I had just one task – to jump out of a plane from 10,000ft above
I had just one task – to jump out of a plane from 10,000ft aboveground level. Did I just make it sound very simple? The people from Skyhigh India called us one fine day and said, “We have a slot open for tomorrow. Can someone come and do it?” The rest of the day involved us tiptoeing around to find someone who was mentally prepared to jump out of a plane in a day’s notice. Amidst all the chaos, I sat down and asked myself, “Why not me? Do I have the guts to take the giant leap?” The answer was loud and clear – I did. That also meant that I had to go to a general physician and get my pulse rate and BP checked to procure a mandatory medical fitness certificate to do the dive.
My only worry was, I was an adventure sports virgin. Forget skydiving, I had never done rafting, paragliding or even trekking before. But up I was at 6.00am the next day, on my way to the Aligarh airstrip – the Skyhigh India base – to do the mother of all adventure sports. My mind was a blank slate since I hadn’t a clue about what was coming my way. More than anything else, I tried not to constantly think about it in order to avoid an anxiety attack up in the air. That’s what skydiving is all about: living in the moment and experiencing life at its fullest and freest.
Rudra Bhani Solanki, skydiver and founder of Skyhigh India, was nice enough to drive me to the airstrip, which is about 140km from Delhi. En route, I asked him a few general questions about the sport. Being a licensed Skydiver from Arizona (the ‘Mecca of Skydiving’, as he calls it), Solanki is the perfect person to lay all your fears to rest. He had told me that all dives at Skyhigh were currently tandem jumps, which means you’re harnessed to your instructor during the dive and he is the one pulling the parachute cord at the right time, steering it and ensuring a safe landing. You just have to be mentally healthy, moderately fit, weigh under 90kgs and, most importantly, follow instructions when you’re up in the air (and don’t forget to smile because you’re on camera!).
Upon reaching the Aligarh airstrip, I met another jumper who was going to dive before me. We had to sign a lengthy indemnity bond comprising the clauses, risks, etc. that were involved in the sport. Reading about the risks and signing a contract exempting the organiser from all liabilities can be a little daunting and scary. But that’s where trust comes in – in this case, you just need to trust the instructor, the parachute systems and Skyhigh India.
A little after I signed the contract that read ‘death’ in about every other line, Rudra showed me the parachute bag and explained its mechanics. From what I gathered, the instructor pulls the main parachute after about 30 seconds of free fall in the air (yes, you just read ‘free fall’) and in extreme cases, when the primary parachute doesn’t work, the reserve parachute will be pulled. Hold on, there’s more cushioning – the reserve parachute is also equipped with an AAD (Automatic Activation Device), which activates the chute if you are not able to pull your parachute and are falling from a certain height at a certain speed. All the parachutes at Skyhigh India are taken to Dubai (which is where the closest USPA-approved rigging loft is) every 180 days for regular inspection, maintenance and reserve parachute repacking.
Before you can jump out of a plane, you will have to undergo a 40-minute long training session with an instructor during which the essential signs for mid-air communication are taught and the flying position for free fall is practised. My instructor, Mr. Rajan, has 21 years of para jump experience with the Indian Air Force and also holds a United States Parachute Association (USPA) certificate as a coach and tandem instructor. After learning all this about the people who were organising the dive, my initial fears about the safety of the sport began dwindling. A majority of the people I’ve spoken to about skydiving in Aligarh have all had inhibitions about the safety of the sport in our country. But I wasn’t going to stress about that yet. It was finally my time to go when the pilot of the plane said that it couldn’t be done on that particular day because the wind velocity was higher than recommended. So I went back home, not with a disappointed state of mind but with an extreme sense of satisfaction that the organisers were not ready to take even the slightest bit of risk with anyone’s life.
Two days later, I was at the Aligarh airstrip again; this time the wind velocity, my state of mind, and safety parametres, were all in sync. In no time, I was inside a plane without a door (specially customised by the engineers here for the extreme sport) ascending to insane heights. At this point it hit me that I was finally going to jump out of the plane into the vast, seamless sky and then trust the instructor and the parachute with my life. It’s about letting emotions at two extreme ends of the spectrum – trust and fear and excitement and anxiety – balance each other out in those moments. I sat there, singing songs to calm myself down, staring out at the blue sky and observing the airstrip and the buildings below shrink in size. About 20 minutes later, when we reached an altitude of about 5,000ft, I was asked to sit in front of the instructor and my harness was attached to his.
We were sitting about one step away from the footboard of the plane, with wind velocity so high that I could barely hear a spoken word. The next five to ten minutes were a blur – 7,000ft, 8,000ft, 9,000ft, and we were in the drop zone. When you’re in the drop zone, you have no time to think, no time to back down, no time to stress, the only thing you have to do in those two seconds is take a deep breath, step out of the plane on to the footboard, wait for your instructor’s sign, let every fear go, and jump!
The next 30 seconds of my life made me feel more alive than I’ve ever felt – free fall, from 10,000ft above ground level, with the Sun being the only familiar sight at hand. But I wasn’t even thinking about that, my mind was empty, I was living in the moment, while the wind whipped my face and my body hurtled towards the ground.
