Monthly Archives: February 2017

New surf spot for Vans Holy Detour

By Dielle DSouza for BigRush

FreedomPark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bus trundled down the road towards the Arabian Sea, stopping at a blue and white shack topped with a wooden board that said ‘The Shaka Surf Club’. Out stepped 66 lively souls, eagerness plastered across their faces. This was where skate and surf would collide – in happy harmony.
The Vans Holy Detour is now an annual skateboarding tour that celebrates India’s DIY skate culture. The two days at Shaka Surf Club in Kodi Bengere on the coast of Karnataka was just one of the stops on the third edition of the tour that flagged off from Freedom Park in Bangalore and also included skate sessions at Cirrus and Alis Bowl in Goa.

Poornabodh

From January 22-27, the skaters – a mix of 20 amateurs chosen from an Instagram skate contest and 16 pros – came together to share the stoke. It turned into a family that fed their love for wooden boards and crazy tricks with tons of fun and travel.

“The vibe was really great! The mix of BMX, tattoo, surfing, workshop and skateboarding was an epic combination that we managed to pull off. The best thing is that everyone also individually enjoyed themselves and was part of the tour,” says Somanna of Holystoked Collective, which organised the tour in association with Vans.

On the bus was jabber with roots from around the world, and across India – English, Danish, American, German, Aussie, French and Spanish got along like a house on fire with colloqualisms from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Pune, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Seema Andhra, Goa and even from the far reaches of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.
It was a kaleidoscope of different styles, cultures and beliefs, brought together by a common love for skateboarding. “Even the music was chaos – front seaters were playing hardcore German music followed by some epic all-time favourite English tunes. The back seaters were going on with a hell lot of rap songs and rap battles. There was everything from Ata Kak, Dead Moon, old school sing-alongs, punk rock and jazz,” says Somanna.

As the tour bus left Bangalore, it stopped at the Vans store for some goodies – t-shirts for all and 10 pairs of Vans skate shoes. Of course, it wouldn’t be a pit stop without a skate session, so out came the portable ramps and the magic began.
Satiated – for the moment – the troupe made its way to The Shaka Surf Club in Kodi Bengere, where Tushar Pathiyan and India’s first woman surfer Ishita Malaviya were waiting. “The skate and surf communities have merged over time, so it was like meeting friends after a long time. We also met and made new friends on this tour,” explains Tushar. The surf club organised an orientation to the work they do, particularly with the local school.
They held a surf session on the beach and later went down to Orange Basket for the club’s first ever 60-person lesson. The fun quotient shot through the roof with the help of a megaphone courtesy veteran skater and Holystoked co-founder Poornabodh Nadavatt.

VansHolyDetourIt was a fairly smooth transition from concrete to water for the skateboarders on the tour. Tushar recalls, “Some had hardly been in water before and may not have been comfortable, but we gave them special attention, and seeing everyone have so much fun, they soon got over it.

“Some of the styles of modern skateboarding have developed from surfing – the sort of flowing, lucid style. Also, skaters already know about balance, so they picked up surfing a lot faster than many of our other students do. We just had to get them on the board and pop up, but pretty much everyone was standing on the first day itself.”
Later, the tour headed to Manipal Institute of Technology where they set up ramps and sent onlookers into a tizzy with their tricks. There was free skating on one side, tricks on another, while some introduced interested spectators to the sport.
Tushar notes, “The guys went crazy! They were jumping off ramps, doing tricks. The crowd slowly gathered, and as it got bigger, the tricks got crazier.”

The second day at Kodi Bengere featured a long surf session before heading to the local surf club where Shaka teaches life guarding, water safety and eventually surfing. The little children from the village had never been exposed to skating before and were awestruck with what they saw.

At one point, Sanjay Rajpurohit of Mascot Bikes took centre stage attempting a bone-crunching trick off a six-foot wall. Tushar recalls, “He fell so many times and I just wanted him to stop, but he kept at it, egged on by the others. When he finally got it, everyone just erupted!”
Later that night was a screening of a skate film alongside the “best paani puri from Manipal”. Between a chilled out jam session and trips to the local Kendra Jatra festival on at Kodi Bengere at the time, the surf-skate stop at Shaka came to an end.

