Picture this; …….a vivid tapestry of vibrant paragliders soaring against the canvas of the cerulean sky, set against the majestic Dhauladhar ranges. As the sun shines upon the landscape, the atmosphere is charged with anticipation, and the air hums with the rhythmic beat of parachute wings….
This is the scene from Narwana village in Dharamshala, Hiamchal Pradesh, where the Paragliding Accuracy Pre-World Cup is happening.
Once you visit the landing site, you’ll find yourself enveloped in the sheer beauty of the surroundings. As the skilled pilots carve through the air, exhilarating display of skill and courage—it brings joy to the audiences, judges and other participants.
This is the first time such event has been organized in Dharmashala with a motive to bring positive impact on tourism and create more job opportunities for locals. The event was inaugurated by the Dharamshala MLA Sudhir Sharma on Monday.
Rohit Aggarwal, one of the judges of the competition spoke to SSZee Media about the pre-world cup event, said “It is a paragliding accuracy competition, in which you have to land on an accurate spot (centre point). The calculation is based on centimeters. Basically, the less numbers you make, you are close to win”.
Aggarwal, who has been flying from 8-9 years now, also shared some insight into this sport, said, “Pargaliding is a very risky and expensive sport. It started in Europe, so all the products and equipments of the sports are manufactured in Europe, so it is naturally expensive in comparison to other sports that we play in India. Also, the paragliding kit needs to be changed time to time”.
Talking about Paragliding being different in nature than other sports, he said, “To learn paragliding, first one need to shift to mountains to learn, and needs a lot of practice. So, it is a very time consuming game. One might need to leave his/her job or career. Paragliding is heavily dependent on weather. So you need to study weather then you understand the basics of this sport”.
Arvind Sharma, who is a part of the organizing team of the event, spoke about the uniqueness that Narwana paragliding sit, comparing it with Bir Billing, which is also the world’s highest paragliding site in Asia.
“Bir Billing has its own unique beauty. It is best site in Asia for cross country competition. But from the point of view of accuracy and short-distance competitions, Narwana site is unique as it is safe for pilots and it just take 8-10 min to come to the landing site from the take off site,” he said.
Both Aggarwal and Sharma shared similar thoughts about building the Narwana site into a prominent place for paragliding just like Bir Billing to bring more and more pilots across countries and promote tourism.
They believe that once a place is recognized by such events, it attracts tourists, which in return generate employment and boost the infrastructure, thus improving the economy.
Sharma also talked about the risk related to sustainability when such events expose the area to larger crowd. He said, “Besides generating employment through such events, we also need to think about sustainability in the long run. Once this place gets recognized by tourists then we need to think about sustainability of the environment. With increase footfall, like Bir, it will be crowded. The organisers need to aware locals and tourist about basic guidelines like ‘say no to plastic’”.
“We have to think about alternative. Like, the money you are investing on plastic bottles, you can invest that amount on volunteers for serving the water. Events like this attract people as it involves a lot of money and people tend to think that everything is fine but we need to think about sustainability alongside for running in the long run,” he added.
This year, around 70 paragliders are participating in this competition. Most of the pilots are from Bir, Manali, Chamba; some are from Indian para-forces, Indian army, Indian Air force and Assam Rifles, and pilots from Nepal, US, and European countries are also participating.
While the hope is to create job vacancies, build infrastructure and boost economy through such events but in reality, paragliders are the one who make money out of this just good for survival, learns SSZee Media while speaking to participants.
Shivraj Thakur, a 24-year-old paraglider from Bill Billing shared his journey of staring early in childhood with little to no opportunities available to learn the sport. “Paragliding is a very dangerous sport and not a sustainable option for livelihood. I work nine months in a year and rest of the time stay at home or maybe travel,” he said.
Thakur, who started flying at the age of 15, said that he began working with prominent paraglider in Bir to learn the sport. “The gears are very expensive. I slowly started making money through tandem then I brought my own equipment. Now, I travel to different states to participate in various competitions,” he added.
Sharing a similar struggle, Aman Thapa from Pakhara in Nepal said that he learned paragliding with equipments that were scrapped by other paragliders as had no other opportunity available to learn the sport.
“Because I couldn’t afford the kit that time, I used to take a lot of risk as there were no rescue but my heart was full of passion for the sport,” said the 23-yeat-old.
Thapa as well desired to be a paraglider by watching tourist performing the sport as his house was located near the landing site. “I legally started flying when I was 17. But, I started like at 11 only,” he said with a great laugh adding “I used to watch tourist performing paragliding and I used to feel like this is what I will do one day,”.
Thapa also pointed that despite having good landscape for flying in Nepal, the country has no good opportunities. “In Nepal, you can fly East and West but there is no government support for paragliding,” he said.
When asked about earning, Thapa proudly said, “I don’t do tandem. I do it for passion. Currently, I go for competitions. It is not at all sustainable but since, I have made few good connections abroad, I deal in selling the equipments here and that way I earn money”.
Paragliding as an adventure sport in India still has a long way to go to become a regular sport for people as it require intense connection with the sport and strength to follow it until success.
Alisha Katojia, a 20-year-old, shared that following paragliding has been tough for her as there is no support and she had to figure out everything on her own. “The gears are expensive. I don’t even have my own kit. This I borrowed from my school. I’ll go for tandem once I am little more experienced. Finger crossed!,” she said adding that she want to do paragliding full-time.
Another participant, Sunidhi, a 26-year-old shared another side of persuading paragliding being a woman said, “Life in general, I think, is not easier for girls. So, same with this as well. But, in competition, they make different category to encourage us. It gives us confidence. Otherwise, male are persuading this without facing much challenges but we face a lot in terms of societal acceptance”.
Sunidhi developed interest little late as she started at the age of 22, but it was difficult to convince her family. “My parents are after my life. But somehow they have made peace with it. I think, I am safe until there is any marriage proposal is coming for me. That’s where the issue begins. But I guess, it is safe for me because not everybody wants a wife who is a paraglider. There are only very few brave men,” she said laughing heart out.
“I am looking forward to make it mix of both –passion and profession. Tandem is the most available scope in paragliding profession,” she added.
The Paragliding Accuracy Pre-World Cup 2023 will continue until 17th November. There are no charges to visit the event for now.