So in the meantime I am slowly heading to Delhi hoping to get there in time for this to be sorted, but I certainly don’t want to get there sooner and have to wait it out in the capital. I am using the time to call and email sponsors and fund-raisers in the hope of meeting my €5000 target I need to continue the journey. I’ve already got cash and pledges of €1000 so quietly confident there is a good chance.
I’m also taking full advantage of not having to be anywhere to go paragliding, and at the moment I’m in Panchgani, which is another amazing world class site. It’s great for cross country flying. You set off from one place and hop from one thermal to the next covering huge distances. I’m not that good, and the season has finished so the weather isn’t ideal anymore, but with a lot of patient waiting (nic-named “para-waiting” by pilots) keeping an eagle eye on conditions I and a couple of friends here, Arabind and Chetan, have managed to get some good flights in and improve my skills.
I’m parked at the top of the take off site, so in the morning I can check the windsock streamer from bed. Strawberries and mulberries are in season, and haven’t tired of fruit salad and yogurt for breakfast. There is a 14 year old boy who sells freshly squeezed lemon juice who brings his cart next to the truck around 9am, and we chat in sign language about the wind. He can’t fly but knows well enough when the conditions are good from having watched countless pilots in the past.
The police have clamped down on the un-insured tandem wallahs who offer a 20 minute flight for 2000Rs to the wealthy Pune weekenders, after an accident last week, so we have the launch site to ourselves and instead of having to wrestle for a takeoff slot we’re surrounded by tandem wallahs with nothing better to do but help us lay out our wings and lend their experience to assess the wind.
The rival tandem pilots have to collectively pay some cash to the police, but as the wind is too strong and the tourist season is still a few days away from starting they are holding out before paying up and starting work. On a good day they can earn €400-500, but it’s a short season and most pilots are in endless hock to their backers who paid for their wings and harnesses.
Andre, an expat from Montreal who’s run a campsite here for solo-pilots for 11 years, usually turns up to offer meteorological advice in his drawly French Canadian accent littered with Indian idioms, “Yeah-er, Wat-to-do?”. He’s even run us 3 km down the road in his pick up to another launch site when the wind was backing. There’s a thermal over his campsite which means his windsock regularly points upwards.
The conditions have been unusually strong here, making take off risky and flying even riskier. Landing back on the launch site is a near impossibility in strong winds so the only option is to “land down” in the valley which stretches out 1000ft bellow around the manmade lake and dam.
The black areas of burnt grass provide good sources of thermal air, warmed by the hot ground and sent upwards like the goo in a lava lamp. I’m learning to “core” thermals, finding the centre and circling upwards in it.
For landings, I’ve mostly used the fields zig-zagging around trees and shortening my approach with plenty of brake as the as the terracing cheats me by dropping the ground away from me the further I travel. I’ve landed by the lake a couple of times, and today I took my togs for a swim. After stripping naked in front of non-plussed washer women I then balked at the mirky waters. The ladies shrugged grunts eventually persuaded me in. I didn’t want them to think I was another of these exhibitionist from Mumbai come to flash at the village girls. Usually I catch a local bus which winds up the mountain switchbacks to the cooler air of Panchgani or hitch a ride in a truck that’s going that way.
When I get back I’m greeted by the concerned lemonade boy who asks me where I landed and how the flight was. Nods, grins, hands and pointing, our conversation is completely silent apart from the word “Wind” which can mean strong or weak, depending on the wind.
In the evenings I cycle into town for dinner with Chetan and Arabind, my co-pilots, after washing off the red dust in the bus shower. My water pump has burnt out and I have to take the motor apart to check it, so in the meantime I’m using a bucket filled at the nearby spring. Before bed I sit on one of the benches near the hotel and use their free wifi with the black valley below lit only by a smattering of village lights and the red lines of grass fires spreading up the opposite side.
So as you can imagine , until the bail money is ready, I’m not in any great rush to leave for Delhi to be shunted from one heartless government office to the next.
India is one of the few countries that emits less than 2 tonnes of CO2Te per person, thanks in large part to people like this. At first I’m struck with the thought that if everyone lived like this the global carbon footprint would disappear overnight. Ironically, the famines and mass-migrations which will result from climate change, will result in more people living under tarpaulin tents.
The battle to find sustainable solutions of energy creation and consumption is in many ways more a battle to maintain our standard of living rather than to save the environment. We have to turn unsustainable consumption into a responsible and globally fair use of resources, or expect a reduction in the standards of living we take for granted. Probably we’ll have to do both, and probably we won’t do either enough.
So we, as a planet, could ration energy now and see a drop in our standards of living, or we can take small possibly ineffectual steps which will result in more people living under tarpaulin tents. Those people will probably be from poor countries, because poor countries are typically dependent on agriculture and poor countries are in the tropics where weather patterns are most likely to be affected. In Croydon we will struggle to find Zimbabwean Bok-Choi in Tescos
No one knows with much certainty how much climate change will really impact on agriculture and sea levels, so it’s hard to know how strictly to ration energy now, but not doing it allows richer countries to take advantage of their wealth to exploit global resources, to the detriment of people living in poorer countries (again – see oil, , fishing rights, minerals, diamonds, agricultural land, holiday resorts...).
Wherever I fly I’ve found out about the local agriculture, to know which fields I can land in, and even more importantly I find out about the local weather. Really understand it in detail, how it should be, how it is this minute, and how it changes during the day. Everywhere I’ve been, from Annecy to Panchgani, pilots tell me the weather is unusual for time of year. Maybe it’s me! Or maybe it’s the human nature of pilots to be diffident of the winds, but I believe it’s a sign that weather patterns that are changing, and it makes me feel that the changes will become quite radical.
As long as these gypsies can scavenge pressed sugar cane for their donkeys and don’t have to move in to a city, they’ll be ok. It would be hard for their standards of living to drop further. But in the valley below the fields are all empty at the moment. It’s great for me as it provides endless choices of landing areas. They are waiting for the first signs of the monsoon season to start planting. I wonder if they can afford the irony to call it agri-waiting?