Kullu shawl industry losing sheen
Jagmeet Y Ghuman

The Kullu shawl weaving industry is on downward slide and perhaps on the path to oblivion. According to information available, the number of weavers has declined by 50 per cent since the last census in 1995. This is an ample indication how the cash starved weavers are either choosing other job avenues to make their both ends meet or leaving the valley for greener pastures.

The art, synonymous to Kullu valley’s beauty worldwide, is virtually dying slow death. The expectation from state government to web a hope of revival is like a water illusion amidst desert.

The slump in weaving industry has in fact forced many weavers to shut up the profession in distress. Ironically, many Kullu weavers have opted to go to Ludhiana weaving units despite working condition there are quite adverse for them.

Moreover, the lack of return from the profession has led the weavers turn to other quick means of income, especially during the tourist season, thus causing deficit in demand and supply. In Ludhiana, the working hours are fixed, hence shawls woven per day are more and therefore when paid on a piece wise basis, the weavers earn more there than in Kullu. This has resulted in forcing more migration of weavers from Kullu to Ludhiana.

In a commendable gesture, MyHimachal, an NGO along with Anoop H. Jyothsna Sekar, Shilpa Kendre and Shilpi Baral the first year students of MBA in SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai, launched a “save weaver” campaign recently. The students, with the help of My Himachal, have done an extensive survey of industry. They interacted with weavers by visiting their homes in interior of valley, found out the problems related to fall in industry and summed up the ways to revive the industry.

While sharing their experiences the students said market accessibility is the main problem for the weavers in Kullu. The urban and international markets can be potential gold mines for this industry. But at present there is no mechanism there to market the shawl in national and international markets.

As of now, exhibitions are the only means through which small players make their sales. The poor accessibility to market makes it difficult for them to sell their products year round. The inexpensive shawls from the Ludhiana market are sold as Kullu shawls in the Kullu market. The shawls are cheaper in Ludhiana due to local wool processing units leading to cheaper raw material, abundant availability of labour and mass production of shawls.

Interestingly, the tourists who land up in Kullu, are usually convinced by the local autowallas to buy the machine made shawls under the name of Kullu shawls. Inquiries show that the auto and bus drivers get hefty commissions for taking tourists to the specific shops to buy these readymade shawls.

In these circumstances it is need of hour to make the outsiders aware of the difference between a handcrafted shawl and a machine made one. One of the prime focuses should also to be educating the customers about the GI (Geographical Indicator) and the handloom mark.

The government of India has introduced the handloom mark in order to help the customers differentiate between the handmade and machine made shawls. However, except for the large societies, this mark is not being used much. They are under the impression that the process of getting a handloom mark is very lengthy and time consuming but this not true.

A geographical indicator under the name of ‘Kullu shawl’ has been registered in 2006 by the Kullu Shawl Weavers’ Association. This ensures that only handmade shawls made in Kullu are labeled as Kullu shawls. However, the GI has not been implemented so far making the threat from the Ludhiana shawls even worse. The logo for the GI itself has not yet been designed. The responsibility of the design lies with the Science & Technology Department of the state and the implementation responsibility on the Weavers’ association.

The number of weavers in the valley has decreased from 28,500 (according to the 1995 census) to approximately 11,000. This is because the benefits of the schemes do not reach those at the grass root level and hence weavers are opting out of the industry and making it a seasonal industry by taking up weaving in their free time or in winters when sources of quick income dry up. The weaving business is fast becoming unviable.

The entry of private players like Fab India, Bombay Store, etc have good national and international reach to directly source products from the weavers. In order to tap new markets, it is important to diversify into products like cushion covers, throws, stoles, tablecloths, curtains etc. while still maintaining the traditional Kullu pattern. Also, alternative raw material like silk and cotton yarn can be mixed and matched removing the over dependence on wool.

In present scenario, the challenges before Kullu weavers are many. The most prominent among those is illiteracy. In fact, illiteracy makes these weavers oblivious to the extent of their own capabilities and skills. With the meager wages, inaccessible markets, threat from power looms, lack of entrepreneurial drive and the exploitation associated with illiteracy, the average weaver has a hand-to-mouth existence. Ironically, the weaver is gradually being pulled deeper into the spirals of poverty.