Suddenly, the parachute was opened and I could sense tears trickling down my cheek and I was uttering things like ‘why don’t I do things like this for myself more often!’ The next five minutes of descent with the parachute’s help allowed me to take in the stunning views as I steered the chute. A little while before landing, the instructor took control of the parachute from my hands to ensure that we landed within the designated landing area.
People could have varied reactions after landing. A massive sense of fearlessness came to me the second I safely touched the ground. Death is the biggest fear most of us have, and once you’ve jumped into the maws of death and escaped unscathed, every other fear and trouble in your life seems inconsequential; you will start feeling invincible. Adrenaline is a magic potion, after all.
Things to Keep in Mind
It is mandatory to procure a basic medical fitness certificate from your general physician before you jump. This extreme adventure sport is not recommended for patients with heart diseases and uncontrollable blood sugar problems. As mentioned earlier, persons who weigh more than 90kgs are strictly not allowed to dive here. You will need to carry a government photo ID card for signing up for the insurance.
On the day of the dive, make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes. During winter months, you will need to carry a jacket. Although you are provided with jumpsuits at the venue, you need to remember that the temperature is much lower when you’re up in the sky, than when you’re standing on ground. Eat well a few hours before the dive, for the activity tends to sap you of your energy. Do not consume alcohol for a day before the dive.
Skydiving is an activity that is dependent on the forces of nature.
If on any day the wind speed is higher than recommended, you may be asked to wait or come back another day. Make sure you’re prepared for circumstances of that sort. It is essential to not lose your temper in such situations and trust your instructor and pilot because they know better and will do what is best to ensure a great experience. When you’re up in the air, do as the instructor says; keep your eyes open and just enjoy the free fall.
About Skyhigh India
It took about four years for Rudra Bhanu Solanki to get all the paper work cleared and logistics arranged to start Skyhigh India. Recognised by the USPA as a foreign affiliate, Skyhigh began operations on the Aligarh airstrip in February 2016.
They operate from a tastefully designed, compact container office space that they have built from scratch, close to the runway of the Aligarh airstrip. The tiny space is divided into three parts – one for seating of guests, divers and staff, one for the equipment and one for training. They also have an office in Yashwant Place, New Delhi.
Skyhigh India is the only commercial skydiving company in India. The company follows the rules set by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the USPA strictly, and hence your safety is their top-most priority. In the short period of time that they’ve been on the circuit, they have done over 200 drops. They will be more than ready to answer all your doubts about the sport if you decide to jump. They also give you a certificate and merchandise after you successfully finish the dive.
So if skydiving has always been on your list, you don’t have to go all the way to Seville, Dubai or New Zealand anymore; just get to the Aligarh airstrip. Even if the sport has never been on your bucket list (like in my case), it needs to be tried at least once, for it definitely is a life changing experience.
For more details about safety instructions, jump day and Skyhigh, log onto skyhighindia.com
A dive with Skyhigh India costs ₹ 27,500 (with camera and video recording/ editing) and ₹ 23,500 without video.
Where to Stay & Eat
There is a small canteen inside the Aligarh airstrip itself in case your nerves don’t get the better of you and you’re hungry or have to wait around for your turn to jump. The canteen makes eggs, Maggi, chai and other basic food there.
If you wish to stay for a night close to the jump site, Skyhigh India can arrange for your stay as well as transportation.
In case you choose to stay at a hotel in Aligarh town, Hotel Abha Residency (Tel: 0571-2400041-2, Cell: 09568200044; Tariff: ₹ 3,299– 4,299), Palm Tree Hotel (Tel: 2404406, Cell: 08171956423/ 20; Tariff: ₹ 3,750–5,750), Melrose Inn (Tel: 2402801-3, Cell: 09927036828; Tariff: ₹ 2,650–5,700) or Galaxy (Tel: 2508847, 2507065, Cell: 093681- 75847; Tariff: ₹ 1,599–2,999) are some of the good options here. All these hotels have restaurants and Internet facilities.
When to go Skyhigh runs its services through most part of the year, except during heavy rains. It is advisable to go during early/ late winters or early summer.
Skyhigh, GoForth Adventures Pvt. Ltd., B-126 Yashwant Place Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Cell: 09899953446, Email: email@example.com
For more details about safety instructions, jump day and about the company, log onto skyhighindia.com. Bookings can be done online
Aligarh Airstrip, Aligarh–Kanpur Expressway, Uttar Pradesh
Air Nearest airport: Indira Gandhi International Airport is connected to all major metros and cities in India.
Rail New Delhi Railway Station offers connections to Aligarh Junction. The Kalka Mail, Neelachal Express and Magadh Express all stop here
Road From the Yamuna Expressway exit onto the Palwal-Aligarh road, continue onto the Bajna-Aligarh Rd/Kanwari Ganj Rd/Khair-Aligarh Rd. Turn left onto the Khair Bypass; At Sootmil Chauraha, take the 3rd exit onto GT Rd; Pass by Yamaha Agency (on the left in 1km), then at Agrasen Chowk, take the 1st exit onto NH509; Turn right onto Railway Station Road. Skyhigh India also arranges transfers (paid) from Delhi (About ₹ 8,000 door-to-door)