Speaking on behalf of all the average humans who do not roam around in chauffeur driven cars or hop into helicopters to go shopping downtown, life on the ground has its problems.
Especially in India, where a pedestrian walkway is not a certainty on every major street, it is a cyclic frustration that never seems to end! Driving a car isn't too far from burning money on fuel and wasting time staring at the rare ends of obnoxious rickshaws, either! Walking, alternatively, is like running an obstacle course littered with hazards of all shapes and sixes. Rash drivers, loose cattle, righteous garbage, and motorcyclists who've always had a tough time understanding what 'pedestrian walkways' mean. 😅
And right when you are about to give up on the futile attempt at getting from one place to another in peace, a bird flies overhead and drops a generous serving of shite as a 'fuck you' from the universe. And your first reaction is to touch that wet thing on your head, smell it, get repulsed by it, and then swear at the happy bird who's flown a few hundred metres ahead by then. 😋
But one out of five instances such as that one, the chain of thought continues further - I wish that I was a bird. Traffic would be non-existent, and I could shit over the entire world, especially those who piss on me! 🤣 And most importantly, I'd check out that famed bird's eye view for myself and see what the fuss is all about. And that's where the thought ends, you smile and continue with the fight against the road monsters.
That is the same chain of thought that I went through for the first 30 years of my life. Obviously, the first decade or two don't matter because I had graver worries in life then - homework, school politics, Pokemon cards, and expanding my burgeoning Hot Wheels empire. But then, the year that I turned thirty, I went paragliding.
As a part of the all-too-revelatory trip to Himachal in 2020 that I've referenced a dozen times on this blog, my wife and I went paragliding in Bir. There's a whole different memory of how we got there in a ridiculously tiny car called Alto at the risk of our very lives, but you can catch that here. For now, I want to get to the paragliding itself.
My idea for this post is not to bore you with the techniques and top ten best practices of paragliding. Instead, let's talk about the joy of gliding through the sky, a few hundred metres above ground, looking down at civilization in all its glory. Obviously, if the sky is cloudy, then the same scene pretty much resembles a poorly executed Instagram filter.
Anyway, humans have been fascinated with flight for decades. But despite gigantic leaps in aviation, nothing compares to the act of flying solo, unenclosed in a metal bin with sandwiches, soft drinks and other annoying humans. Is it a wonder that the first-ever commercial poster of Superman was marketed with the tagline - "You'll believe a man can fly"?
I mean, this guy can shoot laser beams out of his eyes, catch a crashing plane out of the sky, blow cold blasts that can freeze water instantly, and the marketing team went with flight! 😅 That's how much the sky fascinates us as a race. And I discovered the reason in my virgin paragliding experience.
The first thing that you see high up in the sky is nothing. Well, not nothing literally, but essentially an endless horizon. There is a profound quality in that limitless sky that humbles you as a resident of this planet. It sparks the desire to explore and sets the mind free. It is similar to the feeling you get while looking at the distant horizon on a beach or atop a really tall building. Close your eyes, and multiply that feeling ten times to understand what paragliding or flying feels like in reality.
Once your mind has raced through the initial emptiness in the sky, the heart calms down, and that same vacuum starts creeping in. I've tried meditating at least fifty times on various occasions, but I've never been able to do it well! But it took me five minutes of gliding to enter a state of calm that I've never experienced on the ground. It is almost as if the mind and heart surrender to the vast blank canvas and transcend our perception of physical space.
The best part is what follows after the state of absolute peace - freedom. The freedom to think deeply about things that matter. Freedom to shout out whatever stupid shit you always wanted to, without the fear of judgment, especially your own! In fact, seasoned gliders carry a book or a pair of headphones to enjoy their favourite content on some of the extended 2-hour flights through the mountains! Just imagine, it's like having noise cancellation headphones for all our senses, almost similar to a less creepy version of a sensory deprivation tank! Neat, huh?
But, since we started this conversation with a much too long spiel on traffic, let's go back to that thread and close the loop. A logical follow-up question would always haunt me whenever I'd see someone paraglide on social media - why can't we construct takeoff pillars across the country and let experienced gliders use this as a means of transport? Well, dependency on parameters, such as wind and weather, aside, I think I understand the real reason now. The true joy and utility from the paragliding experience come not from getting from point A to B but from the time we spend mid-air. So while you could make a beeline for your destination and beat the traffic, the inner bird in you would want to hover a while because,
That's where the magic happens
It's not often that you get a chance to smack that bird who shat on you a few days ago 😂