Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bir There, Done That

July 3, 2012

Okay, unlike most of my posts, this one is going to be more about pics and videos rather than my verbal diarrhoea (everybody likes picture books don’t they?) here it goes:

After just over 7 weeks in Bir I have accumulated 34 flights and 71 ½ hours of flying time...WOW!  And it is big mountain flying that has also provided me with a number of personal bests:

-          - longest flight in distance - 83 kilometres out and back
-          - longest flight in time -  5 hours and 8 minutes
-          - highest altitude above sea level – 4682 meters
-          - highest altitude gain from launch – 2297 meters
-          - fastest sustained thermal – 1400 meters in just under 5 minutes (about 5 m/s up average)
-          - most pees in a flight – 3 (along with my 1st pee in flight)

So on with the picture show....

Looking at Barot Valley to the north of Bir:

Looking east high above Billing:


Super high above the valley with Bir on the left and Chougan on the right:

A happy Ron has just landed:

On glide:

One day a school of girls from the Punjab showed up and were quite interested in what Matthew and I were up to kiting in the landing field...we definitely felt like rock stars:

Looking towards a peak known as Waldo:

After a week of my poor nose getting fried by the sun, drastic action had to be taken so I fashioned this nose protector from the inside of an empty cigarette pack I found on launch...and it worked surprisingly well (even better after a couple of days and the slight stench of tobacco had dissapated)

Looking down at Billing, the launch area:

Getting near the big boys:

Obligatory foot and snow capped mountain pic:

Approaching Mill's Peak...feeling pretty small:

The top spine keeps going to Dharamsala:

This is the way out to the main valley...sure wouldn't want to have to walk from here!

Even higher above's gonna take a while to get down from here:

Ron ridge soaring up to the top of Mill's Peak:

Me further along the ridge (thanks for taking the pic Ron!):

Ron feeling small:

You can just spot Ron in the middle of the photograph.  This is looking north from near the top of Mill's Peak at 4000 meters above sea level:

Another day, wearing someone else's balls, I headed alone north along this small ridge on the left to that back mountain and did a circuit of the back bowl:

Beautiful little waterfall I witnessed as I reached the mountain in the previous pic on the left under the cloud:

Catching a well needed thermal on the back mountain.  If I sank out here I wouldn't be back in Bir until tomorrow!

Heading west from Barot Valley:

Just reaching a mountain known by paraglider pilots as Toblerone:

Ridge soaring Toblerone:

Getting high enough up on the Toblerone ridge to see the big mountains to the north:

Just seeing over the Toblerone ridge:

If I sank out here I would have to hike about 13 km straight down this valley to get to not to think about it!

The jagged edges of Toblerone:

Heading towards the back of Mill's Peak, finishing my circuit.  I ducked around the lower bit on the left where I got pummeled with sink and strong wing and even a bit of rotor but I eventually got out of there:

Landing after a great flight:

Ron and I did a top to bottom thanks to the menacing clouds...honestly the camera makes it look worse than it was:

The ridges near Billing while on a smooth late afternoon flight:

I would like to thank brothers Naresh and Suresh of the Classic Surya Hotel in Chougan (the Tibetan Colony) for making their place feel like a home to me.  And hats off to the cool solo pilots I met in Bir: Matthew from the US, Thomas from Switzerland, Ron from the US & UK and Steve from the UK.  Thanks for making it a fun month and a half boys!

Sharing a last beer with Naresh:

I shall return...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Return of a Wandergliding Buddy

June 30th- July 2nd 2012

A Canadian friend, Garth who is now living with his wife Holly in Saudi Arabia, decided to join up with me in Bir to do some paragliding.  Garth and Holly joined me in “Betty”, my troublesome campervan, while I was traipsing around Europe in the summer of 2010.  We had a fabulous 3 weeks cruising through Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Slovenia.  So my only Canadian friend that has met up with me on my travels was back for round 2.

Garth endured a difficult overnight bus from Delhi after flying in from Saudi Arabia.  As is the norm in India, he did not get the seat he reserved on the bus and ended up in the very front which is problematic for two reasons.  The first is the brightness of the oncoming headlights and the second is that every time the driver honked his horn (which was every minute on average) Garth was not only kept awake by the loud noise attacking his eardrums but also from the reverberations through his seat jolting his body.  Poor guy...he hardly slept at all so when he finally arrived in Bir after a 2 hour taxi ride from Mandi, he was utterly exhausted so he slept for most of the morning.

The conditions for flying were good that day but we decided to avoid the strong conditions of the afternoon and taxied up to Billing around 4pm, hopefully for a late afternoon flight.  Unfortunately the wind was quite strong on launch so we parawaited for a couple of hours.  A few tandems launched but it looked dodgy for a solo wing until 7pm, as the sun began to set and the wind began to die down.  Garth had borrowed my new friend Matthew’s gear (very nice of him) so Garth had to deal with the fact he was using new gear and flying a new site (usually it’s best to only change one variable at a time) but he took off like a champion and flew out towards the next ridge to the west.  We both ended up with sled rides (just flying down from launch to the landing) but it was a nice introductory flight for him.  In the landing field one of the tandem pilots mentioned that paragliding may be banned for the next five days thanks to some VIP coming to the area...let’s hope he’s not right.