Organising this scattered industry, although a Herculean task, would definitely help to make Kullu an export hub by catering to the huge demand in a more systematic way under the guidance of an apex body, pointed out the students. The entry of private players would also throw open the doors to bigger markets and better management of skilled labour. As far as tourist awareness is concerned, HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism & Development Corporation) can play a pivotal role. We are in touch with the tourism department who have agreed to help spread awareness on Kullu shawls through ads, hoardings and brochures advertising Himachal tourism, reveal the students.



Anti-poppy cultivation drive in Chohar valley
Kuldeep Chauhan

In the absence of a sustainable alternative cash crop, the farmers continue to depend upon the contraband poppy cultivation in remote Chohar valley in Mandi district over the years. Local farmers, despite ban on its cultivation, term poppy plant as “pahari gobhi” to give it a legitimacy of sorts.

The farmers took to poppy cultivation in the 1990s in 12 panchayats that falls in Chohar valley in Drang constituency. They allege they were encouraged by the political vested interests and opium smugglers to cultivate poppy to produce opium, which find ready national and international markets.

In fact, Chohar valley emerged as a notorious haven for the contraband poppy cultivation in the 1990s. The HP police and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Department of Customs had launched the joint anti-poppy drives in the valley in 2003.

But the poppy cultivation continues to be coming up in many pockets in Chohar valley as the area remains cut off from outside world. The farmers say they have no viable alternative to poppy crop that can provide them sustainable means of livelihood.

The valley has potential to grow vegetables, horticulture and floriculture, but few farmers have taken initiative in this regard. The government has yet to make serious efforts at encouraging farmers to switch over to the cultivation of the horticulture in the valley.

The irony of the story is that Chohar valley is just 40 to 50 kms away from the NH. But the valley not only remains cut off from the mainstream, but it still is steeped in illiteracy, superstition and economic poverty.

The HP police, revenue and forest authorities had remained mute witnesses to the poppy cultivation as local political vested interest allegedly encouraged farmers to cultivate poppy to make quick buck. Time was when the poppy flourished in 10 panchayats out of 12 panchayats in Chohar valley. The farmers grew nothing but poppy as they found it easier to raise the crop and made quick money.

In two separate operations, department of customs, under then commissioner, Amritsar Romash Bhattacharya and NCB under the leadership of the then superintendent, OP Sharma, launched anti-poppy drives in Chohar valley with the help of HP police in 2003 for the first time in the state.

The HP police and custom team destroyed illegal standing poppy crop in over 1,750 bighas while another joint NCB and police team destroyed over 1,342 bighas of land in Chohar valley in 2003. 

The anti-poppy drives have yielded encouraging results as poppy cultivation over the years has reduced to some 30 bighas this time. The police registered 40 criminal cases against poppy farmers under the NDPS Act about two years ago that instilled fear among the farmers that poppy cultivation could land them behind bars.

Former superintendent, NCB, OP Sharma, who had led the anti-poppy operation in Chohar valley in 2003, said, “It appeared that farmers were being encouraged by both opium smugglers and local politicians to grow poppy in the valley. We hold workshops for villagers on dangerous consequences of opium after the operation at Paddar. We advise them to switch over to horticulture and vegetable crops. But the objective can be achieved if all departments are involved in this effort which should continue till the farmers abstain from its cultivation.”

Superintendent of police, Mandi district, M Chandra Sekhar, said, “The poppy cultivation has come from 600 bighas of land detected earlier to some 30 bighas this year. The anti-poppy drive launched in the valley has achieved its objective as no standing poppy crop was detected in the valley during the drive.”

The experts say that the string of punishment for those who indulge in illegal cultivation should be coupled with the balm of prevention. “The farmers need road connectivity and irrigation facilities so that they can cultivate vegetables and horticultural crops and bring their produce to the market,” they add.



