MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
As the story goes, a Russian tourist brought an ultralight to Nepal in 1995, seeking to fly it in Pokhara. He met Natasha Shrestha, a Russian married to a Nepali engineer and within two years Avia had obtained a license from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. Today, no tourism brochure or promotional film in Nepal is complete without an iconic photograph of a colourful ultralight soaring on plastic wings amidst the rock and ice face of Machhapuchhre.
Avia has clocked more than 13,000 fault-free flights in the past 13 years. In the company office in Pokhara there are positive testimonials hand-written by Avia's international customers in many languages.
Natasha's son Stephen Shrestha was also bitten by the flying bug, got a private pilot's license from the U.S. and now helps run Avia. "I have flown in many different parts of the world in various aircraft, but nothing can beat the view from an open cockpit of an ultralight on bright clear mornings flying past Annapurna," says Stephen, as he briefs a passenger before taking off.
Despites hurdles and obstacles along the way that has prevented Avia from, for instance, starting amphibious ultralight flights from Phewa lake the company has been instrumental in branding Nepal as an adventure destination, and putting Pokhara on the international adventure sports map.
Avia Club has also been involved in Pokhara's other tourism efforts like cleaning up of Phewa lake. For Stephen, beyond the beauty of the natural landscape and passion for flying, it was the people and culture that eventually served as pull factors for returning to his homeland. He also wanted to give back to Nepal what Nepal gave to him.
"In Pokhara, the people are always smiling, representing the open and helpful nature of Nepalis," says Stephen after Avia was selected as Nepali Times Company of the Month for February 2010.
Stephen has set two goals for the future. First is to develop Phewa lake as an income-generating resource for the local people. This is done by creating a sustainable business model with an emphasis on preserving the natural beauty of Pokhara. Secondly, Stephen wants to promote sports aviation and tourism by introducing new activities and providing quality service. He hopes this will also create more income opportunities for the locals, and generate greater recognition for Nepal as a tourist haven.
Visit aviaclubnepal.com for more information.
Two feet firmly not on the ground - FROM ISSUE #491 (26 FEB 2010 - 04 MARCH 2010)
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