Kamshet has gone From being an insignificant dot on the map to a major paragliding destination, thanks to a couple’s dream and 20 years of effort.
About 110 km from Mumbai, Kamshet was once just another Maharashtrian town that dotted the countryside. Now, it is a thriving destination for tourists and adventure sports lovers who are drawn by this paragliding destination. As Fly Nirvana, the first paragliding outfit to have been set up in the tiny town brings in its 20th year, co-founder Astrid Rao recalls that when they had arrived, Kamshet was the very definition of a one-horse town.
“Kamshet was just a little town near the railway station. There were a few small houses and hardly any cars on the road,” recalls Astrid.
In the early ’90s, Astrid and her husband Sanjay Rao began looking for a piece of land they could use as a retreat from the city. Sanjay’s search and growing interest in paragliding led him to the then-virgin land of Kamshet.
After a thorough recce wherein he noted the atmospheric conditions of the area, Sanjay soon discovered Kasmet to be a flyable place. “Sanjay began working on understanding the local weather and place. We have west and east winds in this region and he found two sites suiting the required weather conditions,” recalls Astrid.
In 1997, they finally founded Nirvana Adventures, a one-stop destination for adventurers to spread their wings and fly like a bird.
Since the beginning, the couple worked with the locals involving them at grass root level. The locals took on different roles right from making tea to supervising parking. And over the years, they have converted Kamshet into a paragliding destination for pilots from across the world.
“We have personally vetted the locals. They have also completed the international standard exams,” asserts Astrid.
Over the period of 20 years, they have armed themselves with the best of equipment so that people can come and learn paragliding in India.
“We use the ISO training system and British paragliding and hang gliding training methods. We also have clearances from air traffic control and local authorities to fly over a certain height. We train thousands of people across the country,” she beams.
Not believing in handholding, the flying club lets people handle gliders the moment they get in touch with it following the instructions. “First day you learn how to catch the glider on the ground. Followed by day two of low level flying on the bottom of the training hill. On the third day we move them up to fly slow and on the final day, you practice under instructor’s supervision and fewer instructions,” lists Astrid.
Describing the paragliding scene back in the ‘90s, Astrid recollects they only had two travelling foreigners and one Indian during the first two years. Now, however, they have at least 100 adventurers coming in every year from across the globe.
“We have a Swedish group who visited us for the 11th time in November. There is a guy from Hong Kong who has been coming back for 14 years and will be celebrating his 50th birthday with us in March,” smiles Astrid.
But then, paragliding itself has changed from being something scary to being a form of amusement, muses the instructor.
“People couldn’t accept paragliding as a sport as it comes with inherent risk. And today on a weekend we get 100 calls, everyone wants to do it at least once. Now it’s something exciting,” she smiles.
The founders further want to see paragliding being offered at more places as a sport. “I pray that it continues to remain safe with all the standard operating procedures,” Astrid concludes.