Agri-tourism to bring economic prosperity
Rakesh Lohumi

Concerned over the degenerating influence of the commercial tourism on their   unique traditions and rich cultural heritage, the tribals of the Sangla valley have taken initiative to promote agri-tourism on the pattern of Switzerland. By organising the first-ever household tourism festival at Sangla in Kinnaur early this week, they have taken a small but significant step towards achieving the bigger goal of preserving the rich and unique built-up heritage, arts, crafts, food habits and above all the traditional wisdom which sustained the rich culture since ages. The event attracted a large number of foreigners who were served a feast of folk dances and tribal cuisine.

The picturesque Sangla valley is as beautiful as Switzerland but its vast potential for nature tourism remained untapped for long due to inner line restrictions under which outsiders were required to obtain permit to visit the area. However, the opening of the scenic valley outsiders in 1994, led to a spurt in tourist traffic and it emerged as favoured destinations of foreigners in no time. The resultant boom in the tourism industry led to surge in construction activity, which not only marred the pristine beauty of the alley but also posed a threat to traditional architecture. Concrete structures, which did not blend with the hill architecture at all, started mushrooming everywhere, right up to Chitkul, the last village of the valley bordering China. 

It did not take much time for the highlanders to realise that commercial tourism was benefiting only a few wealthy families and was posing a threat not only to the ecologically fragile hill environment but also altering their entire lifestyle. As outsiders managed most of the hotels and guesthouses, their cuisine and food habits were undergoing a change. The traditional crops like buckwheat and kala zira were no longer grown as continental food was fast replacing the traditional delicacies. It indeed alarmed the elders as these high calorific grains and condiments helped them to endure the extreme cold conditions. 

They embarked on a plan to promote community-based agri-tourism under the banner of Sangla Valley Sustainable Development Society with well known mountaineer and Everest climber Vidya Karan as chairman. Vice chancellor of the Himachal Agriculture University, Palampur, Dr Tej Pratap, and chairman of the Himalayan Research Group, Dr Lal Singh, who have been frequenting the valley to propagate organic farming, became willing partners. They are providing technical support to the society for capacity building by imparting training to local people in hospitality skills. In the first phase a group of 35 families have been selected for household tourism.

The next step will be to involve the tourists in farm operations like ploughing fields using a yak, grazing sheep in alpine pastures and cooking traditional delicacies. Besides, angling in local streams, which are known for cold-water fisheries, mountaineering and skiing will be additional attraction.

Lal Singh is more concerned about preserving the traditional cuisine and plans to carry out scientific validation of various delicacies to know how they helped the tribals in combating the extreme cold conditions. Vidya is happy with the support extended by the state tourism and the tribal department and plans to make the event an annual feature.



State fails to attract Information Technology
Ambika Sharma

Despite having pollution free environs considered ideal for setting up of information technology (IT) based industries, Himachal is yet to attract investors towards this field.

Initially, the government had earmarked specific sites where IT based industries could be set up, yet few companies have come forward to opt for them. Taking a cue from the well-developed IT park of Chandigarh and Mohali, the successive governments here endeavoured to develop specific sites for this prestigious industry.

A site of nearly 517 bighas has been set aside near Waknaghat and another site of 134.32 acres has been earmarked at village Kotla-Barog on the banks of river Giri near Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni, too has been kept exclusively for IT based industries. Though a number of renowned companies had initially shown their inclination to invest here, but nothing could materialize despite deliberations. Officials in the department, however, painted an optimistic picture and said, “Talks are underway with a renowned IT company which is proposing to impart training to nearly 10,000 students at the Kotla-Barog site on the Solan-Rajgarh road.  What is however being worked out is if some relaxation can be granted to the investors in the compulsory employment of 70 per cent Himachalis. The company has been demanding this relaxation and talks are underway to finalize the project as adherence to the employment norm was a mandatory clause as per the 2004 employment policy of Himachal.

While companies are desirous of coming to Himachal, what acts as a deterrent is the lack of air connectivity to the earmarked sites.  Kotla-Barog is located on Solan-Rajgarh state highway, with no other means of transportation apart from the roadways. “With time being a major constrain for the investors, we want air connectivity to such places so as to enable us to operate between different states in shorter times,” confided an investor desirous of investing in Himachal.

