By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Feb 19 (IANS) On the occasion of 389th birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on Tuesday, a Marathi “mulgi” (girl) from Pune performed a successful skydiving over the Great Pyramids of Egypt near Giza.
Speaking to IANS over phone soon after landing this afternoon, an excited and breathless Shital Rane-Mahajan, 36, said it was “amongst her most exciting skydiving challenges, jumping over one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” on an auspicious day like Shiv Jayanti.
“In order to make it even more memorable and a tribute to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, I performed the jump both in a traditional ‘nau-vari’ Maharashtrian sari, as well as the royal costume of the legendary ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, who ruled some 3,700 years ago,” Shital told IANS.
This morning, when the weather was perfect, she stepped aboard the Hercules C-130 aircraft in Cairo and jumped solo from a height of 15,000 feet above the cluster of six pyramids, sporting the “nau-vari” glittering in the cool desert sky.
After a couple of hours, she returned for another flight and jumping again over the pyramids – situated barely 10 km to the south of Cairo – this time in an Eygptian costume as once worn by the Queen Nefertiti, she said.
“It’s truly a great honour and the Egyptian authorities are extremely supportive to such adventure sports as they boosts tourism. Since I am an Indian, top officials asked me, ‘why I have not jumped over the Taj Mahal’? Today’s experience has inspired me and now I shall request Indian government for an opportunity to skydive above the Taj Mahal,” she said.
There were around 156 sky-divers from 35 countries around the world who assembled at Cairo on Tuesday to jump over the Great Pyramids, either solo, tandem, in groups and formations, as part of a major tourism initiative by that country.
This is the second international event in which Shital performed sporting a Maharashtrian sari, the last one being in mid-February 2018, jumping in “nau-vari sari” from 13,000 feet above Pattaya, in Thailand.
She says that skydiving in a Maharashtrian sari “is a huge challenge” as the attire is nine-yard (8.25 metre) long – compared to six yards of the regular Indian sari.
“I must drape the ‘nau-vari sari’ properly, plus wear the parachutes on it, the safety gear and communication equipment, helmet, goggles, shoes, etc., add to the weight and challenge,” said Shital, a mother of 10-year-old twins, and who was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award in 2011.
She explains with a laugh that there are lots of “extra precautions” to be taken while draping the sari, including pinning it up tightly and taping it in many places to ensure it does not come off her body from the staggering height of 15,000 feet as she soared down over the Great Pyramids, with strong winds from all sides lashing her during the descent.
Shital holds around 19 national skydiving records, six international records and complete over 710 jumps around the world, bagging several domestic and global honours.
She shot to world fame on April 18, 2004 when she made her maiden jump – without practice dies – on the North Pole from a Russian MI-8 helicopter hovering at 2,400 feet in minus 37 degrees, becoming the first woman in the world to achieve the feat.
Barely two years later on December 15, 2006, Shital made the world’s first Accelerated Free Fall Parachute Jump on South Pole in Antarctica, coming down from 11,600 feet from a Twin Otter aircraft.
That made her the first and youngest woman – aged 23 then – in the world to accomplish successful skydiving feats on both Poles.
On April 19, 2008, Shital tied the knot with Vaibhav Rane, a Finland-based engineer-cum-skydiver with over five dozen jumps to his credit.
Even their wedding set a new national record. The couple became the first to get married in a hot-air balloon, complete with a priest performing the ceremonies and parents in tow, with the “kanyadaan” at 750 feet in the air above Pune city!
In 2017, she became the first Indian woman nominated by Aero Club of India for the prestigious FAI Sabiha Gokcen Medal for completion of skydiving on all Seven Continents.
(Quaid Najmi can be reached at [email protected])