The air in India

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Waking to the sound of a school children singing Tibetan hymns, and a cow bell being struck exactly five times in Chaugan Tibetan Colony, Himachal Pradesh.

Regardless of your level of flying experience, the house thermal at Billing, in the Kangra Valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh is something that really must be experienced to be believed. Pilots new to the launch need only one piece of advice, “Fly to house thermal, start turning”.

The air in Billing is thin Group photo after paragliding competitionand cool, and it blows lightly over the grassy launch, requiring an alpine launch in most cases. Once airborne lift arrives in light and consistent cycles that provide a no-stress few hundred meters glide to where the action is. The house thermal at Billing provides a text book introduction to thermal flying. Feel the wing pitch back as you enter the thermal, begin to apply weight shift and a little brake as the glider comes back above your head, then watch as with each sequential 360 degree turn the chai shop on launch gets smaller and smaller. Your level of experience determines the options at this point, and XC opportunities are virtually unlimited due to a prevailing wind that blows perpendicular to the valley wall, that runs from one horizon to the other.

Watching the sunset illuminate the sky and turn the surrounding lakes into broken pieces of a mirror scattered on the plains, Nandi Hills, Karnataka.

A 1-hour local bus ride is all that separates the colonial hill station of Nandi Hills from the hustle and bustle of India’s hi-tech powerhouse, Bangalore. Perched atop an incredible 600 metre high granite outcropping is Nehru House, a grand colonial summer Nandi Hills paragliding site, Bangalore retreat built in the mid 1800’s. Whilst the accommodation is impressive, the flying is mind-blowing, with ripping thermic conditions during the day that, by evening, settle into Kids near Nandi Hills the smoothest and most laminar of inland dynamic winds I’ve ever experienced. Getting into the air is a little hairy, due to the steep angle of the “launch” and the gusty bubbles, but out there the conditions are exhilarating. The shape of the rock, 200 meters of steeply rising rocks and trees, followed by 400 meters of vertical smooth granite rock face, makes for lift that feels like the second half of a bungee jump. XC opportunities abound, though the smaller and punchier thermals in almost all directions over the surrounding plain. As usual getting back to launch from and XC is no problem. Your wait for the bus may be a long one, but it’ll be made memorable by the 30-40 local children who will wait with you.

Coring a thermal triggered by Grand Canyon like terrain in Kamshet, Maharastra, then turning across and down wind towards Lonavla.

Conveniently located between Mumbai and Pune, the Kamshet area has many launches taking advantage of the reliable thermic cycles and seasonally variable patterns. The air is warm and 30 to 40% cloud cover is a common sight. Numerous launches have been identified in this area, due to its proximity to Mumbai, though the Tower Hill site is probably the most widely known. A 30-minute up-hill Sumo taxi ride takes pilots to within a 10 minute walk of the launch, which is a peninsula that rises 250 m above the valley floor. This site hosted the 2000 Indian Nationals, and offers good launches into the morning Easterlies and afternoon Westerly. The local people are very supportive the flying community, and pilots are always welcomed back to earth with the squealing of excited children, who are usually as exhausted and buzzed as the pilots, after running from surrounding areas.

Exploring a freshwater lagoon, hanging out on the beach before launching into beautifully laminar onshore evening breeze at Arambol Beach, Goa.

Arambol and Anjuna beaches in the North of the state of Goa on India’s West coast represent a paraglider pilot’s ultimate beach holiday. No distance options here, but the sun soaked, bohemian life style that prevails makes a perfect backdrop to some serious soaring opportunities. With 4-5 launches within Paragliding at Arambol beach1km of the village, and an on shore breeze that swings from the South to the West and then to the North West EVERY day, very few days were not flyable in the mid December to mid January season. The cantankerous cows that inhabit the beach are easy to dodge on landing, but the sand is unavoidable, so be prepared to spend some time back on launch with your cells facing downwind. Once launched though, the smooth, lifty air lets you practice your S-turns to efficient perfection, and also provides an opportunity to brush up on the rules of the air, as 10 gliders sharing the air is not uncommon. The overall atmosphere regarding flying in this area is very positive, with local schools offering beginner courses, the availability of tandem flights and a constantly changing spectrum of foreign and traveling pilots and friends. In addition the staff at the local restaurants are only too happy to look after your glider to save the carry back to the village, so who could ask for more?

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Jon Garton

Jon Garton is an Australian Paragliding Pilot.