Garth preparing the wing:

All suited up and ready to go:

Garth flying off into the sunset:

Not sure which of these sunset pics I like better:

My obligatory foot shot:

The following day we hopped in a taxi early, picked up Englishman Steve and then Thomas and Ron in Bir.  We debated on giving a local Indian a ride up to launch in our already fairly full vehicle.  Most of us were a little cheesed off at the previous day’s formation of a taxi union in town which jacked up the price up to launch.  At first we denied the guy but then Garth insisted it was not a big deal for him to sit between him and me in the backseat and I agreed.  Well the poor dude got a ride for about 20 meters as we were stopped by the local paragliding watchdog Ranvijay and a police officer.  We found out that the VIP was an army general visiting the nearby artillery base called “Dah Gunners” located about 20 kilometres from Bir.  Are you serious?  You guys are worried that a paraglider might sneak up and snuff out this military chief?  At an artillery base?  Surely they could shoot us down if they had too?!?  Oh my...the Indian army has some issues.  Actually back in October 2010 they banned paragliding for a few weeks during the most popular time of the year for flying in Bir due to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi...unbelievable.  If a paraglider pilot was able to fly the 500+ kms to Delhi to try and drop a bomb, they should have been given a gold medal!

Dejected we turned around and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for my poor friend Garth who had travelled thousands of kilometres to get here to fly at a world class site and he would only manage to experience a 20 minute sled ride...sorry dude.

That afternoon Garth and I decided to cut our losses and head for a hike up the valley to the east of launch.  We stopped by Matthew’s place and received some pointers on our route.  The hike was quite beautiful and the further up the valley the more peaceful and relaxed life seemed to be...although I’m sure the locals work hard to survive.  We stopped just short of the last little village where the electrical lines seemed to end, had lunch and made our way back on a slightly different route on the way back.  Oh, it also happened to be Canada did I almost forget?  It was great to spend it with a fellow Canadian friend hiking in a beautiful area...although we both commiserated about how amazing the weather was for paragliding...could have been an epic day flying!

Starting up the valley:

We saw these guys from a distance and tried to figure out what they were carrying.  Garth guessed a bed headboard...but it turned out to be a whole bed!

Paying tribute at a small temple:

This should be a heavy metal album cover:

Garth trying out a bit of bouldering:

Happy Canada Day! (that's a small Canada Flag pin he has)

A happy hiker:

Garth's Gnome pics...first Coolie:


And Grumpy:

We followed an irrigation stream on the way back:

Some local kids who were happy to see us:

Thankfully the next day was overcast and definitely not a flying day which made the idiotic ban on flying more bearable.  We decided to hike to a large temple in the forest west of Bir called Sherabling.  It was about 7 kilometres away but it was relatively easy hiking.  I had flown over the temple a number of times before but thought it was time to have a closer look.  The forest was slightly eerie thanks to some recent purposeful burns by the locals which had affected the trees too much but left little undergrowth.  We followed a road until we reached the plethora of prayer flags strung amongst the trees.  The Buddhists believe that the prayers printed on these flags of white, blue, yellow, green and red flags will be blown by the wind so that any beings that meet the air or breathe in that air are blessed.  Hmm...not sure about that but they are least the newer ones.

Hiking the burnt forest:

Many trees had these strange horizontal marks in them that looked like someone took a knife to them...but there was no way a person did it...hundreds of trees looked like this:

The prayer flags:

Arriving at the temple we thought we’d be a bit respectful and zipped on the pant legs to our shorts before entering the main complex.  There was next to no signage around so we were a bit unsure of where to go but we poked our heads through one set of double doors and it was the main enclosed gathering area.  It kinda looked like an indoor gymnasium and I think both Garth and I immediately envisioned the awesome floor hockey that could be played in this facility.  It was three levels high with the doors of dormitory rooms lining three sides of the square complex and a temple on the fourth.  In accordance with a sign we removed our shoes as we approached the temple side and up a flight of stairs there was this mysterious set of fancy red doors with the nearby walls covered in intricate paintings.  I wonder what’s behind door #1?  Well we lucked out as a Caucasian monk passed by and asked if we wanted to see inside...sure!  The monk turned out to be a French woman but initially Garth thought it was a man thanks to the shaved head and purple robe that removed any gender indicators (so we’ll let him slide on this one).

We saw this sign just 2 minutes after I violated it...Sorry!

So what do you put in the middle bucket?  Interesting that it's pink...

The main temple at Sherabling:

Inside the covered area:

Why is he crushing a beach ball?

One of the paintings by the door:

The mysterious red door:

Looking around the covered complex:

A Tibetan monk opened the doors for us from the inside and we were welcomed into the heart of the temple.  A large golden Buddha (at least I think it was Buddha...he was looking a bit skinny) dominated the front area with lines of small tables with mats behind them faced inwards towards the centre aisle.  There was an abundance of colours and detail amongst the intricate paintings and tapestries that seemed to drape from everywhere.  The monk led us around although he didn’t speak English so we just had to look and admire.

The main altar:

Looking back towards the red door:

We wandered around the campus a bit afterwards and then decided to try and take a shortcut home through less of the forest and we were rewarded with a lovely stroll through some small hamlets and along some recently planted rice paddies.

Starting through the forest:

Into the rice fields:

More cute kids wanting their photo taken:

One cool cat:

His donkey blends in well with the rocks...but yes, the kid is riding a donkey (oh, and there's another kid there too):

That evening, Matthew, Ron and Thomas came over to the hotel for a few drinks and dinner.   A nice way to end the day but thanks to the paragliding ban, we’re off to Manali tomorrow!

Always happy and inquisitive Matthew:

Me and Garth: