It is forenoon. The sun is steadily climbing north. Koraigad, an erstwhile fort of the Marathas stands tall and forlorn in the background. A small Cessna is parked nearby. A slew of cameras are pointed towards it. Without any announcement two black Mercedes-Benz cars pull over next to the Cessna and there is a flurry of activity on the other side. People are donning black and purple jumpsuits and photographers are zooming in on the sight. I am at the airport of Aamby Valley City, Lonavala to cover the launch of Skydive for MumbaiMag.com!
An emcee takes stage and takes us through the course of the events to follow. Soon enough, the Cessna sputters to life and the roar from its single engine drowns most of the music playing in the background and takes off. We are told that we are about to witness two live jumps from a height of 10500 ft above mean sea level. The jumps are coordinated and performed by an adventure group that call themselves – Art of Extreme. These daredevils hailing from Spain are responsible for making three lead actors of the Hindi feature film – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara skydive in the movie. Between its 9 members, the group shares a whooping 1.4 lac jumps! They are going to call Aamby Valley City their home for the next nine weeks as they go about introducing this extreme sport to anyone who craves a heavy dose of adrenaline and has very deep pockets to pay for it. !
Meanwhile Ritesh Sidhwani, leading producer of popular Bollywood movies, joins us on stage and shares his tryst with skydiving and fields some mundane questions. Nearby a wire tailed swallow puts up a great show for anyone interested (a wide variety of birds can be spotted flying about near the tarmac). Mid-conversation, the emcee gets a signal from one of the coordinators of Art of Extreme and we crane our necks to look up, squint our eyes in the glaring sun and finally spot the outline of the tiny Cessna hovering above.
Within a few minutes, two specks of blue and red emerge from it. One of them is Wolfgang Rausch, expert jumper and trainer and the other is Jose Luis, Ex-Sergeant, Spanish Army and Tandem Master for Bollywood actor/director Farhan Akhtar who is also jumping with them. We watch in amazement as the specks grow bigger and bigger and before we know it, Rausch glides over us and lands perfectly a few feet away from us, takes a bow and poses for the cameras that are clicking wildly. Close behind, with his arms wide open, lands Akhtar with Luis amidst loud clapping and cheering.
In the conference that follows, a visibly excited Akhtar, Sidhwani and the CEO of Aamby Valley City – Mr. Vivek Kumar field questions which range from the affordability of the activity to the experiences that one has midair. When I ask Akhtar about the possibility of doing a solo jump from here, he explains that they plan to introduce training which will enable solo jumping, but only after gauging the response of the current Tandem jumping facility. The conference is followed by another round of jumps by Rausch and Adhuna Akhtar which receive a resounding applause.
Later over a plate of Kathi rolls and Samosas, I speak to Luis about his entry into the world of skydiving. A paratrooper with the Spanish Army, he would be deployed on rescue missions. After saving lives for nearly 8 years, he quit to pursue jumping full time. He misses his Army buddies at times he confesses. Biting into a samosa he adds that being a skydiver doesn’t require him to maintain a diet or an exercise regime. He admits although it can be an expensive hobby, if one is interested then one can make a career out of it by becoming an instructor. He believes that India has good potential for this sport, “the views of these hills(pointing to the range of Sahyadris looming all around) from up there are incredible’’ he concludes.
Formal sessions of Skydiving will begin from 15th of December and go on until 16th of February 2013. We have heard that the fees for one Tandem session along with the necessary training will approximately be Rs 30,000 per head. The official announcement of the charges and other packages is soon expected. For further inquiries, speak to Sonal Kanade 09922599783
All photos by Rushikesh Kulkarni