Life in Retrospective
Paragliding in Sikkim
On joining the new Department in August 2006 I found that they had been trying paragliding inviting pilots from Manali for demonstration taking off from the hill top near Durbin Danra of Chakhung to glide over to the banks of the Rangit at Jorethang during the Maghe Sankranti Mela in 2005 and the Mela Committee continued it this year too with one from somewhere else. It was more for fun seeing others fly than the joy of flying ourselves.
With some funds available, I proposed why not try making it of long term benefit and everlasting contribution to the cause, youth and the State by sending our own youth for paragliding to equip and prepare them to take it as an avenue for self-employment when the Government had declared the year 2006 as Capacity Building Year. Moreover the Himalayan hills provide excellent scope for developing this sport for the tourist who love to enjoy some adventure too when here. Later I also found it so when in Mussoorie a tourist from Mumbai was taking an hour long paragliding trip paying Rs.3,000/- that takes him to Dehradun. It was his maiden flight in tandem. I moved the proposal for consideration of the Government and the then Minister liked the idea very much and the Government readily agreed to my proposal.
Before jumping into it, I thought it worthwhile to visit on a reconnaissance trip to Manali with joint director Karma Yougyal and see the arrangements available there as Ram Prakash Thakur and his team of the Leading Edge Adventure who was earlier here in 2005 and quite conversant had come forward to impart training to our youth also as they had been in this profession for nearly a decade now. Paragliding itself was then a new sport emerging in our country with Manali leading the edge that I found checking websites and verifying the Director of Mountain and Allied Sports while there.
Though our daughter Rachna was here last January only, she wanted to be with us for Diwali years later since she went for her studies in Pune. Knowing our plans my wife Ranjana too became interested to join me even ready to pay for her expenses herself. So, I asked Rachna why not she could also be with us as she was fond of adventure sports having already done sky diving, kayaking, water surfing, parasailing, etc. besides traveling a lot to see most part of the US since she reached there in 2003. Thus this gave us more time and ample opportunity to be together than attending daily chores besides being with friends and relatives while back home in Sikkim.
She reached New Delhi early morning on the 8th and without wasting time we headed straight for Manali taking a Toyota Qualis as also suggested by my joint secretary Nima Laden who had earlier been to the place. I had read a travel magazine too suggesting it best by road hiring a vehicle of own that gives more opportunity to be in and around Manali. Driver Ravinder belonging to a village near Palampur was readily available to help doubling as our guide. It was twelve hour drive that reached us there late and luckily we could find an accommodation for the night as a hotel opened its doors allowing us in.
With Karma Yougyal in company it was easy planning a visit to Dharmashala. As my book Sikkim : Three Decades towards Democracy (2005) had included a page with photographs covering the recent Sikkim visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Sikkim Legislative Assembly when serving there. I had carried with me a copy to offer. Not available there, we thought it best presenting this to their Library at Mcleodganj which gave us an opportunity to be there - the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile.
An invitation to Palampur was otherwise long due as I had the opportunity to be in close association with some of the Scientists of the Institute of Himalayan Bio Technology (IHBT) for rejuvenating the tea plantations here while serving ex-officio in the State Council for Science and Technology of Sikkim in my capacity as the Secretary in the Department of Science and Technology. In spite of being in hurry to reach Manali, I thought of meeting the Director as well who could not make it to Sikkim even after reaching New Delhi airport due to strike. Since they were away on tour, I could use my visit en route to collect some literature leaving my card with request to send more for keeping in touch. Dr. Sood was very quick to respond and include my name in their mailing list. I found that they have come out in the past few years with new technologies developed. These I thought of sharing with my readers soon - may be in sequel to my Vikasko Goreto : Gramin Proudyogiki (2001) on low cost rural technologies or a new one in English.
On the way we saw a paragliding site at Dhelu-Jogindernagar (Mandi) that also has Government of India Ministry of Tourism run Aero Sports School where we stopped for a while for a few photographs of the picturesque view from there. I found the hill along the road infested with lantana, the plant I too grew fond of and planted cutting around my land Rhenock years ago and is now a stubborn weed that is so agile that all efforts to do away with it do not help. I remember Dr. Anil Sharma of HESCO in Dehradun declared ‘Man of the Year’ by the Week some years ago for his contributions to the society by utilizing this weed for furniture besides innovative measures to modernize rural water mills in that part of Uttar Pradesh which now lies in Uttarakhand. He too was once invited here in Sikkim during my Science and Technology days. We were in Manali past 10 at night to find the sleepy town abuzz with visitors when we learnt that it was off-season for them. It was, therefore, not very difficult to make out how crowded it might then get. We called it a day after discussing and planning for the next day.
