The monsoon has finally departed and a group of flight thirsty Paragliding pilots are off to Kamshet hoping desperately for good flying conditions. Along with them is a trio of new students bracing themselves for their first flying experience.
A three hour drive on the Mumbai - Pune highway and we catch sight of the river snaking alongside the railway track. The quaint little railway station normally tucked out of sight when you take the bypass is now visible as we come into Kamshet town. We then cross the railway track and head for lake country. We pass all the familiar sights, the guava seller at the corner, the patshala, the little tea stall, Everybody waves frantically, even the local dogs bark in excitement. Our arrival has signalled "circus time in the sky".
We are headed for our base camp but first we take a detour via the evening flying site for a quick inspection of the conditions. The paddy has not yet been harvested so we have no landing area. The local farmer Shelar whom we fondly refer to as our site met officer (meteorological officer) comes rushing out to greet us and give us a detailed report.
Shelar never fails to amaze us. From the very first time we met him two years ago when we first discovered the site he greeted us warmly and came out to watch our antics in the sky. Within a couple of days he had figured out the fundamentals of paragliding and could tell which pilot had a specially good flight and which student had the best landing. He soon knew the regulars by name and even nicknamed some of us. A micro meteorology expert - he can look up at the sky, feel the wind and tell us if conditions are good for soaring or if the evening will be a washout. Which is something that every paragliding pilot has to learn if he wants to contend with the sky.
We watch the new students looking skeptically at the illiterate farmer and smile to ourselves. Even this will change. By the end of their course they will develop a new found respect for the local farmer, his traditional knowledge and keen sense of micro meterology. That’s what a paragliding holiday at Kamshet does for you, along with teaching you to soar with the birds - Personal flight !
The next morning after discussing with the villagers we head out for Shinde Tekdi. An hour’s drive later the hills come into view. Even from a distance the site looks promising. A gentle sloping hill, perfect for training ops. As we unload the gliders and begin ground handling the village kids start to appear as if from nowhere. The boys are bolder and come closer for a better view, the girls stay at a distance. Sanjay ties the ribbons onto a staff and impales it into the ground. The colorful flying ribbons indicate the wind direction. The kids look on in wonder, their necks craning upwards like fledgling birds. The multi colored gliders inflate in the air soaring like colorful birds high on unseen cloud streets in the sky.The colourful gliders could charm just anyone but one little girl is mesmerised by the ribbons dancing in the wind. She makes a sudden swoop towards them and without stopping, plucks one off the staff running madly, her little pleated skirt flapping around her. This causes fresh excitement among the kids and the students and the commotion takes a while to settle.
Then before the sun sets the pilots inflate their wings and take to the sky for the last flight of the day, soaring on the winds along with the Brahminy Kites.
We walk down to the little teashop for a refreshing cup of tea. An old man there tells us about a battle of long ago where Madhavrao Shinde’s soldiers fired a cannon from the top of the hill and blew the head off the leader of the advancing British battalion. This was how the area got its name he says. Which goes to prove that there’s history hidden under every stone you turn in this area. Already we have flown over ancient Buddhist caves and fortresses of medieval chieftains A reminder that we are traversing an ancient trade route from the coast to the hinterland once the haunt of caravans, Buddhist monks, Greek merchants and Chinese travellers.
Kamshet kids, The thing that touches me deeply each time we fly here is the way the villagers accept us. City folk often think we’re crazy people jumping off cliffs but the villagers take us in their stride. They show interest and are even eager to try it out - Chattrees (umbrellas) they call them.
A true taste of traditional Indian hospitality. Tonight we are off to Shelar’s village for the harvest festivities.
What makes Kamshet so special to us you may wonder! Its the people of course. The oneness we feel with them, the realisation that every Indian farmer even if he may not be able to read or write is a micro meteorology expert. Centuries of accumulated knowledge or traditional wisdom as it is called. And when we think of the children, their exposure to paragliding - the newest form of personal flight - we wonder how the ‘circus in the sky’ will effect their lives!