Its really unusual not to find anything even after scratching around for 20 minutes, and scared that I'm going to go down, I take the unusual step of turning back to thermal devta to get back up again. I'm just above the trees when I reach the devta but as soon as I'm over, praying feverishly for some lift, I hit a really strong thermal, and it feels like a huge fist grabs my wing and pulls me up a 100.the wing's getting pulled in one direction and I'm going in the other, and I remember Gill's line" there are only two choices.either you can be aggressed by the thermal or you can aggress it." I weight shift to the left, pull the left brake, and find my self in the core of the thermal going up at 6m/s. after the first two turns which are turbulent, I've nicely in the thermal and making smooth circles each of which takes me up 50-60m. at 2800m, I'm in the lower wispy clouds.
As I enter the cloud, I become conscious of the wind speed, because I can see the cloud moving rapidly against the ground. and then its all white. I hold the turn but after a few seconds its impossible to tell where I am, which direction I'm going or how fast I'm moving. Its just complete whiteness and all I can hear is the wind whistling through my helmet. I'm not sure how far up the cumulous clouds are or how big, and its really disorienting to not know where you are. How do I head out now? Shit, I should have got that compass. Anyway, since I'm at 3000m and higher than most of the ridges close by, I let go the brake and glide, hoping that I'm going to come out of the cloud before I hit a mountain. There's also some lift and suddenly, I'm popping out of the top of the cloud, and wowS..on my left, I see what fliers call a glory. The sun's overhead to my right and it casts a shadow of my glider on the clouds with a halo around it in rainbow tints. A beautiful sight. "For pilots eyes only."
The next valley is broad and I press down on the speed bar for full speed, and sinking quickly, make the transition, seeing Bir on my left slowly disappearing. By the time I approach the next ridge I'm already at 2200m or so, below the ridge line. The question now is whether to brave the leeside thermals or head out towards the valley and try to cross the ridge at a lower point. The risk of heading out in the valley is that at that height if you don't quickly find a thermal, you'll have to get out the valley quick and land. I pray and keep going straight. By the time I actually get to the ridge, I'm just a few meters over the heads of some villagers who've stepped out of the clump of houses to watch.
They 're whistling and screaming but I'm concentrating much too hard to respond by even waving. I stand on my speed bar and push against the harness. Itıs a psychological thing about speed, though my standing up is probably increasing the wind resistance and making me slower. I'm just a few meters from the ground and from the edge of the ridge, and its very very turbulent.the spur faces the wind and there is a strong rotor on the leeside. My wing is tossing about, losing pressure, swinging from one side to the other and the few seconds it takes to reach the edge of the ridge seem like a long time. But at the edge, I enter the thermal at its core and zoom vertically upwards while the villagers below watch open mouthed.
Now, in the thermal, and going up, my mind is working feverishly trying to understand what's happening. The couple of times that I've flown this way before, by the time you make the 2nd or 3rd transition, the pattern is in your head. You know where the thermals are going to be. And because the sun heats the east-facing slopes first, normally the thermals are coming off these slopes. Because we're flying east to west, its easy when you catch a thermal on the eastern side of the ridge, climb and crossover the ridge, and make the transition across the valley.
The transitions are sinky but its pleasant to arrive at the next ridge, and as you get closer your vario starts to beep intermittently. And then after half a minute you hit a nice core and S..but this time, the thermals seem to be coming off the western side of the slope (I'm trying to figure out why, but at this time, all my "understanding the sky" is out of my head. To complicate matters further, there's a strong wind, and because the cloudbase is low, I can't even get up and away from the ridges and over the big mountains. the top of Jalsu peak is hidden by the clouds and it would not be pleasant o be in the clouds close to the peak. So I have to stick to the middle of the spurs and scratch my way to dharamsala. But its going good as of now so I go on. The same choice between leeside thermals and going out to the valley at the risk of sinking out comes up towards the end of the next transition.
This time, I'm a little higher so I head straight with a little more confidence. But I'm sinking like a stone as I get close. The rate at which I'm sinking makes me think that I'm unable to penetrate the thermal and am in the heavy sink on its leeside. This time I'm too far away from the ridge line to make it, so I have to turn and head out of the valley, encountering major turbulence and sink as I do so.
By the time I reach the ridgeline, I'm at 1800m just400m above the ground at the edge of the valley. Not good! The strong wind generates some lift off the ridge though and I beat around the ridge making sharp turns and flying really close to the trees. After 10 minutes I've not managed to get any height, but am thankful to not lose it. I continue to soar the ridge, and then a cloud passes and the sun hits the slope, and 2 minutes later it probably triggers a thermal and I'm going up again. I bank tightly, and hang on to the thermal and a few minutes later I'm up at 2800m again. All the way up, I'm screaming along with my varioS..yes!yes! this time I was almost down. There is only one thing better than getting high, and that is getting low first.
I can see Palampur on my left as I make the next transition. The next few valleys are narrow I cross them without incident. Standard routine: climb to cloudbase, full speedbar across the valley. Flying cross country even in ideal conditions involves great concentration. Its one of the joys of flyingS when you land, it feels like you've just re-entered the world. And in conditions like this, every muscle of your body, mind is focussedS where's the next thermal, where's the sun, what direction is the wind coming from, did its speed changeSS But now I'm gliding across the valley with nice height, and I look at the view for the first time.
Through a hole in the clouds, I see the snows of Jalsu. Below me, a few wild mares have stopped drinking water and are looking at this big bird flying above them. find a thermal, climb to cloudbase. Its not exactly relaxing, since the thermals aren't everywhere and the size of football fields as they usually are but after a couple of hours of scratching, I'm at least able to look around at the view as I glide across the valleys. The sky is developing quickly and I can see Dharamsala. beyond the next two spurs. And I spot Andy at the top of the next spur. He's thermalling over the top, and I'm so excited at seeing him, that once again, I skip out of the thermal and full speed down the valley, to of course, end up at the bottom of the east side of the mountain.
I have to head out to the valley and cross over to the west side of the slope and now I'm really low. There's a wind and I soar the ridge, neither losing height nor gaining any. I'm ready to give up and just head out of the valley and land and take a jeep upto Bhagsu. Andy of course must already be drinking the lovely lemon tea at sky pie café, just below Bhagsu Nath and above the Dalai lama's retreat. Soaring along the ridge is relaxing after a while and I forget about making goal and just enjoy the smooth wind, shouting back to the villagers who're only a few metres below me as I soar over their heads. Its drama plays out for maybe half an hour and by now I've been in the air more than 3 hours.
Its probably the longest stretch of active flying that I've ever done, but I'm not really physically tired, just a little disappointed to not make it to goal. But it ain't over till the fat lady sings. And so along comes a big griffin vulture, flies over my wing, and then looks disdainfully down at me before he turns around as if to say " follow me". Who am I to argue with the king of the skies? I turn and feel my heart pump as I watch him go up and make a smooth turn in the thermal. I follow and soon we're thermalling in tandem to the top. In each circle, there's a point where we';re facing each other and I swear he's laughing at my excitement!! I've been in thermals with birds before but its rare when you go up in tandem. Normally they just zoom up with their tightly banked circles around the core. But this time, its like he's waiting for me. He takes me up to2800 metres and then disappears into the clouds while I turn and head across to the last ridge before dharamsala.
The rest of the ride passes without incident and I land
in the valley, close to the road at the foot of Bhagsu.
Aviation Pvt. Ltd., 5 Siddhisadan, S.V.P. Road.
Borivli (W), Bombay 400103 - India. Clubhouse: 9 'A' Bldg, Sai Hill Nagar,
Kopri, Virar (E). Design: Latha