At 3.30am the bus left, headed up the coast for the touristy destination of Goa, stopping now and then for some highway skating. Sommanna says, “Karwar was one of our favourite highway stops. We were there for more than half a day and skated on the beach front. It was like an open-air stage.”

At Cirrus Skate Bowl in Anjuna, a raging session ensured the weariness of the bus journey was shaken off. They also skated at Alis Bowl in Morjim. The Goa sessions ended with a mini ramp jam and a best trick contest.
The Vans Holy Detour had participants from all walks of life on board, from doctors to software engineers to students and even tattoo artists. Mykel Kumar, owner of The Pumpkin Patch tattoo studio in Bangalore, says, “I have wanted to skate since I was 10, but was always afraid of falling and hurting myself in a way that might affect my work. But I finally got down to it last October, just shy of my 30th birthday, and now I love it!”

When he heard of the tour, he knew he had to be part of it. “Some of it was outside my comfort zone and I learnt how to deal with things,” he explains. He even got the chance to do some work. Following from Stuart – another tour participant from England who brought his equipment along and did a tattoo at Manipal – Mykel worked on the image of a shark for a client in Goa.
Tattoo apart, “the tour was amazing”, he says. “I learnt so many tricks and tips on how to be a better skateboarder. It was truly very inspiring.”

There’s a lot to look forward to from the people at Holystoked and the Vans tour – more work to be done, more skating and more stoke. Holystoked’s Amit Subba notes, “We think Mangalore definitely needed a spot. We had two demos there and the amount of people who showed up was crazy! There were lots of kids and youngsters. I also feel Goa needs a larger spot for sure, with the tour getting bigger and bigger every year.”
The crew will soon release a video of the tour on their Facebook page.

Catch the latest in the world of adventure sports on the BigRush Facebook page.

An Introduction to Cycling in India

By Sunil Nanjappa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycles were always thought of in India as a poor man’s Mercedes, but attitudes are changing, at least in metropolitan cities. Heavy traffic has turned into a boon for cycles in recent times, changing the face of cycling the way FM took over radio. An added advantage, particularly for IT/ITes employees is the benefits of cycling in terms of health.

Some estimates say that the premium cycling industry in India is selling an average of 30,000 cycles a year (> units under Rs 20,000). So, each year we effectively add 30,000+ cycling enthusiasts, the numbers of which may double in the coming years.

Today, premium bike sellers from around the world have found a base in India and are bringing their top-of-the-line products to the country. Trek is one of the major international brands which entered the Indian market early with its basic alloy bikes in partnership with Firefox. We also have Scott, which is unofficially India’s No 1 international brand.

Giant has tied up with Starkenn Bikes in Pune to distribute its brand of bikes across India and has been aggressively marketing in leading publications and hoardings. It even bagged itself space at the Indian Auto Expo 2014 to showcase its bikes.

Merida bikes from Taiwan and Polygan bikes from Indonesia are the recent entrants into the market, and in very little time, these bikes are making inroads into serious athletes’ homes. The major advantage of these two brands is its ‘value for money’ products.

Even Indian manufacturers have joined the party by introducing premium bikes to their line ups, such as TI Cycles’ Montra, Hero Cycles’ UT and Firefox Bikes.

Recently, Hero acquired Firefox Bikes, an acquisition which has raised so many questions among cyclists – will Trek stay with Hero? What next for Trek? Will the UT brand continue? Did Hero buy Firefox just to kill the competition? We have to wait and watch for Hero Cycles’ move on this acquisition.

Cycling as a Sport
When it comes to cycling as a sport, we are still in a nascent stage. The Cycling Federation of India (CFI) is doing a great job by organising state and national level races every year. The big question this year is – will downhill racing see the National Championship? CFI must answer this question.

The federation’s strategy of concentrating on one branch of sport at a time is producing great results. CFI has decided to concentrate on track cycling – an indoor race held on a specifically built track called a velodrome – for the next five years and we already have achieved World No 1 in Men’s Junior in Team Sprint and World No 4 in Women’s 500mtr Sprint.

This column will be dedicated to all the cycling passionate people out there. You can expect:

1. New trends in cycling
2. About cycling athletes, their success stories and struggles they faced
3. Cycle races around India
4. Good roads for bikers and trails for mountain bikers
5. Cycling tour destinations near your cities

This column will be two-way: readers can throw in some questions about cycling and also can contribute to the article.

