Ankur Bhagat lives in New Jersey and works with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He's logged hundreds of skydives and BASE jumps since his first in 2001.
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.' Leonardo da Vinci did not have skydiving in mind but his words explain how my life has been since my first jump.
Like other kids, I too jumped off furniture pretending to be Superman, but my short leaps weren't much fun. I often wondered what it'd be like to really fly. Years later, as a colleague narrated her first skydive, my desire was rekindled. I began research that evening and not long after, I was signing up for an accelerated free fall (AFF) program at a local 'dropzone' in New Jersey.
In America, AFF training is overseen by the US Parachute Association (each country has its own PA). AFF starts with a six-hour ground school that covers the A to Z of skydiving. My favourite bit was malfunctions. That's when you realise that what goes up doesn't always come down pretty. Armed with this knowledge, I was ready to make my first jump.
My emotions ran wild to say the least. Minutes after climbing into a Cessna 206, we were airborne. The ride up was self-inflicted torture as my head replayed every potentially ugly outcome. At 13,000 feet the door opened, my instructors took a good grip on me and 3, 2, and 1...! What it feels to leave a perfectly good airplane for the first time is difficult to describe, you have to do it to know it. To paint a picture, imagine unbounded fear and anxiety on a collision course with breathtaking amazement and intense exhilaration. For the first time I realised what 9.8m/s2 really meant in practical terms. As elated as I was, I was also truly humbled by this experience; and continue to be to this day.
Skydive Aamby Valley is based out of Mumbai and operates in nearby Aamby Valley. Bird's Paradise Extreme Resort and Thai Sky Adventures are both based in Thailand. Skydive Dubai Desert Campus is located just outside the Emirate. All four are US Parachute Association affiliates and follow the same standards
Jaideep Prabhu is a PhD student at Vanderbilt University. He's logged 16 dives since 2011.
Neptune was never my favourite god, perhaps because he only blessed me with middling aquatic skills. As a child, it was the thunder of Saturn V rockets that gave me goosebumps, not the silence of the Ohio class submarines. I came to scuba on a whim; something better to do over Thanksgiving Break than a trip to Las Vegas, and boy, was I glad!
My first dive trip was to Cozumel, Mexico. My initial trepidation eased somewhat when I found out that the dive suit itself was buoyant enough to keep me afloat. Then, as I descended past 20 feet I first felt...tranquillity. Not the lonely sort you might find on a mountain top, but a rich, integrated sense of peacefulness, of oneness with the world.
The only sound was my own Darth Vader-esque breathing as the spectacularly blue water enveloped me. Fish swam right past, as if I were merely a plant or rock; a few feet below, a turtle was snacking. I was almost weightless, floating over the edge of an underwater cliff. It took me half a second to realise I wouldn't fall! I was switched off from the world, its emails, phone calls, and tweets. I might as well have been the only person on the planet; or a guest on my own.
I could go on, but it is ultimately an experience to be had in person. Much like summitting a mountain or imbibing a good wine, it cannot fully be described. Few activities propel you into a different world. Short of space flight, scuba is one such adventure. If you are a little hesitant, I can assure you it is very safe unless you do something stupid. You can start your adventure by signing up for a course with PADI or NAUI, two of the most popular scuba programs in the world.
The Andamans offers India's best mix of clear water and rich marine life. Goa is popular but look for dive shops that add Netrani Island to the package, where the water is better. Lakshadweep has stellar dive spots but is the hardest to access of the three
Dhananjay Bhole worked in the corporate world. He quit to follow his passion and now organises his own adventure expeditions.
The outdoors always held a strong fascination for me. At Barnes School, Deolali, where I was a student, our teachers encouraged (some would say 'pushed') us to participate in all kinds of outdoor activities and sports. So we went headlong into swimming, cross-country, football and hockey from a very early age. As I grew older, my life filled with familial responsibilities. These forced my love for the outdoors to take a backseat, even though I wanted otherwise.
Then, by chance, 2009 happened. That year, I went off on my first river rafting expedition to Rishikesh with friends. As we climbed into the raft, the first thing that hit us was the cold water. Not long after, the waves from the first rapid began to toss us around.
There's only one way to describe my mental state at that point: it was fear and thrill all at once. I remember wondering why we had to sit on the edge of the bouncy raft when there was so much space in the middle. Surely, it would prevent anyone from being thrown overboard.
Our first rapid lasted only a few seconds, but even in that short time, we had been chewed up and spat out before any of us realised what had happened. Over the next four days, we paddled and floated 22 kilometres down the Ganga from 'Marine Drive' beach to 'Shivpuri' beach.
When I got home, I knew that I wanted to do this again. Not long after, I was taking my own groups. If you've been thinking about giving rafting a shot, my suggestion is to head straight to the Rishikesh sector of the Ganga. It offers everything from big, splashy rapids to calm stretches where you can get into other activities such as bodysurfing or simply dive in for a swim.
While most Indian rivers are open from October to June to avoid the monsoons, most rafting happens in the late winter. It's wise to bring a bodysuit to protect yourself from the cold. Rishikesh also has plenty of places to hike and rapel, which adds more adventure to your expedition. Once you're comfortable in a raft graduate to more extreme stretches on the Zanskar or Bhramaputra.
The Rishikesh sector along the Ganga has a good mix of calm stretches and challenging rapids, ideal for beginners. It also offers hop-off points for other adventure sports. More advanced rivers include the Zanskar and Bhramaputra