My Thermal Flying & Intro XC Flying course with Nirvana Adventures

My Thermal Flying & Intro XC Flying course with Nirvana Adventures

Time flies differently when you are flying gently sitting in your harness strung to the paraglider. I have been flying for years with Nirvana Adventures at Kamshet, in Maharashtra, India, and I am a hobby pilot who loves to spend time in the mountains with his friends and fellow pilots.

No two flying experiences are the same. Each time you take off you get to learn something new. Therefore, the joy of flying is ever new. However, because of my work life, I had been unable to fly much in the last few years. Every time I saw someone take off at Tower Hill and go XC flying, I wanted to do it too. But then I’ve always been a ridge pilot. How could I leave my beloved ridge? What if I lost height and landed on the roof of a local’s house? Would they treat me to chai, or would they chase me with a sugarcane? No, I had to learn to stay up in the air. Which meant that I had to grab on to the smallest of thermals and cling to it till I found a better one, so that I could go flying distance.

While flying I have tried hard to remain in a thermal, but each time I would bank too much or fly straight till I fell out of it. I have read books, and I have tried more. No results. Until, Nirvana Adventures announced a ‘Thermal Flying and Intro to XC Flying’ clinic at Kamshet. Naturally, I signed up for it and waited eagerly to go XC!

Well, here’s how it all went.

The 4-day clinic was conducted by Ajay Sharma, one of India’s top paragliding pilots, with local support from Sunith Rao and Nirvana Adventures crew of instructors.

One day before the clinic:

Ajay observed our individual piloting capabilities and gave us a brief on the clinic and what we had to achieve through the course. I was thrilled. I was going to fly XC!

Day 1 of the clinic: Tower Hill East Take-off

It was an early morning session. Although the forecast showed nil winds in the morning, we had to take our chances. But the wind played truant and we spent most part of the morning talking about inversions, thermals and Brexit, until, of course, the winds began its journey up the mountain from south east.

Without losing much time, the pilots took off one by one. I flew for more than an hour and a half, and with Ajay’s guidance got to identify the mistakes I have been making in the air all these years. It was the first day of the clinic and I was still struggling with my thermal flying abilities. It was not a good enough day for XC, but it was indeed a good learning day for thermal flying.

Day 2 of the clinic: Tower Hill West Take-off

The wind direction had changed completely and it was blowing from the West. The strong wind conditions kept us on the ground until late afternoon, parawaiting.

I was wondering if we could get a chance to go XC flying. Alas, my flight ended in half an hour, as I lost height too soon and could not really get back to the ridge for a recovery.

After my premature landing I spent most of my time watching a local cricket match near the landing while my fellow pilots were happily ridge soaring. Once again, the conditions were not set for XC flying. After a long and agonising wait of 2 hours, the other pilots joined me at the landing and we all headed back to Native Place guesthouse.

Day 3 of the clinic: Tower Hill West Take-off

The conditions remained the same, except that we could see fair bit of clouds in the sky. After several blue days, the clouds were more promising. Maybe, today we will get to fly cross country.

I was the first one in my batch to take off. I had decided that if I’m given the window, I’d surely do an XC flight to Ashram, a huge landing area near Karanjgaon village. The conditions improved and I got few well-formed thermals which took me to the ceiling. Three times I attempted to leave the ridge and go for my big transition. But there was nothing out there over the flatlands for me to go that distance. Each time I aborted I had lost quite a bit of height and had to work all my way up again to the ceiling. The sun was going down soon, and I had to abort my XC plans and we all made it to the landing safely to the waiting Vada Pavs.

Day 4 of the clinic: Tower Hill East Take-off

Every evening, post our flying session, Ajay gave us a run down on our individual performances. It was the last day of the clinic, and we all wanted to do an XC to Ashram. The wind direction in the morning was south-east, and we were at the take-off early morning. After a brief waiting period I took off before the others and soon got into early morning thermals. There was a big cloud forming right above the take-off and I knew it was going to be XC-flying day. But then the wind god had something else in mind. I was the only one flying while rest of them were at the take-off. The wind suddenly changed its direction to come from south, and I was in the air left with no thermals. I felt like I was in an elevator going down, and in minutes I landed, feeling utterly miserable. Ten minutes later, the wind changed direction once again and picked up from proper east. My fellow pilots quickly took off and within minutes the cloud above the ridge, which by then had extended itself half was to Ashram, took them to the ceiling. Yes, all of them except me flew to Ashram. I merely sat on the ground watching them disappear into the distance, when an immature dust devil enveloped me in a cloud of dust and scurried into the bushes. It was as if wind god was pulling my leg.

After some time, Ajay landed where I was waiting. He came and gave me a big hug, and said, “Flying distance is easy when the conditions are right. But the way you flew today was incredible, especially when the conditions were not easy, and you did everything I would have done in the air in those conditions.”

Well, maybe I didn’t fly XC. If I had waited ten minutes longer to take off, like the others, I would have done and XC flight. Ten minutes was all that made the difference. But when Ajay came and gave me those encouraging words, to be honest, that truly made all the difference to me.

Author: Astrid Rao

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