The sky captain’s school

As we enter Lugazi on route A109 towards Jinja, Google Maps suggests we take an unpaved dirt road on the left. The red slushy path meanders through small shops and houses and an eerie sense of awareness creeps in as villagers notice the Toyota Rav4 rolling into their ‘area’. I read last night that the 10km stretch to the Griffin falls camp area would be dirt roads winding through sugar-cane plantations. Last night’s rain and the incessant drizzle seem to have worsened the roads. Thankfully, the Rav4 handled the conditions insanely well.

A few kilometers in, direction signs to the camp lead us to the camp site. Looks like we’re the only two folks who’d be zip-lining today. Setup by Aaron Blanchard a US Peace Corps volunteer in 2014, the Mabira forest canopy super skywayΒ is a phenomenal way to explore one of Central Uganda’s rainforests. After a short 15 minute walk in the woods from the campsite, the ‘Sky Captains’ guide you up a ~40 ft tree from where you zip-line across the forest on five zips with the last one being a controlled repel between two 115 foot trees across the river Musamya. I’ve zip-lined a few times before, but never in a forest this high. Richard and Gerald – Our Sky captains did a terrific job showing us around and securely navigating us on the trees. Once off the zip system, Gerald led us to Griffin falls and then back to the campsite.

River Musamya is heavily polluted by the Sugar factories upstream. Mabira forest by itself is on the cusp of heavy deforestation. The Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) – Jointly owned by the Government of Uganda and The Mehta GroupΒ apparently planned to clear one-third of the forest area to create sugarcane plantations in 2007. With resistance from local non-profits and environment groups the government is seemingly caving in. Very recently, it announced to buy-out the mabira forest residents. With all things environmental, politics and business we’d never really know where this balance is going to tilt.

On our way back, a guy from a village asked us to pull-over and checked if we could give him a ride to Lugazi. We were neutral but politely said we couldn’t. One of those times where you never really know what’s the right thing to do in a foreign place…Also, there apparently has been an underlying racial tension against Asians here since the Mehta group is an Indian firm and the Chinese too do seem to have a strong presence in the Sugar business.

On the drive back to Kampala, It struck me why I really like travelling or doing things outdoors. It’s just not about the activity that you end up doing, It’s the broader awareness that you get when you’re exposed to the framework that has led to the creation of that event.

Flying 31 with the reindeer

PC&JC gifted Miss Me, little L and me a soaring gift for our birthdays. Four minutes of controlled flight ‘flew’ by incredibly fast. Calls for a return for some more certification dives soon and no, the solid whack at the end was not planned.

Up in thin air! – Parasailing

There are so many places and occasions where you can sit back, relax and rethink on your strategy and future course in life. I wonder why it’s always the other way round for me. Above 450m from the ground, where you have no control on yourself and have vested your dear life to the hands of some unknown person is definitely not a place to plan you next move!

I’d been to Bangalore yesterday and it turned out to be just for Para-sailing! πŸ™‚ I left from Hyderabad on Saturday evening at about 3:30 pm. I was fortunate enough to get tickets by the state bus service, which by itself was quite surprising given the short notice that I had. Sheku, Shilpa and Vairav were to join me in Bangalore. Reached B’lore on sunday morning by about 6:00 am and made it to the Infy Ecity campus by around 7:30 am. Vairavan had come down from Chennai the previous day and could arrange some accommodation. He, his friend Sharada and myself left for silk board by 8:00 am. Sharada had to pick up some stuff from her house so both of them got down midway and promised to get back ASAP. I’d asked Shilpa and Sheku to be there at the Silk board bus stop by 7:30. Poor sheku was well before time πŸ™‚ ! You should have seen the reaction on their faces the moment I was there! Not finding the other two added just some more adrenalin in their bodies πŸ™‚ . I’m not to be blamed for that πŸ˜‰ !!

Sheku, Shilpa and I left for KR puram. by a 500D bus service and reached the cable bridge bus stop in about half an hour. This is just a few stops after Marathalli. It was already quarter past nine and both of us were desperately looking for a hotel to grab a bite before we left for Hoskot where the Para sailing was to take place. All we could find was a guy selling hot idlis on a push cart. Each got a plate and gobbled all that we could. I bet even a three star hotel can’t beat that taste!

None of us really knew how to get to Hoskote, so we placed a call to Anand who was handling the event that day and got the requisite directions. We had to board a 317 bus from the KR puram cable bridge bus stand and get down at a bus stop called Koti. This place is about 12kms from KR Puram and you get to find quite a few buses. The most prominent landmark ( atleast all of what I noticed πŸ˜‰ ) of this place is a BP Petrol bunk and a Punjabhi shack dhabha on either side of the road. We thought it would be wise to wait for Vairavan and Sharada and then move together .

They did end up coming in about twenty minutes and all five of us started walking to the main parasailing area. You need to walk over a short bridge, take the immediate left and keep walking in the direction where you get to see Parasails in the air! – These are the directions that was given to us by Anand. Hell! I don’t blame him. That was the best he could provide! πŸ™‚ . Topographically , locating our destination was pretty interesting! πŸ™‚ The river bed was almost dry and we had beautiful black and white buffaloes to guide us all through the path. Reached a place where the path ceased to take us any further. Fortunately this is where we caught a glimpse of one of the Parasails in the air and in a matter of about ten minutes we reached the place where the the remaining folks from AdVentura were seated.

We had to fill declaration forms before we could get the gear on us and shoot up in the air. Well, that’s just a formality that comes with any adventure activity. Shilpa was the first to get hooked with the sail. She’d done it before so she was pretty cool with that. Then was my turn. I’m not particularly afraid of heights, But then butterflies somehow manage to create a flutter once a while. That’s where the real thrill is! πŸ™‚ There’s nothing to be afraid of , given the expertise of the team that was conducting the event but then emotions is something that is under your control! Anyways, this is how it works, you are given a proper gear to hook yourself up with the para-sail. A long strong chord is tethered to the sail to which you are hooked and the other end is jacked on to a car. Once you’re all set, the guy accelerates forward and your up in the air even before you realise what’s happening! πŸ™‚

The real fun is in living every moment of your flight! Keep your eyes wide open , stare into the sky, look at people down there , shout even if you are not scared or the best thing to do would be to fancy having to jump from that height if nothing else scares you πŸ˜‰ ! The initial tug that you get when the vehicle accelerates is just fabulous! The very feeling of helplessness and total sense of your surroundings at a height of about 400m is something which just cannot be explained! You need to experience it! Once in air , it’s not much of a scare. So as i told you, the best thing to do would be to visualize the chord to suddenly break loose..the rest is your imagination! πŸ™‚ . Vairavan, Sheku and Sharada soon were done with! It was real fun to watch Sharada . Poor female, real light that she was, had lotsa trouble trying to come down. Heavy gusts of wind added to her misery! She was defying gravity in the real sense! πŸ™‚

The journey back home to Hyderabad was as much good. Subash managed to get a ticket booked for me. It happened to be one right in the front. Watching the driver zip on the roads at high speeds, skillfully maneuvering through the night traffic was just great. It kept me awake for the most part of the journey. I’ve traveled quite a few times by bus but was always seated somewhere at the last.

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. Thanks to Adventura, Anand and Suma in particular for organizing the whole event. One thing off my checklist of things to do. Gotta try river rafting next!

Shall upload the pics and videos as and when Vairavan or Shilpz zips them to me!