In the meantime, keep pedaling!

Training Lofty Interests at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

By Karn Kowshik for BigRush

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Does taking an art class make one a better painter? Can one ‘learn’ how to write a novel? These are questions that can be endlessly debated. As a climber, my question is whether a mountaineering course makes one a better mountaineer? Or is climbing an art that can only be improved by spending time in the mountains?

India has four government-run mountaineering institutes, and in October 2010, I completed the Advance Mountaineering Course (AMC) from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling. The training zone was the Kangchendzonga National Park in western Sikkim (an area restricted to outsiders), with mountains constantly looming above. The instructors were friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and hugely accomplished. The course director, Kusang Sherpa, had climbed Mt Everest five times and held the record as the only man to have scaled the peak from all sides.

In order to take the AMC, I needed to have scored an A grade at the Basic course offered by any of the four mountaineering schools – Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarkashi, HMI in Darjeeling, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) in Manali, Jawarhar Institute of Mountaineering (JIM) in Pahalgam – in India.

The basic course was a punishment fest, where trainees were always attempting challenges above their physical and mental levels. To my luck, my basic course was populated by jawans from different mountain regiments, and this, of course made it even harder for us civvies!

The AMC, held over a period of 28 days, was quite another story. The course began within the institute, with morning physical training (PT) and 20 minutes of uphill jogging. The first week is spent in rock craft and lectures.

The second week saw us move to the training area in Sikkim, starting with a three-day approach trek. It commenced from Yuksom (4000 ft), went to Bakhim (9000 ft), then upward to Dzongri (13000 ft), and finally concluded at Chowri Khang base camp (14500 ft). This was a killer trek and if one can complete this trek with ease, one can probably survive any trek in the world!

While the first few weeks were spent fine-tuning skills that were taught in basic, the focus was on ice climbing. One learned how to drive ice screws (or tubular ice pitons) and fix ropes – invaluable to leading on the mountains.

The course taught one to establish higher camps with load ferries – all sorts of unwieldy luggage was carried to the next camp at 15000 ft where we stayed for a week. I got to carry a large iron stove that dug into my tail bone. A couple of my friends shared a 35 kilo gas cylinder!

To be completely honest, the course was not particularly challenging, probably because all of us were stronger as compared to when we undertook the basic training course. Knowing what to expect, most of us had trained accordingly. Perhaps it was because the whole mindset had changed.

In HMI, the attitude seems to be, ‘“Having been through the basic course, if you are still foolish enough to come back for more, you obviously enjoy the mountains and have what it takes to be here! So let us enjoy it together.”  For instance, instead of the instructors leading at a fixed pace, trainees led themselves, with the instructors following us at a comfortable distance.

An important aspect of the AMC was the ‘Expedition Planning’ class. The days of merely packing a rucksack full of gear and heading out into the hills were well behind us. There are a lot of government permissions that need to be obtained before an expedition, and this class taught just that. In fact, the course required that an actual expedition proposal be submitted for grading.

This course is best suited for those who intend to make climbing a career option as it provides the necessary qualifications to lead an Indian expedition into the Himalayas. Learning the nuances of an expedition (climbing with porters, cooks and HAPS – High Altitude Porters) and expedition planning are essential for those who want to pursue climbing commercially. I also believe that the course is perhaps best for those who want to challenge the boundaries of physical fitness.

The course at HMI was often criticised as a ‘porter’s course’ with many believing it focused too much on physical fitness. As an aspiring alpinist, I actually think this is why the course was great. If you want to be successful the mountains, you need to be strong, and HMI made sure of just that!

What bothered me was that the course focused only on expedition-style climbing, and ignored many developments in the climbing world. Most of the action in the mountaineering world was in the alpine climbing style, and this was not taken care of in the AMC. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) does, however, run a separate alpine course.

The course costs Rs 7500, and one spent a month in the mountains with all equipment provided. Where else in the world do you get this opportunity for this price? This course definitely gave me the tools I needed, and with some training and practice, I see myself up on high peaks in the not-too-distant future.

The best part of this course, I have to say, was something that is absolutely invaluable – friends. They say the bond that people form in the mountains is unlike any other. One learns to trust friends with one’s life, and one sees individuals for what they really are – strengths, insecurities, fear, courage, all laid bare.