It was wonder of wonders when I opened my windows next day to see a whole thick forest of stout fir (Deodar) trees before me – a rare feast to my eyes as sun rays filtered through it early misty morning! We wish we too could have such serene greenery here in Sikkim where even the hills once covered with thick shrubs are now barren and empty with winter days stepping in perhaps.
We soon found ourselves heading to Solang valley the site for paragliding and on the way saw a group of students trying cross a river hanging through ropes and another enjoying ride in a hot air balloon tied to the ground. On reaching the picturesque valley with snowcapped mountains and sprawling lawn complete with a gurgling waterfall in the hill opposite, we found some tourists already there paragliding or taking training to do so. On enquiry one learner from Delhi told me of finding flying damn easy.
It is easier said than done but since I believe in practising what I preach and have also been doing vermin-composting since my science and technology days, could not stop myself in accepting the offer to paraglide by the director Ram Prakash. My daughter and wife too followed me doing so that made my joint director too take the glide hesitatingly as he was doubtful about the pilot, who was young. And we all could accomplish it much to the praise when the video clippings of our adventure was later shown in a function to send off the group of 32 young boys and girls selected for the one month course there with . We had planned for sending two from each of the constituencies but not sent by respective legislators, we arranged ourselves and it was Bikram Pradhan helping me to recommend the boys from Aritar, which he represents now. It was during the photo exhibition then being held by the Bhutanese Embassy in the White Memorial Hall that I met my senior and retired chief secretary Sonam Wangdi, who was full of praise finding me so smart, energetic and youthful. Many had seen the news report covering the send-off function for the trainees and our paragliding at Solang valley in the local Nayuma cable network.
The environment one is in and the company that he keeps is the plus factor what make one attuned to life if attitude is positive and outlook clear - I do believe so!
Motivating yourself first
It was neither a sportsman in me nor my age to find myself landed in the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs in the 35th year of my government service that too at the fag end of career when most of the employees here were retired. Strange are the ways of life and one cannot say what is in store there – more so to find out when I sit and ponder in the golden days of my life today.
Attitude makes the difference they say. I too was a bit hesitant but my submissive nature took the assignment as a challenge readily and sportingly as well. Once there, I had to perform and give results that too instantly as we have no time to think over even how we land that queer a person’s pitch. You do not know when you are asked to quit and proceed elsewhere looking to secure your foothold another time yet again. Since I already had two books to my credit from my previous postings - as the principal secretary in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly it was my magnum opus Sikkim: Three Decades towards Democracy (2005) and before this Vikasko Goreto : Grameen Proudyogiki (2001) in the department of Science and Technology. I looked forward to this new assignment also for yet another opportunity to dedicate myself and repay the society and the state thereby the nation as a whole. Even before I could unpack to show what was in my bag, I found myself packing up from the department of Cultural Affairs and Heritage where I was posted for the second time, an unusual feat – within months here to the department of Sports and Youth Affairs. This made me more devoted to do something unique that would be a tribute to the cause of sports and youth here as well.
For being posted there too, I was neither a literary figure, a musician of some sort nor an expert in culture to bag that golden opportunity again for the second time but reasons enough perhaps prove my worth here too. I was, of course, the convenor of the Sikkim chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). During my first posting in 1998, we had celebrated one-month long state-wide concluding functions of the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence with pomp and grandeur all over Sikkim involving all sections of the society with the fund provided. People whoever attended the closing state function that evening of 15th August 1998 in the Indoor Stadium near the Paljor Stadium where a musical programme inviting artistes not only from Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling but from Nepal as well to be long remembering as the people enjoyed it all the night till wee hours. The video recording was repeatedly shown till much later in the local SCTV network (soon overtaken by the Nayuma.) Previous day the then secretary to the chief minister had asked me why you have unnecessarily invited dignitaries like the governor and chief minister knowing well that the attendance would be thin in such a cultural function organized by the department. In fact we had estimated/anticipated well the attendance and the success of this well-planned function. We had accordingly arranged television sets outside the venue and had done the needful for its live telecast over the cable network as well but kept it undisclosed. It was a huge gathering in the venue when everyone wanted to be inside. The same secretary, who was also well known for his press and public relations acumen besides being very close to the seat of power then asked me to go to the gate, face the music now and control the crowd yourself. The people outside understood the situation inside due to overwhelming support and were easily pacified when I told them that there was also an arrangement for the live coverage of the function over the cable network and they could enjoy the evening in the comforts of their home even.
