As the summer sun warms the picturesque mountain state of
Himachal, scores of paragliding enthusiasts
throng to the state and take to the sky in their colourful gliders,
exploiting the thermal currents that rise up from the hot valleys below.
The climatic and physiographic conditions in Himachal are ideal for paragliding. Due to the varying altitude, the low-lying valleys get intensely heated during summer; as a result, hot air begins to rise from the valley floor in vertical columns. These thermal currents are a delight to paragliding enthusiasts.
Sailing The Skies
Paragliding is the closest one can get to flying free like a bird. There are several ways to get airborne, but the most common method is called the "Hill Launch" where a pilot inflates the canopy by launching from a ridge top or a cliff edge. The inflated canopy lifts the pilot off the ground, and once airborne, it is essentially a matter of controlling the glider and finding a thermal, which will lift the glider higher and higher.
Once one has got enough lift, one will glide down gently searching for another thermal and the best way to find one is to look for the big swirling birds, after all paragliders try to imitate what comes to them naturally. Once airborne, a great deal of manoeuverability can be achieved with the paraglider. The glider can be steered by pulling suspension lines, which, cause gliding motion, thus enabling the pilot fly at any course at will.
The essential equipment consists of a glider, which when inflated offers resistance to the thermal currents and retards the rate of descent, a harness that attaches the paraglider firmly and safely to the pilot. It is so designed that it can be released quickly to avoid injury, by dragging the pilot over the ground after landing.
A helmet and a reserve parachute are for the pilot's safety and a variometer to gauge the ascent or descent of the glider. For those who cannot afford the equipment cost or do not have the time to learn flying, there is an alternative. One can sit alongwith an experienced pilot in a Tandem Glider (two-seater) and while the pilot manoeuvers the glider, one can sit back and enjoy the thrill of nonpowered flying. Similar to any other adventure sport, there is a risk factor involved in paragliding, but in recent years, improved equipment and techniques have created an amazing safety record for the sport.
Himachal has numerous launch sites for professional as well as amateur fliers. Billing in Kangra valley is already a world-renowned site and has hosted several national and international events since 1984. Commanding a panoramic view of the Kangra valley and the Dhauladhar range Billing is described as one of the best launching sites in the world, which offers opportunity for high altitude and cross country gliding.
Solang in the Kullu valley is another popular site especially among beginners. Kothi-Parcham near Manali and Bijli Mahadev-Bhunter are also being promoted. Overlooking the Parvati valley and Kullu valley on either sides, Bijli Mahadev is an excellent site for hill launching and has ideal conditions for thermal soaring. The ridge is approached from Kullu and the Bhunter airstrip offers a perfect landing site.
Another site, which is gaining popularity, is the Bandla Ridge, which towers over the town of Bilaspur at about 2,600 ft above the valley floor. Here the strong current and the steady valley breeze are ideal for ridge and thermal soaring. A road approaches Bandla from Bilaspur and the sprawling Luhne ground of the town offers a clear landing site. A unique sports complex is under construction here, which once completed, will provide facilities for ground water and aerosports.
Other locations include several sites in the cold desert district of Lahaul and Spiti, Arhaul-Anu near Rohru in the scenic Pabbar valley and Garhalla Talab in Chopal ( Shimla District). All these new sites have immense flying possibilities and are being provided with adequate infrastructure.
Paragliding is now gaining popularity in India. Himachal with its snow-capped peaks lush green valleys, pleasant climate and easy accessibility is all valleys, pleasant climate and easy accessibility is all set to become the paragliding state of India.
An Opportunity For Sports Enthusiasts
Himachal Tourism sponsors training programmes and events at various times of the year, in different places. There is an Adventure Sports Hostel at Dharamsala and an Aero Sports Complex at Bir. For details of training facilities, contact sports associations, or the Divisional Tourism Development Officers of Himachal Tourism.
Courses are conducted for the adventure lovers who are more energetic and keen to master the flying techniques. Participants who complete the course will be able to enjoy the soaring experience in the sky on their own.
Elementary Courses: 3 Days, Intermediate Course: 10 Days
Basic Courses: 5 Days, Advance Course: 10 Days
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Manali And Surrounding Area: February To June & September To November
Kangra Valley (Bir Or Billing): April To June & September To November
Leh & Zanskar: July And August.
It is advisable to bring along rough trousers-ankle support shoes and warm clothing in term of shirts, jackets, since the weather tends to be chilly when one is air borne. Gloves are also recommended.