Sunday morning 9 am - I walk into Rangoli a typical highway restaurant 3 hours from Mumbai City on the Mumbai – Pune highway. The place looks like any other nondescript highway joint filled with locals sipping tea, who look like they are in no hurry to get to any place. This is the meeting point for the festival.
I glance around wondering where everyone was and at the center table I see a gentleman who stands out from the crowd. There is an eagerness and excitement about the way his eyes scan the doorway. I walk up to his table and ask him if he has come to take part in the Tandem Festival. Mr. Pradeep Vorha CEO Caprihans Ltd. smiles and nods in agreement. He says "ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to fly. This New Year I decided to fulfill my dream and here I am looking forward to my first experience of Paragliding. We sit there talking and waiting for the rest of the crowd."
Within ten minutes the place livens up with the clutter of boots and excited chatter. The pilots arrive from their base at Golden Glades. Introductions are made over tea. We learn that there are a few flying sites in the area and each morning the pilots decide on the ideal site depending on wind conditions. This is especially so because when flying with a passenger special wind conditions are required for take off and soaring. We then climb into our vehicles and head for Tower Hill. The pilots skillfully unload their gliders from the vehicles strap them onto their backs and start walking briskly towards the takeoff site while the passengers and spectators follow.
The festival participants covered a wide range of people. A dentist, a doctor his wife and 16 year old daughter, a diamond merchant, garment exporters, web site designer, more students, a fund manager, marketing and advertising executives a couple of CEO’s (including Mr. Vorha) all eagerly waiting their turn. They were strapped into their harnesses, helped with their helmets, briefed on take off and landing procedure while the anchors checked the lines attached to the wing and sprinkled dry grass in the air to ascertain the wind direction. Then the brightly colored canopies billowed overhead, and they were given the anticipated signal to run like mad down the slope, until the pilot eased them back into their seats as they were airborne.
Flights were generally short, landing on a field a thousand feet below, The wind Gods blessed some passengers with extended soaring flights they were able to stay in the sky for a long while and meet the gazes of the curious eagles who darted around the gliders. They soared over the hills and lakes, and sometimes even over the highway causing traffic to slow down and drivers to stare. And then skimmed the treetops and gently landed in the fields below. From the hillside one could see them packing up their gliders and walking to the road where the vehicle picked them up and brought them back to the take off site. Faces glow, eyes shining with wonder, instant bonding with their pilot and a deep seated yearning for more of this gentle, serene yet thrilling adventure.
The beauty and freedom of powerless flight experienced, and now a reality!
At the take-off site a spirit of camaraderie filled the air and the passengers and the spectators hung around reluctant to leave even hours after their flights. They shared the pilot’s refreshments and ran about trying to be of help or simply to stay out of the way of the billowing wings. The scene was one of action, the colourful gliders enhancing the festive mood. When all the passengers had finished their flights the pilots flew for their own pleasure. It was thrilling to see them perform antics in the sky almost like a variety of amusement park rides high up in the sky.
And finally as the wind threatened to turn on them the pilots took off for the last time, landing one after another in a haystack of their choice in the fields below. Soft landing! From our vantage point we registered the delight of the village children the curiosity of the farm hands and the startled reaction of the women in fields.
Presented to all the passengers by Nirvana Adventures was a handmade bookmark with the following words:
"For once you have tasted flight.
You will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward.
For there you have been and there you long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci
This was exactly the way we felt! How on earth did Leonardo da Vinci anticipate this feeling!
We all came away with a set of new concepts to talk about. Micrometeorology, thermals, ridge soaring etc. Mr. Ratnakar Mahashabde, Director - Golden Glades Resort - "What struck me the most was the sheer patience that the sport teaches. They can wait there, for an hour at a time, all strapped in and ready for takeoff with the wing spread out behind them, sprinkling dry grass like confetti in the air to ascertain if the wind direction is favourable".