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Pilot travels from India to soaring championships

by Merrie Leininger

One visitor from far away has had a chance to see the Carson Valley from a viewpoint few see.

Sanjay Acharya is a photographer from New Dehli, India who is visiting Minden this month to practice soaring in what he calls one of the classic soaring sites in the world that has to be promoted and maintained.

“It is very, very special because of its topography and its special wind and weather conditions,” he said. “Many of the masters are stationed here. If I’m not flying I’m just going to talk to some of those masters. It is also very pretty with the high Sierra, lakes and the desert. I flew half way around the world just to fly here.”

Acharya is trying to set a Indian distance record to go with his Indian altitude record of 29,028 feet.

He wants to soar 600 kilometers to the Tinemaha Reservoir near Bishop, Calif., and back.

He has not been able to do it yet, he said, because of weather conditions. On one trip, he reached the reservoir and turned back when he saw a thunderstorm headed toward him.

“I didn’t know where to go, so I thought I would play it safe and stay close to the airports. I spent the night in Bridgeport that night,” he said.

He enjoys soaring because the pilot has to continue to strive for perfection, he said.

“It’s about being one with the elements and the machine. You have to have a perfect flight to keep in the air for a long time. You have to deal with atmospheric conditions without an engine,” he said.

Acharya has been soaring for just four years, starting with a soaring club in New Delhi which flies near his home. His wife, Sonya, a teacher and his daughter, Mihika, 13, have both been up with him, and his son, Nikhil, 18, is learning how to soar.

However, he doesn’t spend a lot of time at home, even when he’s not visiting Arizona and Minden to soar. Acharya is a freelance photographer who works for governments and international organizations taking pictures for environmental and social projects.

During a long-term project working for UNICEF in Bhutan during the 1980s – a country in the Himalayas on the northeast boarder of India that is steeped in traditional values and is still run by a king – Acharya took pictures for slide shows on topics the government decided the residents needed better education on, such as health issues and children’s and women’s issues.

Recently, Acharya returned to Bhutan to complete a book about the county that includes his pictures.

“It is a wonderful culture; almost medieval because it is an absolute monarchy and they still dress in their traditional clothes,” he said. “I come from a huge democracy – but things work very well there.”

After visiting the United States many times to soar, and also as a broadcaster during a prime minister’s visit during 1970, Acharya said that Americans have shown him a lot of hospitality.

“But India is a different world altogether,” he said. “It is a huge county and there are lots of different cultures. There are 16 different official languages. It is more homogenous here. I really love this part of the world. I adapt easily to being in the West. We read a lot of western literature and watch western television, so it’s not a culture shock.”