Whether it was rescuing an injured girl and putting up a brave face, or drinking smuggled chang up at High Base Camp, the friends I made are for life. And to me, this is what climbing is about – having fun and doing what one likes.

 

Karn Kowshik is an aspiring writer, mountain biker and mountaineer, and runs a small adventure outfit. He doesn’t aspire to scale the biggest mountains in the world, but wants to climb in the purest style possible.

 

Taming the Brahmaputra!

 

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Many rafting fanatics consider the mighty Brahmaputra the biggest white-water run in the world and, in fact, compare the river to the Colorado, White Nile or Zambezi. With waves as high as five meters, seemingly entirely consuming whirlpools and humungous holes, white-water rafting on this mind-blowing stretch is not for the faint-hearted! If, however, you are a rafter, this expedition is an absolute must.The Tsang Po, after flowing eastwards through Tibet, enters Arunachal Pradesh, where it is called the Chiang, Siang, and the Dihang as it fiercely descends the final 200 kilometres to the plains of India, slicing through the fabled ‘Big Bend’ gorge. On making it past the Tibetan border, the Brahmaputra takes on its Indian name.

A journey to this river gives the traveller a peek into life in perhaps, what is considered the remotest region in India. To quote Akshay Kumar, CEO, Mercury Himalayan Explorations Limited, problems faced include “limited air and road access, lack of professional services available locally, low quality accommodation and no information flow”.
This perception has changed. According to Vaibhav Kala, owner of Aquaterra Adventures, “Areas that were closed in 2002 are now accessible to tourists.” In his opinion, the state authorities have been extremely supportive, realising the true potential of opening up adventure destinations in the state.

Kumar, whose company opened Arunachal Pradesh to the foreign tourist by undertaking the first descent of the Brahmaputra in 1990, echoes this sentiment. “At the time there was a steep royalty of USD 10,000 on each trip, but now it is much less.”

“The support from the authorities has been terrific. The first three years of operations saw the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh flag us off, or flag us in after the trip” – Vaibhav Kala, Owner, Aquaterra Adventures”
“In 1990 it took more than three months to get inner line permits to enter these areas. Now it takes less than 48 hours for the same. Things are on the mend and the North East is a hidden goldmine for adventure tourism in future” – Akshay Kumar, CEO, Mercury Himalayan Explorations Limited

While every other river is called ‘Nadi’, the Brahmaputra is the only ‘male’ river referred to as ‘Nada’ to signify its power and might. To Kala, the Ningguing and Marmong gorges are the most exciting part of the trip being remote, steep, with big white water and Grade 3 & 4 rapids.

Kumar has a strong lineage of mountaineering and adventure, having been initiated at the age of 14. In 1990, he was approached by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to train and lead their expedition on the Brahmaputra. An elite team made their way down from Bona (near Geling on the Indo-Tibetan border) all the way till Dhubri on the Indo-Bangladesh border in just over a month.

“To date we have to our credit the highest and the longest river descent on the Brahmaputra” – Akshay Kumar

The prime time for Brahmaputra white-water rafting is during November and December when one gets to take on gigantic waves, eddies and eddy lines capable of flipping rafts. Encountering and overcoming the ‘Roaring Rikor’, ‘Zebra Rock’ and the ‘Tooth Fairy’ are incredibly exhilarating. One gets to raft down ‘Morning Madness’ and soak in nature’s splendour, experience the ethnic settlements, isolated hillsides and the dense rainforests.

For further details, the following tour operators may be contacted:
1. Aquaterra Adventures (India) Pvt Ltd
Ph: 91-11-29212641, 29212760, 41636101
Contact: info@aquaterra.in2. Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ltd
Ph: +91 11 4356 5425, +91 11 4352 3767, +91 11 2334 0033
Contact: mhe@mhe.co.in

Conquering Stok Kangri

Follow a mountaineer on a 6000 metre climb as he battles the pull of gravity at his 30-kg back-pack, sub-zero temperatures and a shortage of supplies.

By Karn Kowshik

climbing-1

 

“It’s an easy mountain.” This is a line you’re certain to hear when you ask somebody in Leh about climbing Mt Stok Kangri. At 6130 metres, it’s one of the few trekking peaks above 6000 metres, and doesn’t need any technical expertise to climb it.Having attempted it four times in one year myself, I might have said the same thing. But, in April a few years ago, before the start of the mountain season in Ladakh, when streams were still frozen and the snowline starts at around 4000 metres, I attempted it again. And was reminded of something many experienced mountaineers have told me: There is no such thing as an easy mountain.