Despite having immense potential to draw capital in this sector due to appropriate weather conditions, nothing much has been achieved in developing such sites. The Kotla-Barog site, located about 4-kms away from the state highway, is in a deplorable condition. The investors have not found favour with it due to its remote location though they are on a look out for a secluded place away from the habitations.   Some success could however be achieved if the government decides to set up helipads by  coordinating with the investors near the proposed sites. This could bring rich dividends to the state and that too at zero pollution.



Former cop on a literary path
Pratibha Chauhan

Science may have done wonders and transformed human lives but it has also led to an imbalance which can only be corrected through scientific meditation which needs to be incorporated in school curriculum.

These are the thoughts penned by R.R. Varma, a former director general of police and chairman of the State Public Service Commission in his latest book, “Culture of Enlightenment”. The book was released last month at Delhi by Dr Karan Singh, an eminent scholar on Indian scriptures.

 “To transform the materially and scientifically revolutionized world, we need a new world order based on new values and virtues to be achieved through a system of education rooted in the union of science and spirituality,” says Varma. He adds that it is only when science weds spirituality that we can combat global concerns like terrorism, star wars and the mad race of consumerism.

Being associated with the Yogoda Satsang Society of India for the last three decades, talking about spirituality and scientific meditation comes naturally to the former IPS officer. “It’s not that I didn’t feel this way while I was in service but after retirement I have found more time for writing on the issue,” he says.

He strongly advocates the need to change the present day education system as it is very defective and only addresses the problems of mind and body but leaves the spirit untouched. “We have to move beyond the mind, though limitless, is only avdiya (physical science), which knows matter but not the spirit.

Varma has two other books to his credit. The first being a commentary on the Bhagwad Gita in English and later another one in Hindi, a much more arduous task he did for his publishers, Prakash Books. “The mystery of spirit is resolved through vidya, which reveals both matter and spirit, because it teaches intuition (brahma vidya), the supreme art to know the unknown and the only source to bestow bliss,” he further elaborates. He adds it is for this very reason that elite of the world including sages, scientists and statesmen must unite to lead and transform the global society to usher in a new culture based on education system, which will teach that human kind has evolved from one source and has one aim of enlightenment.

Thus we must address ourselves to combat the common concerns to attain security, peace and enlightenment. “The easier path to enlightenment is scientific spirituality which is based on a creatively designed culture to train the body, mind and the self to humanize, universalize and spiritualize the human kind.

He says no religion can be opposed to scientific meditation, which must be made an integral part of school curriculum. “Introducing the police force, army and other forces to scientific meditation can solve stress related problems which are getting more and more complex in the present day living,” he says.

His book touches diverse issues like science and yoga, spiritual enlightenment, various forms of yoga and the upanishads.



Dhiraina village awaits Khali
S. R. Pundir

Residents of Dhiraina village in Sirmour district are in jubilant mood, they are eagerly waiting for the arrival of great wrestler and great son of Sirmour, Daleep Singh Rana popularly known with the name of ‘The Great Khali’ world wide. Rana had returned India on May 2 after a gap of three years from USA and is expected to visit his native village Dhiraina late this month.

His family members and people of his panchayat are looking forward to his visit, although the date is yet to be finalised.

Though away form his folks, his absence was not felt much as Khali was always in news, courtesy the national and regional TV channels. Some of the reporters working with electronic media have literally camped themselves in the hilly village, not bothering the inconvenience faced by the residents due to their presence.

The reason to celebrate doubled after Himachal Pradesh government announced to honour the undisputed badshah of wrestling for bringing laurels for the state. Villagers, with great pride, narrate the anecdotes related to Khali. That he had done a cameo in Hollywood flick ‘Football’, is something every native of the village is proud of. Madan Singh of Naini Dhar panchayat is hopeful that Khali would prove a good actor. “Khali is very honest, hardworking and impressive person, his success on cinema screen is sure,” he averred.

Born in 1972 in a small hilly village Dhiraina which falls in the Naini Dhar Panchyat under Shillai tehsil, Daleep Singh Rana brought laurel to the country as well as Himachal Pradesh after becoming the world renowned wrestler of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

On his arrival in Delhi he was informed by his brothers and friends that his new house having doors of 8 feet height and windows of 6 feet was almost ready and interior work was going on war footing which would be completed before his arrival. Besides, his mother Tandi Devi, father Jawalu Ram, Khali’s six brothers and a sister Daya Devi are all waiting eagerly for his arrival.  

