Print Edition - 2016-11-19  |  On Saturday

Taking over the eastern skies

  • Boasting dazzling views of both the Himalayas and the vast Tarai, will Dharan emerge as the next paragliding hub?
- BIRAT ANUPAM
The robust strides taken by the only government-licensed paragliding operator in eastern Nepal has left many locals visibly excited

Nov 19, 2016-2016 marks the 20-year anniversary for aerial sports in Nepal. Since Sunrise Balloon and the Avia Club began offering hot air balloon rides and ultra-light aircraft flights in 1996, the sector has veritably boomed, with Pokhara establishing itself as the regional hub and paragliding emerging as a favourite adventure sport. According to Nepal Tourism Statistics (2015), an annual document published by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, there are currently 70 licensed paragliding companies in the country; out of which, 56 operate out of Pokhara. In 2015, a total of 8,999 paragliders took to the skies (including 5,692 foreign tourists), a huge jump from just 2,135 flyers in 2012. But with the sport reaching a saturation point in the Lake City, congesting airspace, there has been a concerted bid to encourage the sport to spread out over other equally conducive regions around the country.    

And the seeds are already taking root. Not many people know about Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding yet, but the robust strides taken by the only government-licensed paragliding operator in eastern Nepal has left many locals visibly excited. Satyam Limbu, a final year Law student in Kathmandu, learnt about paragliding in his hometown of Itahari only recently. After finally jumping off the hills of Bhedetar, he shared his excitement, “I could see everything from a bird’s eye view.” Paragliding in this region offers a spectacular view of Makalu and Kanchenjunga peaks, the Koshi River, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, and famous Hindu shrines like Dantakali, Pindeshwar, Barahakshetra and Bishnupaduka, among others. 

According to Yatri Shekhar, an Itahari-based radio journalist and a recent paraglider, one of the best advantages of paragliding in the eastern skies is that it is probably the only flight that lets you see the borders of China and parts of the Indian state of Bihar. “The only thing that is probably missing is the sight of Pokhara’s lakes,” he adds.  

Having flown patrons ranging from 10-year-old Pranita Adhikari to 65-year-old Suresh Banepali, without accident, Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding—which has been commercially operational since October 2015–claim their service to be secure and satisfactory. 

Madhab Prashad Dahal, co-owner and a paragliding pilot himself, shares that the tariff for local customers has been set at $70, while for international customers it is $100. The cost is inclusive of pick-up from and drop-off to any part of Dharan, along with insurance for contingencies. 

According to Dahal, the company has managed to create a solid customer base of not just enthused locals but also tourists from adjoining Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. “We have three pilots conducting nine flights a day,” informs Roshan Adhikari, another proprietor of the company. “We have two Indian pilots from the Indian state of Himanchal Pradesh who cancel out the language barrier for Indian tourists,” he adds. 

Operators say that once the business gains solid footing they are looking forward to catering to more middle-class tourists from neighbouring Indian states. Adhikari shares that if the young, urban adventure seekers of these Indian states could be tapped, it would come as a blessing for the entire region. 

“Tourism authorities could promote our service as an exciting and affordable adventure sport in the region targeting countries like India, Bhutan and Bangladesh that are a few hours away from the border by road,” he said. He is also hopeful about attracting Chinese tourists to the region once the proposed border crossings at Kimanthanka in Koshi and Olanchuggola in Mechi open up. 

For now, with 200 flights under their wings, Adhikari and Dahal remain cautiously optimistic of what skies the future will bring. 

Published: 19-11-2016 08:01

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