I was yet to document and write about the historical year-long celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence and bring out a book with adequate funds still kept available for the purpose but for my exit soon thereafter. While joining my posting here, the then Chief Secretary had cautioned and advised me to be careful with the huge sum of Rs. 40.00 lakh meant for the celebrations that may otherwise unnecessarily invite upon a CBI enquiry. Unfortunately he himself got embroiled in a CBI case that lasted till recently.
Motivate yourself first in order to motivate others. This is what I have been preaching and practising as well. Sports in me made look for the field where I could display whatever of the talent I had acquired all my life. Many might not dare try paragliding even in tandem unless one is familiar with it. With no literature available readily and without much details from my colleagues, I was left with no choice but to search online and browse. It led me to information like ‘Even if you are not the adventure sport kind, you can always enjoy the experience of flying without having to learn how to paraglide. You can go on a joy ride. That means you fly in tandem with an instructor. Both he and you are strapped to the glider and all you need to do is run a few steps down the slope. The moment a thermal lifts your glider, your instructor takes control. He is the one who navigates while you can have the time of your life.’ ‘Riding the warm thermal currents of the air is perhaps the closest man has even come to sailing bird. Almost at will, you dip and wheel high over the hills and valleys.’ ‘Internationally, paragliding is a big and serious sport. There are about a hundred thousand schools happening all over the world. France is the most important region in terms of the popularity of the sport closely followed by New Zealand and Australia, Japan and the United States too are coming up in a big way.’ Billing in Himachal Pradesh known as one of the best locations in the world for paragliding where enthusiasts come from all over the world to participate in the Paragliding World Cup competition each year. Not satisfied, I thought why not reach where paragliding was at the best in the country and explore it out as we were planning to send our youth there for the training. Pune in Maharashtra too offered the training facility but Manali in the Himalayas attracted us. Soon we found ourselves in the picturesque Manali/Solang valley of Himachal Pradesh with snowcapped mountains and a gurgling waterfall in the hill opposite enough to motivate me go further. Offer to fly in tandem with him by the director of the Leading Edge Adventure was taken as an incentive to motivate me enough along with my daughter and wife to follow up not leaving the joint director Karma Yougyal behind. We all could accomplish the feat much to the praise and adoration when the video clippings of our adventure was later shown in a function held for a warm sendoff to the well-motivated group of 32 young boys and girls for the one month course there with our physical training instructor Munna Pradhan as their escort/guide. Rest is, as they say, history.
One of the first to return from Manali learning his basics in paragliding, Mahesh Davadi of Khamdong had shared his experience that made an interesting reading through the columns of Hamro Prajashakti (November 28, 2006) and the Sikkim Now! (December 12, 2006). This multiplied our joy as Mahesh gave in his own style a beautiful account of what motivated him and his fellow-trainees. He shared his experiences right from being inspired by the video clippings of the secretary himself along with his family members paragliding shown on the eve of their departure for the course to being a witness to the tragic death of an experienced pilot that crash-landed flying tandem trying some spirals and maneuvers the very third day of their training. The other trainer could escape death and was out of danger and survived. The accident, however, did not stop them for their next day’s lessons though nor were deterred for undergoing further training though he himself was out of the course. He was still motivated enough to try convert into action whatever he learnt of paragliding even if not for a profession as such.
Life is but full of sports with hurdles abound. Adventure added to it spices up to make an excellent concoction to share and enjoy - more the better and if committed too!
This is author’s personal account of memories to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk * for those no more) and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached on shrestars@gmail or phone 9434022677 / 03592-202677 and at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.