Ten Days at Kandbari
A Little Hint of Heaven at Kandbari
This is the first in a series on Kandbari, a charming, little-known hill station in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Kandbari lays no claim to fame. In fact the vast majority of Indians would be unaware that such a place exists. It lies, still blissfully unsung, nestled 1200 metres (4000 feet) up in the foothills of the Dhauladhar (meaning White Mountain) mountain ranges. Not surprisingly, it does not aspire to compete with the New Yorks and Mumbais of the world, but it does in some ways humble them. Allow me to share a vivid memory from a day after my arrival there.
A Holy Hill Cow
It is a cool morning in October and the sun is busy playing hide-and-seek, promising a bright day then hiding behind clouds that send shadows across the hills. My friend and I are mulling over whether it is worthwhile driving to Billing, famous for the sport of paragliding, when neither of us knows anything about paragliding. Inspite of the iffy weather, the vote is aye and soon we are on our way.
A narrow, winding road ascends from Kandbari to Billing at 2600 metres (8,500 feet), passing through the picturesque village of Bir. The school playground at Bir serves as a possible landing area for paragliders. We are still 14 kilometers away from Billing and have a further 1000 metres of altitude to climb.
The scenic drive is suddenly interrupted a a few kilometers out of Bir by a recalcitrant hill cow that refuses to budge from her centre-of-the-road, semi-foetal and obviously comfortable position. She probably has a sense of ownership to that piece of road too. No one has told her that a tax has to be paid to use a road so I guess that will remain unpaid.
Incessant use of the horn yields no result. This unusual standoff is causing my non-existent hair to stand on end when two young men appear riding a motorcycle. They could easily have navigated the obstacle and sped along on their way. Instead, seeing our predicament, they stop and through a mix of cajoling and prodding, finally manage to convince the cow to move on to greener pastures.
Would this have happened in New York? No. Partly because you are not likely to find Jersey cows sprawled on the roads of New York. Even if you did, which New Yorker would have the time to help move them? This small incident tells me more about the people of the hills than a thousand words or a picture could have.
In retrospect, I wonder whether the tete-a-tete with Her Holiness was meant to be a signal from God. As it turns out, later in the day, I will have to prod and cajole myself too.
The Paragliding Capital of India
Our little adventure over, we are soon at Billing. I notice immediately that Billing must qualify as the least-populated place in India with a permanent resident population of around 10 as it consists of one shack, one meadow and one four-legged creature. I guess you could also call it a one-horse town, especially if you are short-sighted and likely to mistake a donkey for a horse. But I think I am being a bit unfair.
The shack is surprisingly well-stocked and you realize the enormous reach of the multinational manufacturers of potato wafers and biscuits and colas when you find these prominently displayed in that remote corner of the world. You can also get a cup of hot tea that is sweeter than any person you may know.
The meadow serves as the launch pad for paragliders who go forth (or fifth) to where few have gone before. Hopefully, they don’t go downwards unless they want to. The thought of becoming a latter-day Icarus both fascinates and repels me. I am not too keen to emulate his dubious feat.
As an aside, business analysts discuss a phenomenon that has come to be called the Icarus Paradox. This refers to situations when successful companies become over-confident and fail to see changes that bring about their downfall, much like Icarus.
A paraglider touches the sun
To Paraglide or Not to Paraglide
The meadow looks inviting, the lush green grass forming a carpet that stretches some distance. As I reach the edge, I can see it fall away precipitously. I dwell on the thought of how beautiful the Kangra Valley and the granite-laden Dhauladhar mountains to the North would look to a paraglider and am tempted to don wings myself. I wonder what it would be like to float on silent air with only the sound of the wind in your ears.
I am simultaneously assailed by thoughts of how easily a stray gust of wind could blow a pair of wings off course. Visions of landing atop a pine tree or worse flash through my mind.
I ask myself whether a wise man would just leap off terra firma into a deep void. I ask myself whether it is wise to put my life into the hands of an unknown young man who will keep us airborne by twirling a piece of cloth or plastic or whatever. If God had wanted us to fly, wouldn’t he have given us wings?
There is a small group of enthusiasts sipping tea, waiting expectantly. This includes three British girls who are volunteer teachers at Palampur, a tea-growing area near Kandbari. They are guarded in their responses to this graying, balding, inquisitive man who seems to keep jumping between daring and extreme cowardice.
A few pilots are seated on the grass, the gliders lying quietly inside their containers. One of them explains patiently that all one has to do is run off the edge of the meadow and let the thermal currents lift you into the air. The pilot does all the work while the passenger remains seated, legs dangling towards the dwarfed earth. The descent to Bir takes approximately 30 minutes I am told.
The Great Big Flying Bird
There are so many what-ifs that I wish I could clarify. Like, what if a gust of wind were to carry me to a neighbouring country where I could be accused of spying? Or what if a Himalayan Vulture were to decide to get cosy with this strange looking creature with wings? I find it difficult to control the tremor in my legs. But in front of those Brit girls? Bravado. Bravado is what is called for. So I play the part of the intrepid flyer, looking knowingly into the distant sky, walking dangerously close to the precipice, hoping that vertigo doesn’t strike, hoping the girls are suitably impressed.
Himalayan Vulture investigates a UFO
So Near And Yet So Far
But deep inside, the question remains unanswered: to fly or not to fly. The child in me says go, the adult says no go. The bewilderment is there for all to see. I can only see that God’s intervention alone is going to save me from this terrible dilemma.
Suddenly, magically, miraculously, I see a mist rising from the valley. Within minutes, we are engulfed in a white swirl. Everyone waits. Finally the Big Flying Chief declares that conditions are not favourable so paragliding is called off for the day. Hooray! Saved by the bell as it were. I live to fight another day. My legs steady a bit and I strut around, hoping my exultation is not too evident.
I am reminded of the movie “The Bucket List”. The plot involves two older men who decide to take life by the cuff and do all the things they ever wanted to before they kick the bucket, including of all things, skydiving. I decide to put paragliding on my bucket list.
For me, for now, a near-paragliding experience, like a near-death one, is safely behind. And like General MacArthur, I aver “I shall be back” as I turn my back on the little meadow at Billing from where I could possibly have soared like an eagle and perhaps landed on my butt with a thud.
More on Kandbari
- Kandbari Views-A Pictorial Essay
This is the third in a series on a holiday in Kandbari, in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (region of snowy mountains). Kandbari lies at 1200 metres (4000 feet) in the foothills of the Dhauladhar...
- Kandbari - a Flowerworks Display
This is the second in a series on a holiday at Kandbari in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. This Hub consists of pictures of flowers from the area around Kandbari. The credit for identifying them...
- Around Kandbari -Triund at 10,000 feet- A Photo Essay
This is the fourth in the series on Kandbari, a small hamlet at the base of the Dhauladhar Mountain Range in Himachal Pradesh in India. Triund is a grassy meadow perched at an altitude of 3,000 metres (~...
- The Hillfolk of Kandbari-A Photo Essay
If I had to choose two words that define the ethos of the hillfolk I met during my brief sojourn in Kandbari, they would be simple and contented. This is the fifth in a series of ten Hubs on a holiday in...