Avi Malik and Anita Deshpande founded Temple Pilots, a paragliding school and flying club in Kamshet, at a time when adventure sports was a new concept in India. At present, it boasts India’s biggest community of skilled instructors and a global community of more than 500 Club Pilots. In a conversation with Travel+Leisure India & South Asia, Malik and Deshpande reminisce about their journey and reveal the plans in the pipeline for the school.
Excerpts from the interview with Avi Malik and Anita Deshpande:
T+L India: What were the challenges you faced while setting up Temple Pilots?
Anita Deshpande: Our dream was to make paragliding affordable and accessible to every Indian who dreamt of flying. We wanted to get people outdoors and help them enjoy discovering themselves. Our business continued to fail for five years, and we made no money. We overcame challenges [in a] very old- school way; we just kept going! The journey was so thrilling, adventurous, and romantic that it taught us along the way to be positive, tenacious, insanely creative, trust the flow of life, have fun all along, and enjoy the process.
T+L India: How does one become a licensed instructor/pilot at Temple Pilots?
Avi Malik: There is a step- by-step methodology and structure in the APPI Education & Rating System that allows both leisure and professional pilots and instructors to become internationally qualified. For leisure pilots, there are five levels—from APPI 01 Discover to APPI 05 Advance Pilot. There’s a theory syllabus for each level that includes subjects like Mechanics of Flight, Weather, Piloting, Equipment, and Air Law. The practical tasks advance with each level. There is an online exam, verbal exam, and practical field test for each level for a pilot to earn their rating and flying license.
T+L India: What steps do you follow to make a first-time flyer feel comfortable?
Avi Malik: Each aspirant comes with their own set of beliefs and fears, and this is where real work as an instructor begins. Our first and foremost task is to clear all the wrong notions, ideas, and doubts that first-timers have.[Then] we share data and examples of people who have safely and successfully completed training. Once they are open [to the idea], we educate them about the sport and the structured step-by-step methodology we use for flight training. We start the field training on flat ground by giving demonstrations and making trainees practice basic controls of the glider under the direct supervision of qualified instructors. There are briefing and personalised debriefing sessions to develop understanding and consolidate the day’s learnings. The training also includes ground school training that has theory sessions to understand the concepts, simulator training sessions, and video sessions. We use certified equipment that includes paragliders, harnesses, helmets, and safety reserve parachutes. All instructors are wilderness first-aid trained and certified. We [also] carry first aid kits in our vehicles for all flying and training operations.
T+L India: How do you prepare for a personal adventure trip?
Avi Malik: When we choose a new destination for a flying adventure, we first look at the natural beauty of the place. We then check what kind of flying is possible, what is the weather like, and the flying conditions during our visit.
Anita Deshpande: While participating in any adventure sport [we] ask questions regarding safety measures, credibility, references, etc. Just [looking at] social media feeds will not give you the right picture and simply looking at prices will not guarantee a good experience.
T+L India: What are your favourite adventure destinations in India and abroad?
Avi Malik: Our favourite adventure travel destinations in India for flying are the Himalayas, Kangra, and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, and since our last exploration in July 2023, Kashmir is our hot favourite. Outside India, it’s mostly the Alps—Swiss, Austrian, Italian, and French. We also love flying [along the] coastal cliffs in Bali along with our Club Pilots.
T+L India: Anita, you were the only woman pilot and Indian to fly at the Third International Flying Festival at Vagamon, Kerala. How was that experience?
Anita Deshpande: Not only Vagamon in Kerala but there have also been other countless occasions, especially in India, where I found myself to be the only female pilot. I started special campaigns to encourage girls and women to take up the sport and I have largely succeeded. We train about 600 pilots in a flying season that extends from October to May, in India. And now we have several Indian women in our Club, flying all over the world.
T+L India: What’s next for Temple Pilots?
Anita Deshpande and Avi Malik: We are working on the development of our new base, a residential flying school and club in Kamshet. We are also looking forward to taking our Club Pilots on Flying Tours to explore the Alps in Europe, Pyrenees in Spain, Rockies in Canada, and Andes in South America. We also look forward to creating more flying bases in India. And we plan to curate programmes for individuals and corporates. This will be a ‘Learn to Fly’ programme with an emphasis on inner transformation through nature sports.