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Western Paragliding Association

Wrinkly Dick’s Flying Circus

Not long ago, by a stroke of good luck, I got in touch, after a break of seven years with my old friend Sidney D’Sousa. I first met Sidney when I was teaching Paragliding in Goa in 1994. Since I last was in India, and saw Sidney, there has been a lot of water under many bridges, and India, in fact is changing at a rate of knots. I have changed my life from that of a maniacal flying instructor, to that of a sober, (well usually), English teacher. Sidney, it seems is teaching paragliding in the Bombay area.

Once contact with Sidney was re-established, I found myself besieged by memories, memories of the days when paragliding, still a young sport, was in its absolute infancy, particularly in India. The following is an account of those days.
I learned to paraglide in July 1989, in Portugal. My instructor was Gerry Breen. Since I had previously spent some considerable time in India, I naturally wanted to go there to try out my new toy. The only thing stopping me was lack of experience, caution, cowardice and terror. I managed to avoid India until 1990, when, as I walked into Gerry’s office at the, ‘Aeroclube de Lagos’, to register for the local competition, I was asked by Gerry. “Do you want to be in our team, or the English team?” “What English team?” I replied. “They’re standing over there.” Said Gerry, indicating two guys with a sweep of his hand. Dave and Garry, the English team that I joined, came to stay for a few nights at my place, and during that time, the plan was made to go to Goa and Western Maharashtra, to explore the flying possibilities there.

The day after Boxing Day that year, we were on the plane, bound for Bombay, as it was then called. The following couple of months were so packed with incident, that they deserve a book to themselves; I’m going to pass over them lightly here. Suffice it to say, that, after an initial flight at Dahanu, we found ourselves in the thick of a Goa New Year party, and the next day, in fairly disreputable condition, we made our first flights from the cliffs of Anjuna beach. This demonstration, followed by others at North Anjuna, and Chapora fort, resulted in us hiring, along with my old friend Ingo Grill, who now runs the Saturday Night Market in Goa, a nineteen-seat bus, to go exploring the flying possibilities in Maharashtra.

By the time we set out, we had a little information, though nothing very clear. We headed for Kolhapur, took a look at Panhala and then up the highway four, eventually taking a back way across towards Pune, so that we could take a closer look at Purandhar fort, which turned out to be a fine looking flying site, but, unfortunately, a military restricted area. After this setback, it was only half-an-hour or so, before we were driving up the road to Pune, and saw a sight to gladden the heart of any pilot. We saw the unbelievable, a sailplane, soaring, away over to the left. A short while later, we were being welcomed by the membership of Hadapsar Gliding Club, who were intrigued by our new way of flying. We all took a joyride in the sailplane, and were given names, phone numbers, and, of course, endless cups of tea. This fortuitous meeting resulted in my spending quite some time in Pune over the next couple of years. The trip in the bus, lent another dimension to the rugged countryside of Maharashtra, mixing images of wings in the sky over Satara, Panchgani, and a few other places, with those of Shivaji, and bands of marauding Marathas.

So far, I have been doing my best to avoid naming names. There are just too many people who lent a hand, gave information, and generally helped out to mention them all. I could not tell this story accurately, however, without mentioning Wing Commander Jagtap. Jagtap ran a windsurfing operation on Khadakshwasla Lake, about thirty kilometres outside Pune. I often took people to his place, which was right next to a small ridge, about a hundred metres high, from which it was possible to fly, on an East, or a west wind. Jagtap’s resort provided an excellent place to escape the heat of the day, take refreshments, and enjoy the stimulating conversation of the man himself.

I might still be there, but, tragically, The Wing Commander contracted lymphatic cancer, and died rather suddenly; He is still sadly missed by his many friends. Before he went, he knew the plans, which we had made, were not going to happen, and he was thoughtful enough, in his last days to introduce me to some of those friends, who were trying to manufacture gliders in the Pune area, and who possessed a winch. I got the job of finding a qualified winch-operator, and organising a business. So, in the summer of 1983, I raced around England, and completed the necessary tasks. Eventually, along with three other European pilots, I found myself ready to roll, with a prime pitch, just in the fields by Anjuna flea market, from which to hoist tourists a thousand feet into the air, and spin them around. There was only one hitch. There were no tourists. The ‘83/’84 season was killed by the scare associated with an outbreak of bubonic plague in Maharashtra. We carried on regardless, making a very small living out of the few who did visit Goa that year, and diversified into teaching as many customers as we could, including Sidney, who I mentioned earlier. We worked from Anjuna cliffs, and Arambol cliffs, and in the end taught a good many people to soar in sea breezes.

For me, the problem was that I was bored with sea breezes, and I wanted to have fun in the more challenging terrain of Maharashtra. By mid-January, I’d had enough of Goa, the pickings were very slim, and I was convinced that whatever the plague scare was, it wouldn’t deter the Osho sannyassins in Pune, and Sidney, who was a glider pilot from Hadapsar, had promised to introduce us to the hierarchy there, assuring us that there would be a lot of interest from the locals. Also, Jagtap’s friends had indicated that it might be possible to winch people up from the racecourse in Pune, though that never happened.

In the event, Sidney was as good as his word, and I spent many happy hours with the guys at Hadapsar, and the guys and girls in the ashram. That year, and the following year was spent teaching, giving tandem rides, and organising the odd trip to Panchgani, Nasik, and a few other places.

When I returned to Goa last year, I was surprised, and thrilled to see that the paragliding scene, is now firmly established there, many of the people we trained, all those years ago are still flying, if not instructing, or giving joy rides. Sidney tells me that he’s teaching in the Bombay area, and I know of others who are benefiting from our hard won experience of Maharashtra, which means that now people are flying there with some knowledge of what to expect, and are doing much more than we did in the early days.

Paragliding technology has now advanced so much, that greater things are possible with much more safety, and there are pilots from all over the world floating over the beaches of Goa, and the mountains, hills and Ghats of India. I achieved a personal ambition, flying from Anjuna down to ‘The Good Luck’ shack in Baga, though sod’s law dictated that none of my old friends were there to see my flashy landing. Never mind, I’ll be back in ’95 to try again.

Dick Jones 2004


Clubhouse: 1st floor 9 'A' Yasmin Manzil, Sai Hill Nagar, Kopri, Virar (E)