7 foot and 3 inch tall Daleep Singh Rana strongly believes that his spiritual guru Ashutosh Maharaj, who always encouraged him and graced him with his divine blessings. After reaching India his first activity was to visit his guru along with his wife Parminder Kaur.

Khali was a worker in Shimla working for 1,800 rupees a month when he was taken to Jullundhar by the then I.G. of Punjab Armed Police, Bahal Singh Bhullar, in 1993. Bhullar tried to make him volley ball player, but he developed back pain. On the advise of doctor, he was encouraged to become body builder. With his honesty and hard work, Rana slowly rose to international level. First he went to San Francisco in USA and visited Japan where he became very popular as WWF wrestler. After that Rana joined WWE in USA and became world wide popular with his new name ‘The Great Khali’. Rest, they say, is history.



shimla diary
Leaders back CM’s son
Pratibha Chauhan

The BJP MLA’s and other senior leaders are working overtime not just to ensure the victory of Anurag Thakur, BJP candidate and son of P.K. Dhumal from Hamirpur, but to give the highest possible lead to the party from their segment as this is likely to determine the award that they will get from the Chief Minister.

Even though the BJP victory is a foregone conclusion but the question for the ruling party is to ensure a bigger winning margin than the over 80,000 by which Dhumal had won the seat. “The fact that a lesser voter turn out and complacency of the voters could affect the victory margin which will not just reflect badly on the state government and the Chief Minister personally but will also mar our chances for being given some post like the chairman of a Board or Corporation or other plum adjustment,” admitted an MLA from Una.

As such, the aspirants for all such political adjustments are eagerly awaiting the Hamirpur byelection to get over so that their wait ends. The more hopeful MLA’s are working with the hope that the CM might induct them against the two vacancies in the cabinet.

So it is going to be performance based rewards that the Chief Minister is likely to give away.

Women calling the shots

Despite being political rivals, the BJP is all concerns for Congress leader Virbhadra Singh and has even gone to the extent of suggesting that he should float a former Chief Minister’s union with his Punjab counterpart, Amarinder Singh.

“Both of them seem to be having the same stars as they have been sidelined by their high command and to top it all, it is women who are giving them a tough time,” remarked Satya Pal Jain, in charge of BJP affairs in Himachal and National Convener of the BJP legal cell.

He said Virbhadra Singh is going through difficult times with state Congress chief, Viplove Thakur and Congress Legislature party (CLP)  leader, Vidya Stokes, calling the shots. On the other hand, former Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh has been sidelined as party has thrown its might behind Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.

“Aggrieved at the hands of women, the two should join hands to form a former CM’s union,” he remarked.

Having said so much he hastened to add that this was anyway the internal matter of the Congress and he did not have much to say.

Spirits dampened

The efforts made by the organizers to make ‘Naman 1857’ a grand success were literally washed off as rain played spoilsport.

The organisers, who had organised a cultural programmes, a skit on Mangal Pandey and an exhibition on the freedom struggle during the daytime, were left disappointed as the heavy downpour ruined all their arrangements. They had planned to organize the ‘deep mala’ by lighting 1857 lamps as a mark of respect to the martyrs but the rain played spoilt.

The timing of the rain unfortunately coincided with the closing of the function when Chief Minister, P.K. Dhumal arrived at the Ridge. Infact, after waiting for a while, he addressed the gathering from under an umbrella.

As a mark of respect to the martyrs who fought for the freedom of the country, the Chief Minister announced that their statutes would be installed in their villages or native places all over the state.



With an aura of its own
by Shriniwas Joshi


The peerless master moves with his group from place to place in the mountains. After Babaji has been in one locality for some time, he says, “Dera danda uthao” (lift the camp and the staff). The words are a signal for moving to yet another place-Yogananda

Not in the far past, the personnel department of the government had a sound personnel policy and an administrative officer in his total service career was posted as deputy commissioner (DC) in only one district, which he used to consider as his second ‘home’ district. Such was his loyalty. Today, an officer is posted in more than even two districts as DC and though he faithfully discharges his duties in each, yet his loyalty stands divided. Tu nahin to aur sahi, aur nahin to aur sahi style of functioning has parched the charm. Well, recently as I crossed the Nadaun Bridge on the ever-thinning river Beas and entered into Kangra, I felt the whiff of my ‘home’ district. I enthusiastically searched for something new that had come up there since my past visit and was told to go to see Kandbari-Rajed on a six kilometer detour from Palampur-Baijnath road. 

