Paragliding in the Himalayas
Paragliding is something very different from skydiving. You take off from the ground, usually from an elevated location, and flying does not just mean floating downward, towards the valley. You fly upwards on air currents until you reach the clouds and even float above them, and you travel for tens or hundreds of kilometres. It requires concentration, sharp senses and instincts, intuition and a certain level of skill. I can even say that you need serious endurance for long flights that can regularly last for up to 4 hours or even over 10 hours on exceptional days. The result is a cocktail of satisfaction, a feeling of freedom, adrenaline and endorphins and its taste is addictive. It is also a wonderful way to get in touch with nature.
Nepal is a paradise for paraglider pilots and hikers or even mountain climbers due to its landscape. This poor, colourful country, strongly influenced by Hindu spirituality only has one natural resource to offer, mountains. The base of my stay there was Pokhara – that is where I started my daily flights or, on several occasions, my hikes. There is a lake next to the camp and takeoffs took place from the first hill, which wasn’t very high (1400m).
The mountains become higher to the North, ridge by ridge, up to over 8000m. Once we got to the takeoff spot on the hill we would wait for the right moment with our equipment ready. You had to pay attention to the way other flyers or birds moved through the air or the movement of the surrounding trees and grass.
I would try to climb fast once I got in the air in order to leave the crowded area behind. Upward currents flow along the shape of the mountains and they are stronger above the ridges – I could only try to “jump” over a valley once I got to about 2000m in order to get to a higher ridge. That’s how I would go about climbing higher and higher. When in flight, my attention was divided between constant wing control (it becomes sort of an instinct once you gain enough experience, a “muscle memory” of sorts), aligning on the upward current or “riding” it (the variometer’s acoustic signals help you out) and the landscape would just open up in front of my eyes. I got used to all these aspects over time and I can “see” enough without getting distraught.
I enjoyed the mountains, the vegetation, the animals and birds while calculating my route. Trees would grow in areas up to around 3000m, the ridges would become barren after that and you would start to see snow at around 4-5000m. I would go for the latter areas, but the currents would become stronger and more turbulent and there inevitably came a point where I would have to turn around. I would try to fly in a circle and land as close as I could to the starting spot.
The excitement of discovering new areas, getting further away from camp, to the North was mixed with fear – getting back home from that desolate area, after an eventual forced landing, could become problematic even if you managed to touch down unhurt. However the feeling you get when you deal with that fear and constantly push your limits was extraordinary. The only regret I have is that on days when I flew close to the mountains, the clouds were low (somewhere around 3400m), and they were blocking my view of the ridges. That is a good reason to return to that place.
Check out my short video below:
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So now it’s your turn: where would you go paragliding ?