch we were taken straight to the training hill to start the course.
Ground handling is an essential skill you need to learn before you can fly
One of our instructors, Sachin, helping Carly get her wing over her head
Carly coming in to land from her first flight from the hill behind. I quickly lost count of how many times I climbed that hill.
Once you start getting the hang of it you move onto Tower Hill, which is a wee bit bigger! This is me taking off for my first flight. #puckered
Days started early and we were up at sunrise every morning to make the most of the calm morning air.
Ground handling sessions were generally done in an abandoned ashram. It was going to be the biggest in the world but they guy building it died. Now it's just a field with thousands of half built houses.
Towards the end of the 10 day course TJ approached me and asked if I would make a video for Paragliding Mantra. In return, we could stay and eat for free and do some more flying with them. Of course I said yes!
On the days when the boys had other chores to do and we didn't do any flying, Carly and I would hitch hike into town and head to the local bar for a few beers. Now I say bar, I was more an open fronted concrete room with a few tables and benches next to the local liquor store. Within minutes we would usually have a curious, half cut local come and sit down next to us, sometimes just to stare and my white skin but generally to talk about cricket. I fucking hate cricket.
After a few not so quiet drinks we would then have to get back to the clubhouse. There was a bus but it was never there when we wanted it so we would generally hitchhike back, sometimes in a car, sometimes on a roof.
Downtown Kamshet, the local village.
The local 'bar'. Someone (Carly) dropped my camera and it wouldn't focus.
Trying to talk some local lads into giving us a ride home.
There wasn't any room on the school bus unfortunately.
If all else fails, just start walking and hope someone stops.
A roof is better than a bus any day. God I love India's lack of Health and Safety!
It took me a couple of weeks to make the video for them, by which time we had become good friends with the whole team. Most of the instructors were local farming boys who, over years of spending their free time at the local flying sights, packing paragliders for 10Rs (10p) a time, got to know TJ. TJ told them that if they went to school every day and worked hard, he would teach them to fly when they finished high school. Now, years down the line, these farm boys are professional paragliders!
TJ and Parshu, two of our instructors.
The landing area always draws a crowd and therefore a lot of landing hazards. The take off area of Tower Hill is on the top right of the photo.
Our month in Kamshet with Paragliding Mantra was up, and my god did we have an amazing time. The three fresh made meals a day were amazing and the staff were all legendary. It was a perfect introduction to an incredible sport that scares the shit out of me. It was sad to be leaving somewhere that felt like home, but we promised we'd be back, and we were five months later for a visit. It's looking like we'll be back in the near future too.
If ever you find yourself wanting to learn something new, or even just want to have a tandem flight, head over to Kamshet and find the guys at Paragliding Mantra, you won't be disappointed!
Here's the video I put together for them, it shows you what to expect with your progression from a beginner and also what it was like living at the club house and being trained by this awesome team.