The visit was amply satisfying – the ambience is peaceful, a row of round columns forming space for walkway round the main building besides giving support to the wide-angled gabled red entablature with a white dome over the temple of Mahavatar called ‘Samarpan’ and a spacious, aesthetically designed hexagonal yagyashala against the beautiful backdrop of verdurous hills pleases the eye (see photograph). More than that, a few minutes of concentration on Babaji, I am purposely avoiding the word meditation because I am far from that stage, in the hall where sits the idol of Mahavatar or He himself is heart-elating. It is claimed to be the only temple of Mahavatar in India and was inaugurated on the holy day of Guru Purnima (July) in 2003.  Glory be to Swami Atma Jyoti for bringing Mahavatar to Kangra valley!

The use of the words ‘He himself’ above may amaze the readers but my introduction to Mahavatar through ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramhansa Yogananda starts with “the deathless guru bears no mark of age on his body, he appears to be a youth of not more than twenty-five. Fair-skinned of medium build and height, Babaji’s beautiful, strong body radiates a perceptible glow. His eyes are dark, calm and tender, his long lustrous hair is copper-coloured.”  The book claims to have revealed the existence of Mahavatar to the public for the first time in 1946. Anjali Bagwe writes that the deathless Babaji is a Himalayan Yogi of about 1800 years old and is the founder of Kriya Yoga, the discipline that purifies the body-mind organism through breath control techniques to aid longevity and spiritual evolution. Yogananda narrates an incident when Mahavatar or Babaji had thought of leaving his visible form but then his sister surrounded by a halo, steeped in ecstasy descended on earth. The dialogues that exchanged between the sister and the brother were, “Blessed sister, I am intending to shed my form and plunge into the infinite current.” She asked, “Why should you leave your body?” Babaji queried, “What is the difference if I wear a visible or an invisible wave on the ocean of my spirit?” She replied, “Deathless Guru, if it makes no difference, then please do not ever relinquish your form.” “Be it so,” Babaji said solemnly. And he lives today.

Although the ‘autobiography’ says that the facts about Babaji’s family or birthplace remain undiscovered, yet a devotee from Shimla disclosed through Marshall Govindan, a Canadian disciple who claims to have seen the Mahavatar, that Babaji was born in November 0203 in Tamilnadu with the name of Nagraj. Babaji is seen or recognized by we mortals only when he so desires. The single person whom he had given the special privilege of visiting him as and when he desired was Lahiri Mahashaya, his foremost disciple. Once at Muradabad, Lahiriji was staying with a Maitra family when, on provocation that there existed no real yogis, invited Mahavatar to give darshan to those non-believers. He did appear to keep up his promise but withdrew the privilege from Lahiri Mahashay saying that it was its misuse and that henceforth he would come when he thought it was necessary and said, “There remains nothing to believe when one sees.” How true?



Freedom in the sky
Skydiving gives you the unique experience of freefall
Yana Banerjee-Bey

Yana Banerjee-Bey LET’S now take a look at hardcore adventure sports for those of you keen to take them up. Skydiving is one such sport. Truly experiencing the element – perhaps no other adventure sport lets you do that as completely as skydiving. A handbook of skydiving comments, with perceptive sarcasm: “If travelling in an airplane is flying then travelling in a boat is swimming.”

A skydive combines strength, conquest of fear, mastery of technique, and presence of mind with the unique experience of feeling and seeing like a bird as the exit from the aircraft (involving standing on a step below the door and holding the strut propping the wing with the hands while the wind tries to blow one away) is followed by the rush and blur of freefall and then by a sudden calm and silence after the parachute unfurls.

Where to learn

The Indian Air Force reserves two seats for civilians in its skydiving courses. Contact the Directorate of Air Force Adventure at Air Force Station, New Delhi (Tel: 011-23793603).

