On a dusty, 3,600-foot-long airstrip in Rajasthan, India, a two-seater white Cessna 152 pivots into position. A few moments later, it’s soaring over the empty desert into a cloudless blue sky.
This is the private runway at 1,100-acre Banasthali Vidyapith — one of India’s premier women’s universities.
Since its establishment in 1962, the university’s School of Aviation has produced more than 5,000 alumnae, with dozens more in the pipeline.
“In a country where many people don’t want to invest in girls, which is the mentality of most traditional families, Banasthali Vidyapith creates a place where women are equally important,” Captain Tarana Saxena, a recent graduate, tells CNN Travel.
“They give girls a chance to learn about aviation … a chance to fly.”
The inspiration for Banasthali Vidyapith University sprung from tragedy.
In this rural outpost, about 50 miles south of Jaipur, he founded a social program to reconstruct the village and educate local farmers.
At a very young age, his daughter embraced his passion and began holding classes for village children.
Tragically, she fell ill at the age of 12 and passed away.
Encouraged by his wife, Shastri set out to educate and empower young women, a dream they had envisioned for their own daughter.
And so Banasthali Vidyapith opened in 1935 with seven students — all girls — and now offers more than 28 disciplines, including doctoral degrees.
At Banasthali Vidyapith, the curriculum is based on the concept of “Panchmukhi Shiksha,” which the university describes as the “harmonious development of personality.”
The university offers a wide range of departments, including law, design, science, nanotechnology and literature.
It introduced its Gliding & Flying Club with a fleet of five aircraft in the 1960s, when only a handful of female pilots existed in the world.
At first, the aviation training was intended to help women build confidence as part of the schools holistic program.
It evolved into a School of Aviation, where women could later pursue a student’s license, bachelor’s degree or a commercial pilot’s license.
22/11/18 Kate Springer/CNN Travel