In the picturesque Dhauladhar range of Himachal Pradesh, lies a small beautiful settlement of Bir, a quiet hamlet situated at a height of 15,000 feet above sea level and is regarded as one amongst the best for Paragliding.
“It would be thrilling,” I thought, when we zeroed on Bir-Billing, shivering at the very thought of paragliding amongst the snow-clad peaks in the freezing month of January 2020.
“If you try, there is absolutely nothing which you can’t achieve”, was the moral of the bedtime story which I was reading to my 10-year-old, a few days earlier. As the story goes, a wounded eagle’s penchant to fly again motivates a snake to fly! “Will I ever be able to fly, Mumma?” my son had asked sleepily. “Yes, my child. The day is not far.” The bedtime story and this journey later had more than just a proverbial resemblance.
We reached at Bir almost at midnight. The stay was at a mountain camp. The unforgiving night chill kept all of us huddled together underneath double quilts with all our heavy woollens still on, including our caps and socks. But the next morning, we woke up in a different world altogether. We were in a green valley nestled between lofty snow-covered peaks. The golden radiance of the early morning sun on the snow was a sight to behold.
Next on the agenda was Paragliding. The Billing take-off peak was an hours’ drive. The take-off peak was a snow-covered mountain with steep gorges on three sides. The weather was clear with the green Bir valley visible below. Parachutes were laid out neatly, the strings unravelled and tested, the safety harness and helmets were worn and finally, the parachute was hooked on to the flyers!
Time stood still for me. I was nervous, anxious and excited, all at the same time. I could see the serpentine road leading down into the valley, the very road through which we had come up. We now have to go down, through the air!
“Serpentine road“, was I the snake of that bedtime story who was attempting to fly by jumping off a cliff? But where is the eagle here to motivate me?
“Madam, do not worry. I shall be right behind you. You just have to jump off the cliff into the valley and the parachute will take care of the rest”, assured the Pilot. He resembled the eagle in the story.
“You have to jump into the valley”…echoed the snake within me. “If the eagle can fly, why can’t I? Let me see what an eagle feels at those heights!”
With my eyes closed, I ran vertically down into the cliff 3000 feet below. After a couple of steps, I felt as if I have suddenly lost weight. “What happened? Have I fallen into the valley? Am I dead, or alive?” I opened my eyes in disbelief to see what was keeping me afloat. I was soaring in the open skies. The Pilot was behind me steering the blue & white parachute. The parachute suddenly started seeming like the eagle – helping me soar in the skies! The next twenty-odd minutes which I remained afloat in the open skies were like freedom personified. The icy winds were our companion at those heights. The winds also started seeming like the eagle – helping us soar.
We took the Go-Pro Camera flight videos after landing – a memory to cherish. Those who did not paraglide came back by the same serpentine road – my husband being one of them!
The evening was relaxed with music, booze and bonfire. At the bonfire, my son remarked “The snake in the story was foolish to have injured himself. He should have taken the parachute”. I was happy that he had learnt an important safety lesson in life. “But Daddy, why didn’t you fly? Don’t you like flying?” he asked my husband. “I do, but I prefer standing firmly on the ground so that you people can fly”, replied my husband. I don’t know what my son understood, but he ran away shouting happily “I loved the winds, the parachute and the pilots”.
Both my husband’s and my son’s words kept resounding in my ears. I had realised – the eagle was not the Pilot, not the parachute, not the winds and not even my flights of fantasy. The real strength of my life, the one who has kept me soaring, never let me fall, held on to me through my ups and downs, made all our dreams come true, our harness, Ishim–who stood firmly on the ground so that we could fly!
The snake within me has long since died. And I know where my eagle is perched!
In my heart!
-Priyamvada Pankaj Srivastava
himachal himachal himachal