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Elastic ecstasy

If you want to be terrified and thrilled in the same instant, and if you want to see how life looks suspended from a rope mid-air, bungee jumping is your pick. Many bravehearts in Bangalore have had a date with this high-adrenalin sport.

Passion for adventure: Moeffaert Jear Pascal and his act. — Photos: Sampath Kumar G.P.

LONG, LONG ago, in the Island of Pentecost, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean, a woman fled from her abusive husband when he tried to kill her. She climbed a coconut tree and perched herself on top. But her husband followed her even there. Sensing that he would not spare her, she tied her ankles with a vine and jumped off the tree. The people who saw her jump were dumbstruck. They could only see it as a feat and wanted to take that jump. This is how that new and exciting adventure sport — bungee jumping — came about.

Way back in 1954, the National Geographic reported that the natives of Pentecost Island had the custom of building a tower on the side of a hill, and then, on a given day, climb on top of the tower and jump, headfirst, to the ground on the downhill side. The height of these towers ranged between 50 and 80 feet. The natives would tie vines to their ankles, vines that were measured exactly right to allow for light contact between the head and the ground, but ones which stopped just before the neck broke.

Inspired by these stories, many in Europe and the US began jumping off bridges, mountains cranes and dams, into canyons and gorges. By the 1980s, the jump caught the imagination of these continents.

This adrenaline-rush adventure sport came to India not too late after that. Just ten years later. Its popularity was such that bungee jumping sites came up very soon in four places: Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, and Hyderabad. And there has been no dearth for enthusiasts.

What is the pleasure that these "high sensation seekers" get out of the bungee jump? Bungee jump master Moeffaert Jean Pascal has this to say: "Everyday life leaves us cold; predictably frozen. It is like being in a meat locker. So, we fire up our heater with stunts, leaving ourselves with a racing heart, and others, with their mouths wide open."

Pascal's passion and zest for adventure got him into bungee jumping. He started off as a bungee jumper at the age of 29.

He regularly practices mountaineering and rock climbing in France. It is during these practises that he learnt and perfected "rock manipulation". He has over 5,000 jumps to his credit. His forte lies in artistic, acrobatic, and safe jumps.

Unlike other sports, "bungee jumping is all about finding thrills. It is an enriching sport, a good memoir, and a unique sensation. Most youngsters find it exciting to be in a new situation. Those who jump vertically down, can float in mid air for hours together," says Pascal. "I prefer to jump off a bridge over water. It is more pleasant to be in the midst of nature. It's more rejuvenating."

The mind just before the jump is really a curious matter. Pascal has interesting observations: "Not everyone who climbs a height of 120 ft. to jump is cool in the head. Many become nervous. I am here to convince them that it is OK.

"Depending on the person before me, I tell him or her that it is very easy. I urge them to relax and enjoy themselves."

Bungee jumping requires one to stretch one's mental and physical faculties to the hilt. The participants' legs are tied together with an elastic rope before they take the plunge several hundred feet down.

"As you approach the ground (or water) your bungee rope stretches from 300 to 400 per cent, enough to give you the feeling that you are almost going to hit the surface. You then swing back up and down again in free suspension. Jumps take place from bridges, cranes, cable cars, towers, and even hot air balloons. You can jump over ground or a body of water. Most jumps involve stopping just short of the surface below, though it's also possible to be dip a person in water before the elastic swings back, and dip the person once again."

The towers for the jump are pre-fabricated metal girders, and no effort is spared to ensure the structural strength of these.

Participants are given a medical check-up prior to the jumps. The bungee cords are adjusted according to the participant's weight.

The spine-chilling leap has been attracting hundreds of adventurous Bangaloreans since October 17.

The platform is at a height of 120 feet here, specially designed and fabricated. "It felt nice to be left in mid air grappling for life," says Anitha, a student. Santhosh Kumar was "dazed after the first jump. But I recollected the entire episode, it was a morale booster".

"The first time you'd want to catch hold of something. But once you make up your mind you won't. And, then you begin to enjoy the feeling," says Kanchan.

After his first jump, Raghu felt his eyeballs were hurting and cheeks flushed.

Bungee jumping is definitely not for the weak hearted and the weak kneed. Only brave-hearts can attempt this. A sport in the air that swirls between life and death — one that brings a scream terrifying or exhilarating experience, depending on how one sees it.


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