Motorbiking and Paragliding to Dharamsala
After an absolutely glorious time in Vashisht and Manali, leaving was not something I would have liked to do, unless my next stop was Dharamsala. Not only was I excited for one of the most spiritual and yogic centers of India, but I was also really looking forward to my first real motorbike trip in India. After doing all of Vietnam on a little Honda Win, I figured India on a bigger, stronger 500cc Royal Enfield would be much more exciting!
I was walking around Vashsisht on my last morning, saying goodbye to everyone I was running into when I saw my buddy Chris, also all packed up and ready to go on his next adventure. After the cheerful greeting he always gives, I asked where he was off to.
He said he was taking the bus and was not looking forward to it. It’s meant to be long, sweaty and bumpy. So I offered the backseat to my bike.
– “Duude! Oh thanks man!!”
He has a very enthusiastic Aussie accent.
So began trying to figure out the Tetris match that was to be getting all our bags on board. With him on the backseat, there was very little room left, so we’d have to somehow use the sides of the bike and strap everything up. Only the left side had grill, so we strapped his there and that left him to carry mine on his back. Didn’t think he’d be comfortable doing that the whole way but he assured me it was way better than the bus.
So we were off! After the first few wobbles of figuring out how everything was going to balance with the uneven weight distribution created by the bag on the left side and his body and a bag on the back, the rest was smooth.
Smooth until the highway started to narrow that is. Not only did it narrow, it soon became a single lane, dual direction road, which soon became very windy and progressively less asphalted. I could hear poor Chris’ moans on every bump I failed to avoid, and with the dwindling asphalt, sharp turns, and oncoming traffic, they were more frequent that I would have liked. His butt and back I’m sure took a heavy beating.
The scenery, however, was spectacular. Windy roads often indicate mountains, which often come with views. I definitely felt a little bit of envy towards Chris, who could enjoy every panorama, while I had to settle for fleeting glances before having to bank into the next curve. There was some balance in the world for making him hold my bag on his back the whole time.
We had some great breaks along the way for fresh momo’s and pastries. It’s always so interesting what you can find on the road in these countries, and you rarely have to take the time to stop into a restaurant for a decent bite or drink. With the breaks and all our goodbyes and dillydallies in the morning though, night was falling and we had only reached Bir, some 80km away from Dharamsala.
It was then that my efficient thinking kicked in: yes, the rest of the drive was definitely doable, even in the dark, but it would be slow and extremely bumpy in the low light. Bir, on the other hand, is extremely well known internationally for paragliding, something I was keen on trying and likely would end up driving back for. So why drive to Dharamsala just to come back later for a day, let’s knock this out now!
Chris was down, so we turned up the hill and found a beautiful guesthouse that we almost didn’t go into, thinking it was out of our price range yet it ended up being the cheapest place I’ve stayed in so far. After a hot shower that washed all the muck our bodies had absorbed during the ride, we hit the only restaurant still open at the time, the Garden View. It had a great mix of Indian and Tibetan specialties and, as luck would have it, the local honey merchant was present and he offered us a lick! It all filled us up deliciously and comfortably put us to bed.
The next day, I set out to find a paraglider. While chatting with the Garden View owner, he mentioned that he knew a very experienced pilot that could take me up for cheap. For only 2000 INR, I was in a taxi and heading up the mountain. The views were breathtaking as we rose and I was full of anticipation knowing I would soon be soaring over them!
After a very quick intro from the pilot (“When I say run, you run and don’t stop!”), he strapped me in and we were ready to go. “RUN!” Love the simple approaches in these countries. Anywhere, I’d probably have to sit in a classroom info session for two hours before even being allowed to put on a helmet!
I run as much as I could until, all of a sudden, my feet rose off the ground and I took off like Articuno. The pilot steered us towards through the skies as wind rushed past my face. I was able to see the whole valley! I was most mesmerized when I noticed our shadow way down in the trees below.
We were literally flying with the eagles, who boastfully flew by us. The pilot did a couple fun maneuvers – some swings and spins, the latter of which made me feel like all my blood had drained into my extremities. I definitely pushed through a couple of G’s right there!
Posted by Liviu Chis on Sunday, October 9, 2016
Near the end, he pointed to a town way in the distance and said it’s possible able to fly all the way to it from here. I asked him what town it was. “Dharamsala”.
Unbelievable. I could literally fly to where I was trying to get to right now instead of going down and jumping back on the bike.
At the end, there were some parachutes in our way on the drop site so we had a bit of a crash landing, but it only added to the fun!
Posted by Liviu Chis on Sunday, October 9, 2016
I graciously thanked my pilot and Chris and I set back out. I was so happy we decided to stop. The rest of the journey in daylight was quick and easy, and I have yet another new experience in a beautiful corner of the world that would have cost ten times as much back home!