"Ready? One, two, three, run!" shouts the paragliding pilot, as the wind catches your colourful glider. You run and leap into the air, and glide above the beauty of Pokhara, surrounded by mountains and hills. The pilot directs the glider above the hills, and you soar like the birds beside you, heart pounding, more than 2,000 feet above ground.
Pokhara is now considered one of the top five paragliding destinations in the world, attracting enthusiasts from all over the world, including fresh learners, solo flyers and record makers. Tandem flying, which involves a trained pilot flying a passenger, is gaining popularity not just among tourists but Nepalis as well.
Since the arrival of paragliding in Nepal in 1998, it has become one of the most lucrative tourist activities available in Pokhara. Sixteen paragliding companies operate in the valley, and on a good day, over 100 flights are in the air. Flying is open eight months in a year, rare for most spots in the world. "Pokhara has become a hotspot for paragliding because of favourable weather," says Narayan Parajuli of Blue Sky Paragliding. "If there is an emergency situation, you can always land on the lake."
Because of a lack of government action, the growth of paragliding in the country has stalled. Paragliding companies are grouped with commercial airlines, defined as air sport companies. Paragliding-specific guidelines or safety regulations have not yet been formulated in Nepal. "In the absence of government regulations, we have formed a Nepal Air Sports Association to self-monitor the quality of our services," says Rajesh Bomjam of Sunrise Paragliding, who is Nepal's first paragliding pilot. "But there is an urgent need for clear government policies in this sector."
The continued craze for paragliding among foreigners and locals ensures a future for air sports in Nepal. More gliding spots are soon to be opened in Dharan, Lamjung, Gorkha and Bardia. The probability of other air sports like sky diving, para-trekking and para-motoring, being imported is likely, considering the economic success of paragliding. If only the government's support could keep pace with the air sport industry, Nepali companies and employees might reap the benefits of this growing trend.
The queen of retreats
Two feet firmly not on the ground
Pokhara's annual paragliding competition brings enthusiasts from Nepal and across the world