Up and away | Adventure Sports with Renault Triber | Chapter 2: Paragliding
I am about to land. I can see the orange Triber parked in the distance next to the landing zone in a sea of white and grey cars, popping like a homing beacon. It’s a flat patch of grassland in the valley of Bir about 1000 metres below where I was a few minutes ago. As my altitude drops in the tandem glider, the pilot asks me if I’m up for a somersault. I have no idea what that is but I am sure it is going to disrupt this very meditative flight. As much as I don’t want to break my peace, no one says no to a somersault in any context. He yanks a few strings, ruffles the wind under the glider and in a few seconds, the glider is facing the ground, my feet are facing the sky, my breakfast is very close to facing an ejection. Welcome to the second part of ‘Triber Adventures’. This month we catch some air.
To get so high up in the Himalayas requires a full day of driving in the plains, culminating in a long hill climb to reach Palampur. A few hundred kilometres of driving on a busy highway reacquainted me with the Triber. The tiny 1-litre three-pot is underrated. The engine is very capable to help the seven-seater chug along at highway speeds with ease. This car has the AMT gearbox that made life simple while exiting the chaotic roads of Delhi during the day, and when on the highway, manual mode was called upon quite frequently to drop down a gear for quick overtakes. Most people prefer to drive an automatic like an automatic should be driven but when it comes specifically to AMTs, I enjoy driving in manual mode, calling upon an upshift or a downshift when I need to keep momentum up. It’s much more engaging that way, and in my opinion, a USP of an AMT for those who want a hassle-free set of wheels on a budget.
I run through gears enroute Ambala, where the wide highway continues straight but I have to turn right towards Himachal. The road narrows but the traffic doesn’t thin out. Since the Triber’s compact footprint allows me to maintain good speed and bang in a quick overtake often, I quickly cut through the plains, cross Nangal and Una, and soon begin to climb towards Palampur. It’s here where the drive gets more engaging. The road isn’t in its best shape so not only do I have to continue at a good clip to reach Palampur by sunset, I also have to dodge potholes and drive over broken tarmac. The suspension soaks everything up like a champ, the light steering allows for quick direction changes and clear lines of sight from the driver’s seat make it a joy to anticipate corners just before I enter them. Google Maps on Android Auto is a good way to find out how the road bends ahead, but when you are focused during a spirited drive up a mountain, the screen in the periphery just fades away. Anyway, as you can see, the drive to Palampur is good fun but a little over 500km behind the wheel is a long day, and so I need a good night’s rest before an adventurous day.
Sunrise in the mountains is early. I draw the curtains in my room to watch a glowing peak in the distance covered with a fresh sprinkle of snow. In the middle of May, some of these mountains are still enjoying winter, laughing at the horrendously hot cities we come from. It’s a nice sight to wake up to though, and I know it’s close to where I am going. Bir is an hour’s drive from Palampur. We leave early to escape town traffic but it turns out that Bir is so popular at any time of the year that tourists flock to the paragliding town every day. I am to rendezvous with Vicky Thakur, who runs a paragliding school in Bir called Antigravity. Quite the apt name for a paragliding school. We meet the pilots who will be doing tandem jumps with us and decide to meet them at the jump point in an hour.
I offer to carry his paragliding equipment in the boot. The entire contraption is bulky as it has the main glider, all the strings that connect the glider to the controls of pilot, the seat for the tandem jumper, airbags for hard landings and an emergency parachute in the rare event of the main one failing. Since the third row seats of the modular cabin can be completely taken off, I make room and set the two glider bags in the boot. We then drive up the narrow road to the take-off site in Billing.
Billing is the world’s second-highest paragliding take-off site. As I stand atop the site in Billing, anticipation courses through my veins like liquid fire. Cold wind flows over the mountain, helping other gliders catch air while pilots frantically encourage tandem jumpers to go against instinct and keep running off the cliff until their feet are airborne. The air crackles with energy, and my heart pounds in sync with the pulsating beat of adventure. That’s when you know what lies in front of you is going to be exciting. And at the same time, the quiet of the Himalayas sprawls out in front of me and paints a very calming canvas.
With a surge of adrenaline, I strap myself into the paraglider, its vibrant green colour dancing in the sunlight. Vicky offers some words of advice but I am preoccupied with my fear of heights. It’s something I don’t talk about but I’ve had a fear of heights for the longest time, something I have tried to overcome by challenging myself to face that fear. Paragliding is either going to give me a panic attack or help me cure my fear of heights. We run towards the cliff, the glider catches air in a few seconds and soon after, my feet are airborne.
In the moment, time stands still. With a mighty leap, I soar into the open sky, a symphony of adrenaline, freedom and the surprising absence of fear. The earth shrinks beneath me as we gain altitude but what happens next is even more significant. As the wind becomes my ally, lifting me higher and higher, like a mystical force guiding every move, the whole exercise feels meditative. Contrary to my expectations, paragliding is soothing.
I am facing my fears and not just fighting them, I am actually enjoying myself.
Elation, wonder and sheer awe, it is a full cocktail of emotions up in the air. I am weightless in this surreal dance between earth and sky. If only the flight lasted longer than the 30 minutes it would take to reach the landing spot!
My colleague who has driven the Triber down the mountain waits for me to readjust to having land under my feet. The knot in my stomach untangles after a few minutes and then we break for lunch. The Triber has been my choice of wheels for two adventures now, and with every adventure, we get closer. It’s the memories that we make that form the glue in any relationship, and that adhesive is very strong with the Triber right now. Bir Billing is also known for its epic sunsets, so we drive up to Billing once again, just in time for the evening flight and to catch the sun set over the horizon. While time slows down as I sit on a bench watching the sun disappear in the background, tens of gliders in the foreground, it makes me visualise a life up here in this quaint little Himachal town. Hundreds of people come here, stay for weeks and learn to fly in these skies. Paragliding costs Rs 30,000 for a week to learn, and then you keep stepping up until you can glide alone. Once you do that, you move to more advanced courses. Vicky is a pro athlete. He has been doing this for over 12 years now, and he talks about the trials and tribulations of the sport, the challenges to make ends meet initially, the growth of the sport in India and more over dinner. If you want to do a tandem flight, you can come any time and do a jump for Rs 3,000, but one jump in, even I am considering doing a proper course here. It’s a very calming sport until you make the glider dance.
The mind wanders in anticipation enroute every adventure, only to be distracted by the drive to the destination. While the six adventures I have signed up for are a constant, the other constant is the Triber. It’s there when I ski down a mountain, when I jump off a cliff and for every new adventure in the coming months. And every time we drive to a new destination in pursuit of adventure, my heart grows fonder of the Triber.