Translated by Deepthi Gopurathinkal
Today is May 10, 2019, trial Journey day 6 of the Great Indian Expedition. The plan was to return to Ernakulam from our hotel at Kumili, after visiting Wagamon through Elappara. There are some specific reasons for returning to Ernakulam. It was important that we are back in Ernakulam on the 11th and 12th of May. The first reason was personal, the second was that we gave a shot at all the things we were planning to experiment with throughout the journey and it was apparent that we did encounter a few glitches. In order to resolve them, we have to be back in Ernakulam.
The last remaining thing to test on this trial was to setup the tent and cook food on our own. After resolving our pending issues, we decided to travel towards the north of Kerala. In short, we were able to figure out the potential problems without even completing our journey through the Western Ghats. Since the plan is to cover the whole of Kerala including the Western Ghats as part of GIE, the objective was to test all the essential equipment. The current plan is to resume our journey on May 21st, cover regions of the Western Ghats in the Northern districts and then conclude the journey.
We reached Elappara through the less explored Anavilasam route, which was a dangerous drive with steep drive-offs and tight curves. We had not encountered such a menacing route in the past 5 days of our travel. The road was in shambles so much that the car did not pull through even in the first gear. Ford Ecosport has only so much capacity and unfortunately, we have to make do with this vehicle unless someone decides to sponsor a high powered and more spacious one.
The Anavilasam route is nestled between tea plantations, similar to the ones en route to Munnar, and that is its speciality. Kumili to Anavilasam is 13 kilometres and from then on it’s 24 kilometres to Elappara. It’s yet another 13 kilometres from Elappara to Wagamon. Wagamon has a handful of hotspots to visit such as Thangal Paara, Kurishumala, Meadows, Pine Valleys and paragliding hill. It would easily take a day or more to visit and enjoy all these places. Since there are more of GIE’s to happen to explore all these places, we decided to settle for paragliding.
We caught a glimpse of paragliders drifting by in the distance even before reaching Pine Valley. We ended up losing our way initially and reached an entrance to a construction site dedicated to adventure sports. On inquiry, we learnt that a concrete road, slightly behind, us leads to the paragliding hill.
On entering the concrete road we saw a large number of vehicles parked on the sides since private vehicles are not permitted on the hill. Those who have tickets for paragliding are taken to the hill by the gliding company in their vehicle. Paragliding tickets are priced at ₹3000 per person. Those who require videos must pay an extra ₹500. Videos are recorded by a company called ‘Fly Wagamon’ on their GoPro. Only those between the age group of 14 to 80 years and weighing between 40 to 110 kilograms are permitted to paraglide.
Although we had our own GoPro to shoot video, we had a quick change of plans because we did not bring the body strap. As we were enquiring about the possibility of recording other people paragliding, Vinil Thomas of Fly Wagamon Club enters the scene. After speaking to him we were permitted to take our vehicle to the gliding spot. The road to the top of the hill is approximately 1.5 kilometres long concrete path.
On reaching the top of the hill what welcomed us were breathtaking sights of paragliding. A few families from neighbouring states could be seen taking off and landing. Our excitement knew no bounds just by this spectacle. Then I went onto interview Vinil while Johar began shooting it.
Fly Wagamon has been conducting paragliding on this hill for the past 15 years. Even during the off-season, they service around 10-15 flyers. Of course, gliding does not take place during the monsoons. This particular hill was named Kolahalamedu due to the abundance of strong winds and since wind plays a major role in gliding this hill became the perfect spot for it. They have six paragliders. The gliders are checked for any split in the harness or tear in the wing fabric. Fly Wagamon has not encountered any gliding disasters to date.
The gliders take off and lands against the direction of the wind, this makes it easier to control it. You are wrong if you thought you will be gliding alone! An experienced pilot will be along with you. You are just a passenger during the glide. Passengers have all the freedom to hold a camera in one hand and record themselves while gliding.
After fastening safety belts and carabiners the passenger is strapped to the pilot and the glider. At this point, the passenger might get nervous when the glider which was idly lying on the floor suddenly leaps up. What happens next is a complete physical exercise. The sight of the glider rising up against the wind as the pilot tries to control it is indeed a sight to behold. At the same time, it is quite hair-raising as well. During this moment two assistants stand on either side of the pilot and the passenger and hold them down. Once they see that the pilot is in control, they move back. From this point onwards everything happens in the blink of an eye and the glider has taken off.
Before gliding, passengers are given basic instructions in some of the important things they have to do during takeoff and landing. They might have to lift up their legs while taking off. At times they even might have to run and push off from the ground to take off. However, as we stood watching we witnessed effortless take off’s and landings.
The glider wings begin to drop on either side as it begins to land. This is done by the pilot who controls the harness to bring the glider down. The pilot would repeat the manoeuvre and flaps either side of the glide which then lands perfectly.
During a Goa trip, I had tried out parasailing. I even took aerial images. Back then there was no fear, but, this time there is a tinge of fear and the hillside was to be blamed for that. The sudden take off and that feeling of losing the ground beneath my feet, I had no clue how that would affect me. I am sure by the time GIE returns to Wagamon again I will be mentally prepared for my first paragliding experience. The video of which will be surely recorded.
When compared to parasailing, paragliding is a complete flying experience. The connection to ground is severed and one can fly about just like a bird. Parasailing, on the other hand, is where the parachute is tethered to a boat. As the boat begins to sail the parachute lifts up.
I happened to speak to a youngster and an older person who had just gotten off the glide. They were still pumped up from their gliding experience when I started interviewing them. When quizzed about what they glimpsed on the ground from up there, the youngster gave a much clearer picture. He pointed out that he got a complete view of Wagamon including a town, dam, and valley. It seems the older person had not seen the dam during his 20 minutes of gliding.
I was quite surprised to hear about the pilots, both from Himachal. Pilots are from that region perhaps because paragliding is popular there. They travel back home during the off-season. Otherwise, they spend their time in Wagamon, flying and helping others fly.
Fly Wagamon has been conducting paragliding in cooperation with Kerala Tourism and Kerala Youth Welfare Board. More adventure sports will be coming up on this hill which is 900 metres above sea level. In the coming days, Wagamon will be a much bigger happening place.
We managed to capture plenty of video footage. It was now time to return. We climbed down after thanking Vinil. We heard that a canteen near Pine Valley serves lunch. A meal consisting of fish curry, fish fry, thoran, buttermilk, and pappadom is served at an affordable price. This canteen is being run by a mother and her daughter team from Elappara. We scored a hat-trick with regards to food. GIE will introduce in detail this woman who travels every day, without a single day off, from Elappara to Wagamon by bus to run the canteen.
Due to various difficulties, I have not been able to ride The Bike Store sponsored folding cycle lying in the trunk of the car all this while. I took the cycle out with the excitement of a sports day in mind and broke a sweat after cycling a short distance.
All that was left to do for the day was to reach Ernakulam before dark. The Wagamon-Thodupuzha-Moovattupuzha-Kolancheri-Puthencruz-Infopark-Thrikkakkara route brought us home by 6 in the evening. The first phase of the GIE trial journey, which covered 1070 km in the span of 7 days, ends here.