Preparations

Our team was small, just me and my climbing partner, Kunal. We decided to climb alpine style, without ponies or support, so all of our gear and food for five days of climbing would be on our backs.
For food we carried carb and protein-rich food – noodles, egg powder, soya, packets of ready-to-eat rice, peanut butter, Maggi, Nutella, tuna and bread. We would also have a small rope and some basic snow anchors.
Since this was a pre-season bid, we would find almost no help once we left the road-head at Stok village. It would also be the first attempt of the year, and a summit would open the season.

My Backpack

Mountaineering gear is expensive and one of my most extravagant purchases has been a backpack. This particular one is made for my torso length, and weighs less than half as much as most packs available in India.
Yet, as the manufacturer’s website points out, while some packs can be more comfortable than others, no pack can make a 30 kilo load any lighter. Every minute you carry a heavy pack, you think about what you could have left behind. Do I really need that spare T-shirt? And why the heck am I carrying a boxing glove anyway?

The Trek

The first day of the trek takes you from 3300 to about 4000 metres. Even though both Kunal and I had been on the route often enough, we’d never seen it as it was that day. The river that the route follows was frozen. It was cold and windy, and a constant breeze made my nose numb.

The trek starts from Stok village, and goes up to the campsite Mankarmo. A couple of hours into the trek, it began snowing softly. Thrown off track, we took a wrong turn and entered the wrong valley. By the time we realised our mistake, the sun had begun to set. So we made camp, boiled up some snow for water, heated up packets of ready-to-eat biryani, and hit the sack.

The wrong turn meant we’d lengthened our trek by a couple of hours, but no biggie. The next day, we came back to the correct trail, walked to Mankarmo, and then moved ahead to base camp. We were faced with a mountain completely different from what we’d seen the previous summer.

Because it was all snow-covered, we had to make camp a few hundred metres lower than normal. Surprisingly, we saw a huge expedition tent there, surrounded by smaller ones. A Swiss ski-mountaineering team was there, and they had summited just that morning. The first summit of the season was theirs. At base camp, we pitched our tent close to a stream, so we didn’t have to melt snow. Maggi for dinner, though.

The next morning, we were on the (non-existent) trail by six. The trudge to advance base camp was exactly that – a trudge. We were to walk through a valley, over a ridge and towards the summit slope. The snow was soft, and we kept sinking in. Tiring!

ABC at Stok Kangri isn’t a fixed place; it’s wherever you can pitch your tent. We pitched ours at about 5200 metres. After about six hours of walking, we didn’t want to walk any further. We dug a small hole in the snow beside a boulder for a kitchen. That evening we feasted on Maggi, rice, dehydrated eggs and juice. Tired, yet content.

Summit Day

The next morning, I woke up at midnight. Kunal was still asleep, so I went outside to make coffee. Disaster number 1: The stove refused to work. The cold had jammed up the lines, and the kerosene wouldn’t flow. I sat there in the sub-zero temperature, priming it endlessly.

My hands began to get numb. No coffee. And much worse, no water. We had many hours of walking ahead of us, and had just about a sip or two of water in a bottle. And no food. Grim as the prospect of going hungry and thirsty was, we had no other option, so we packed our summit gear, put on all our jackets and set out.
Kunal and I disagreed about the route (as usual!). He wanted to go straight up the ridge, and then follow the ridge to the summit slope. I wanted to skirt around the ridge and then hit the summit slope. In season, the mountain is climbed from a slightly different route, and there’s always a trail leading up. There was no trail to speak of. We followed Kunal’s route, and as we got to the top of the ridge, a couple of hundred metres above camp, we found ski tracks.

Happy, I started following the tracks, but Kunal stopped me. He sat down on a rock and began coughing… then started to retch. I gave him a sip of water (half our supply). “Let’s go,” I said. He retched again. He looked at me and said, “Karn, I’m done.”

Mountain sickness can afflict anybody (even Edmund Hillary has had it!), and it takes a wise man to hear the mountain’s warnings. He turned back alone, as I could go further. As he started down the slope, I could see him stumble. Mountain sickness often makes one unsteady. I couldn’t let him go back like this, so I walked him back to the tent.

At about 1.30 am, I started towards the summit again. This time, I was alone, and I followed the route I wanted. I took Kunal’s ice axe too, and continued towards the summit slowly. In the dark, I could barely make out the summit. I had to skirt around it and approach it from another face. I was doing well, and felt strong, so I tried taking a shorter, but much steeper route up. I put on my crampons and climbed a short slope that was about 80 degrees. Encountering a rock band that I couldn’t climb, I came back down.

At 4.30 am, I was a little lost, so I decided to sit down and wait for the sunlight. But the wind was blowing, and it was many degrees below zero. When I wasn’t walking, I was cold. Incredibly cold! So I began walking again. “If I find the route, good. Or else, screw it.” Not a bright idea, but that’s what altitude, cold and fatigue do to you. Soon enough the sun began to rise, and I was, fortunately, on the right track.

But as the sun came up, I saw I was walking through an avalanche zone. The summit slope is just a few hundred metres. At 6 am, I was just about 300 metres from the summit. But as I walked up, I could see slabs of snow break away under my foot, with hard snow underneath. Perfect avalanche conditions! I kept trudging on, using both axes to drag myself up.

Suddenly, I realised I was alone. Kunal was back at camp and ill. The Swiss team had probably left. Other than Kunal, there was nobody within a two-day walk, at the very least. Being alone on a mountain is an intense experience. At that altitude, it becomes hard to think of anything other than your breath, and you are completely in the moment.

You have to rely on yourself, and you can’t afford to make any mistakes. You have to be more aware than ever, of the implications of all your actions. And up there by myself, without a soul around, I felt somehow, much, much closer to the mountain than ever before.

At some point, about 150 metres from the summit, I realised that the snow conditions were getting worse with the rising sun. It was 7 am, and I had plenty of time to get to the summit. But as the snow got softer, I remembered the legendary mountaineer Ed Viestur’s words: “Going up is optional, coming down is mandatory.”

I weighed my options and realised that the descent would be difficult and avalanche prone. Also, I had consumed no water or food (save a Snickers bar) since I left, and was dehydrated. I decided to turn back. This time, the ‘easy mountain’ had decided that it wasn’t going to be easy after all, and I had to pay heed.

On Failure

There are many lessons to be learned from failure, of course. Most of them cannot be put into words. For instance, I knew I had it in me physically to get to the top, yet I turned around. Did I make the right decision? Was I listening to the mountain? Or was my mind just making up excuses for me to turn back? I’ll never really know, and I sometimes regret it.

But every time I step out of my house in Leh, I’m greeted by Stok Kangri in the background. I feel so much closer to her now, closer than the times when I had climbed her successfully. And every time I look at her, I’m also reminded that she isn’t going anywhere for a while. She will give me another chance.

Karn Kowshik is an aspiring writer, mountain biker and mountaineer, and runs a small adventure outfit. He doesn’t aspire to scale the biggest mountains in the world, but wants to climb in the purest style possible.

Mt Stok Kangri
Height: 6123 metres
Approach: From road head at Stok or Zinchen Villages.
Grade: Trekking peak, but physically challenging.
Best time: July to September
Many local agencies arrange climbs. Or email info@geck-co.com to climb with the writer.

How to go paragliding in India

 

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Debu Chowdhury, the founder of Hi-Fly in Manali, has been paragliding more than two decades. Most of his experience has been in Europe, but he has now set up a base in India. His aim is to promote paragliding in India through his business. He wants to move the large mass of Indians who are currently just tandem flying into a space where these same people can fly themselves.

He talks to BigRush about paths one can choose to take flight.

I want to paraglide. I’m based in India. What do I do?

The first thing you have to do is a tandem flight. From that experience you should be able to figure out if it is for you. Some people decide that it’s too much to do on a regular basis. These people feel that once is enough.
The next step is to find a good instructor and do a basic course for a week. You start out with a couple of ‘hops’ and end the course with a couple of hi-flies with your supervisor giving you radio instructions.
Only after this, do you decided whether you should invest in your own equipment.

I’m usually all over the country. So which are the main locations in the four corners of India?

The main locations in the north are Manali and Bir Billing, which is near Dharamshala.

The people in the south and west of India can look at a place near Pune, called Kamshet. The schools Indus and Nirvana are pretty well-known here. In the same vicinity is Panchgani, near Mahabaleshwar. And of course, one can always fly in Goa, off the cliffs by the sea.

The paragliding scene is just about starting out in the North East. A couple of sites in Sikkim are looking very promising.

Which are the best seasons for these respective places?

The best season in Manali is between May and June. For Bir Billing it’s March to mid-May. Then both these locations have great flying conditions during October and November.

Pune and Panchkani are good for the whole winter and more, that’s October to April. Goa is the same.
I’m not sure about Sikkim, but I expect it to be the same as Bir Billing because it is almost the same altitude and similar weather.

What’s the paragliding ladder like? What are there different grades?

First one must do a course under instructions. Then you’ll get a club pilot license where you fly under the supervision of your instructor. Then comes the pilot license where you can fly alone. Then you have the advanced pilot license which lets you do more complex flying, like cross country.

All of this, however, is what it is like to fly in Europe. India doesn’t have a proper licensing system. In India you can do whatever you like. For example, there are some people who start tandem piloting within a month. This is unheard of in the rest of the world, where it takes at least three years of effort and money to reach that level.

It takes that much time, money and effort to be legally allowed to take people up commercially in Europe. In India it is often about three weeks. Of course, I’m not saying that this is the case everywhere. There are some really good pilots in India. But there are plenty of these three-week experts.

So how can the industry be put in order?

The only way is if the government cracks down. Plenty of bad accidents have happened and then the government bans paragliding in that particular area. We even had a ban during the Commonwealth Games. But the ban always tends to fade within a month.

How much money and time should one keep aside for this?

The basic course takes a week to 10 days, depending on the weather. It can cost between Rs 1500 and Rs 2000 per day, depending on the instructor.

After that you can do an advanced course, which is another week to 10 days at about the same cost. Different schools have different systems.

What are your plans during the Indian monsoon season, when the paragliding business slumps?

During these months I head out to Europe where I fly and blog about it on my website.

You can reach Debu at skydebu@gmail.com

Surf-acing now!

By Jacob Cherian for BigRush

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India’s never been known for surfing even though the country enjoys nearly 7000 kilometers of coast line. India is ranked 19th in the world for the length of its coastline and yet most of it is still relatively untouched by water sports. South Africa and Spain are better known as surfing destinations and they are ranked way below on the coastline rankings at 41 and 27 respectively. So it’s not really the availability of the space that seems to be stopping Indians from taking to the waves.

Bikash Sharma has been surfing regularly over the past decade. He was introduced to it in Australia back in 1994. He’s now surfed at many of the hot spots around the world. He’s based out of Mumbai and has also tried the Indian scene. He says that it’s very common to get out of the water with a clump of dirty plastic bags tangled around your legs. The basic lack of amenities for India’s huge impoverished population leads to situations like this. Bikash is not looking back. He says he’d rather fly to Indonesia to catch some good, clean waves. However, not all beaches are as dirty.

One of the earliest known surfers in India is Jack Hebner aka Surfing Swami. In 2004 he set up the Surf Ashram on Mulki Beach about 30 kilometres from Mangalore. Today the ashram has four permanent members and its prime focus is to worship Lord Krishna.

Gaura Nataraj, the manager of Surf Ashram, says, “Indians are not surfing mainly because they are scared of the ocean. Many Indians don’t swim, and almost none of them swim in the ocean.” He does go on to clarify that all of this is changing nowadays.

After all, almost half of the guests to the Surf Ashram these days have been Indians. The largest number of Indians comes from Mumbai, followed by Chennai and Bangalore. The ashram has also been registered under the International Surf Association. These Hare Krishna surfers also hosted their first surfing competition.
The best surf on the west coast, around Mulki beach, is during the pre and post monsoons. More precisely, surfers would want to be there during the months of May, April, August and September. During these months, it’s easy to catch waves between 10 and 20 feet high.

The number of international surfers is slowly climbing for a couple of very India-specific reasons. For instance, the currents around the subcontinent are warm. So there isn’t a need for body suits to keep off hypothermia. The water is usually pleasantly warm. Shark sightings are very rare. And the best thing about it is that there is no rush. Surfers with international experience often complain about the long queues in Hawaii.