Monday, November 5, 2012

Paragliding on Dashain Day

Something I have always wanted to do, and have the perfect opportunity to do so in Nepal, is learn how to paraglide. WHY my glider pilot friends might be asking? Primarily, it's about freedom - to be able to take your aircraft on your back and launch yourself off the top of the mountain, anywhere in the world, without needing cars or crew or LPCs or winch drivers or instructors or any of the other bumpf. It means I can keep soaring no matter where in the world I might end up in my life, without having to find the local gliding club and persuading them that I'm competent! Secondarily, it is about gaining some soaring experience that I might never get the chance to do again, to really understand how lift works in the mountains, and to see Nepal from an amazing perspective.

With this in mind, I've booked a 10-day course for mid-December after my placement with the school finishes, so I'll be travelling out here to Pokhara again to do that training with Blue Sky Paragliding ( They were the only school that had dates that fitted but, better than this, they are a Swiss operation which teaches to the APPI syllabus which should be easy enough to translate to a BHPA training card when I return to the UK.

So, visiting the centre and chatting to the instructors and pupils, it sounded like those who had had a tandem paragliding flight before ended up making quicker progress and having more flights during the course than those who didn't. So, with a day in Pokhara to kill, I booked myself a tandem flight with one of the instructors (rather than just a tandem pilot) in order to start learning early!

Unfortunately, that day was Dashain Day itself, and it later transpired that the school had difficulty in finding a driver in order to get us and the other 5 tandem passengers to the launch site at the top of Sarankot. Luckily though I was there when this decision was made, as was my instructor Richard (a Malaysian chap), who asked whether I fancied hiking up - of course I did!

The day dawned very grey and drizzly but, inspired by glimpses of other gliders flying down the mountain, we set off with our tandem paraglider split between both of us. It was about a 600m climb up mostly stone steps through the jungle, took 2.5 hours and left us feeling pretty knackered and sweaty! But the view and the weather improved all the time so it seemed well worth it.

(in case you're wondering, my socks are rolled down because they contain the lower half of my zipping trousers)

Richard definitely had the lion's share of the paraglider weight - the wing itself, which is about 20kg, while I had the harnesses which was only 10kg.

Eventually we arrived at the (frankly terrifying) launch site, and after a bit of rain, the air cleared very nicely indeed and we were able to watch some of the other gliders setting up and jumping off - everyone else had drivers for the day, it was only our school which was unlucky! Richard and I had used our ascent to talk about almost everything I needed to know about paragliding - the control, the regulation, competitions and training, so it was good to see others launch and get a commentary on what was happening.


Eventually, our turn came up so we donned hats and harnesses and set up the GoPro camera which would record the whole flight. Launching was simple - Richard set up the wing, then buckled his harness to mine, and shouted "Run!" as we went for the edge.


He was clearly checking the wing but I was just focussed on running towards the precipice - luckily the wing then took our weight and we were free in the air!


We then had the chance to relax and enjoy the spectacular view. It's a very comfy harness and the wing feels strong and manoeuvreable as Richard feels for lift and we spot other paragliders. Sadly, the cloudiness of the day means that there are no thermals and it's clear we're in for a toboggan ride.


I was able to start participating in the flight - first during lookout and then given control - having a go at adjusting the pitch and then turning the glider. Pitch control is a bit of a misnomer, you can get it into a sort of pitch oscillation but for the most part you glide down at a pre-set speed and a glide ratio of about 7:1.

All too soon, therefore, we were heading towards a landing on a small strip just next to the lake. After only 9 minutes in the air!! But Richard handled this well, despite a shift in the wind direction which meant we were landing downwind, and rather than a stood landing, we just touched town on the airbag on the seat underneath me. 

Amusingly, we managed to capture a motorcyclist as our wing touched down ahead of us (being in a tailwind of course).

So that was that! A good introduction to paragliding, aided by a very enthusiastic instructor. He was just as keen to learn about gliding as I was about paragliding, and he gawped at the glide angles (50+:1), speeds (100kph cross-country) and distances (1000km+) that modern gliders are capable of. Instruction though had many similar aspects, and of course there would have been no way to launch a sailplane today!

I felt that I had good value for money in terms of instructor-time which must have boosted my learning during the flight. After all, I was only after an introduction, and this highlighted the freedom part of paragliding very nicely. I also had a significant refund due to the shortness of my flight (I'd paid for an hour) and didn't have to pay for the GoPro footage! Moreover it will be a good investment for my course.

So, our wing was packed up by some local lads while we de-briefed,

And then we had the chance to visit a bird of prey rescue centre, set up by a British chap called Scott, which uses the birds for parahawking - an amazing sport which combines paragliding with using the birds to hunt out thermals and stretch cross-country gliding on difficult days. Only birds which could not be returned to the wild are used and I really hope I can try this out in December! Tandem, of course.

Do check out the video here:

Finally, we walked back to Pokhara, concluding our day of gliding using only foot-power! It was a great day out, I wasn't perturbed by the lack of lift (which is apparently smoother and still abundant during December), and even the torrential rain which soon joined us didn't dampen my spirits...

I am really looking forward to returning in December, and best news of all? Richard will be one of the assistant instructors on my beginner's course! Fingers crossed it goes well. I must start studying...

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  1. I'm gutted, Colin - proud of having flown solo on a para-glider, which is something you have not yet achieved, this boast only has about 6 weeks left to run....!

    Looks like "indoor freefall experience" I took a few years ago has risen to the top of my ever-diminishing bragging list....

    Love the camera-on-a-stick BTW. Great gadget!


  2. Mum here - Hi Cj. The photographs are amazing and really bring your experiences home to us. The scenery and sunsets spectacular and the parahawking looks like it might have to go on my 'bucket list'. Thank you for the fascinating blogs and I hope the last few weeks of your sabbatical bring lots of fun too. AOL xx