Jumping out of an aircraft and parachuting to the ground began as a warfare tactic to enable soldiers to land behind enemy lines. Parajumping (used by the military) involves jumping with a 2-metre tape attached to one’s parachute container. The other end of the tape is attached to a rod inside the aircraft. Once one leaves the aircraft, the tape unfolds to its full length and then detaches from the container – after pulling the pin that releases the parachute.

This is also called a Static Line Jump (SLJ) and is convenient for soldiers who are jumping with heavy loads of weapons, ammunition, explosives, rations, and other wartime gear. The freefall is very brief, lasting only the two or three seconds that it takes for the tape to unfold. The military also uses other, extremely advanced, jumps but those are mainly reserved for commando operations.

Parajumping evolved into recreational or sport parachuting, which was further refined into five disciplines – Style & Accuracy, Relative Work or Formation Skydiving, Canopy Related Work, Freestyle, and Surfboard.

In Style competitions, jumps are made from 6,500 ft and the skydiver performs turns and loops that are recorded by a video camera on the ground. Points are awarded for clean as well as fast execution. In Accuracy competitions, jumps are made from 3,000 ft and the landing has to be extremely precise – the skydiver has to touch a coin-sized electronic pad with one heel.

Relative Work is what most skydiving films are about – those fantastic formations made by people linking up while hurtling down spreadeagled in the sky.

Canopy Related Work involves stuff like “stacking” – two or more skydivers stacking their parachutes vertically one above the other.

Freestyle and Surfboard, the ultimate in extreme sport, are the most spectacular. Freestylers perform spins, loops, cartwheels et al, while Surfboarding is freestyling wearing a skateboard.

Sport parachuting courses generally start off with Static Line Jumps and then students graduate to freefall jumps. Some courses offer Accelerated Free Fall jumps, in which two instructors accompany the student during the freefall. Tourists, who just want to experience freefall, opt for tandem jumps in which the tourist is strapped to the front of the harness of a skydiver who has earned a tandem licence after thousands of jumps.

Is skydiving terribly dangerous? As with all adventure sports, it has its own technique and safety rules. Once you have learned technique and follow the safety rules, you are relatively safe. And, if and when things go wrong, there are emergency procedures.

(This column appears fortnightly)
Next time: Simulated skydiving
The writer has authored India’s first handbook of adventure sports and is available at y.bey@excite.com



Spruce up Shimla's entrance!

Over the years, one often hears of plans to beautify Shimla, but hardly anything concrete has emerged so far. Tourism is Himachal's major revenue earner but visitors are appalled at the town's entrance. The dumping of condemned vehicles and spillover of motor mechanics on National Highway, haphazard parking in Kachhighati and the Barrier, all virtual eyesores. The sight of police cops at Tourism Information Centre, is enough to scare tourists away.

Why can't authorities be imaginative by cleaning Shimla's entrance and beautifying it by growing lovely trees/plants/flowers and gates/arches with slanting and slated roofs, to welcome tourists?

Roshni Johar, Shimla

Parking woes

Congress government had banned plying of tourist vehicles to few hotels, which, after spending lakhs, have made their mandatory “own parking” (duly sanctioned by Town & Country Planning), as they are on restricted roads. Their parking capacity of 100 vehicles, eases parking in Shimla's heart. Ironically, these hotels are among highest Luxury Tax payers, that’s collected from tourists staying in these very hotels.

While authorities want hoteliers to inform tourists’ vehicles’ registration numbers in advance, hoteliers correctly opine that how can they foretell, which vehicle is going to be driven to their hotels, as a tourist visits many hotels before finally checking into one of his choice. Due to this unrealistic approach, government and these hoteliers suffer a financial loss.

A farsighted approach to solve parking problem by lifting this ban and restoring blanket permits, is required.

Saya, Chaura Maidan, Shimla

Readers, write in

Make Himachal Plus your very own forum and do yourselves and your neighbours a good turn. Here is an opportunity to highlight civic and other public issues, and air your grievances about government negligence and ineffectiveness and the apathy of the officialdom. Send your views, not exceeding 200 words, to Himachal Plus, The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh. email: himachalplus@tribunemail.com



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