Paragliding, as an adventure sport, needs no introduction. The adrenaline rush of flying a few thousand feet above the ground, without a motor blasting through your ears is absolutely sensational! If you still want to read more, here’s what wiki has to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paragliding
But the problem is, where do you find adventure clubs that offer paragliding in Himalayas?
Well, here’s some info:
Few kms from Manali towards Rohtang, you come across the uber famous – Solang Valley.
Solang is nothing but a bunch of hotels, a small water stream and green meadows away from the city rush.
Due to these characteristics, Solang has fast developed as a tourist attraction centre and where there are tourists, there’s an economy. Apart from the awe-inspiring views, Solang offers a wide range of recreational adventure activities, some of which are seasonal.
While winters are popular for skiing, snow sliding and snow scooter riding, summers also provide a chance to experience zorbing, horse riding and ofcourse, paragliding.
While in Solang, its not hard to find the pilots who are willing to offer a paragliding ride. Its basically an assisted flight wherein the pilot accompanies you on the flight and controls it altogether. All you need to do is assist him in take off and enjoy the rest!
Solang has 2 paragliding options: Rs. 800 for a 5-10mins flight and Rs. 2000 for a 20-25mins flight.
For the latter, you need to climb a hillock where the take-off point is and if the gondola isn’t working, it might as well be a challenge!
Khajjiar, often referred to as ‘the mini Switzerland’ is a quiet little hill station in Chamba district. Khajjiar has bowl shaped lake in the middle of a meadow covered by dense pine tress on all sides.
In addition to the jaw dropping beauty of Khajjiar, it is also frequented for its paragliding spots, wherein you can experience a longer flight, ranging anywhere from 30-60mins. The take off point is again on the top of a hillock wherein you are transported by a car and again transported back to Khajjiar in a car from the landing spot.
Be prepared to lighten your wallet by anywhere between Rs. 2500-4000
3. Bir-Billing, Palampur
Bir-Billing are two hidden towns of Himachal. Infact, only because of the favourable conditions of this area, paragliding has put Bir-Billing on international map for adventure enthusiasts. One of the most conducive site for paragliding in Asia, Bir-Billing also have the largest vertical drop of over 1000mts in India.
On the Dharamshala- Jogindernagar road, a little after Baijnath you can see a diversion on the left which takes you to Bir, the landing site for paragliding in this area.
The town, Bir
To reach the take off site at Billing, you are transported through a car journey which takes about an hour to complete and offers some amazing views on the way.
Billing top is at considerable altitude and offers vast 360 degree views of Dhauladhars, Kangra Valley and even towards the lower Shivaliks.
The flight time at Bir-Billing can range anywhere from 45mins to 2 hours, depending upon the weather. Infact, many professional gliders can fly from Billing to Chamba, on a perfect weather day.
The charges are relatively lesser, considering the fact that its not frequented by tourists. Having said that, an off season can cost you Rs. 2000 while on-season prices can be anywhere between Rs. 2500-3500.
Take off direction indicated in the picture. It might look scary in the picture, but its not!
Having said all of the above, a paragliding experience, irrespective of the price and duration of flight, is an exhilarating experience in itself, one everybody should have atleast once in their lives.
With respect to the fitness level required, there is no preparation that you need to do, since there the glider is handled by the pilot itself.
The only tricky part of paragliding is the take-off. Figure it, you have been tied with bungees and chords, which are connected to your pilot and further to a huge kite (the glider) which lying on the ground. The idea is to run on a flat runway at the end of which is a acutely angled slope. So while you run you get the glider in the air and once the runway runs out, your glider should have enough power to take off in itself.
To generate this speed, you run, along with your pilot. For a smooth takeoff, all you need to do is outrun your pilot, else his speed is constrained too.
Incase enough speed is not generated, you may not be able to take off and another attempt will have to be made.
The best time for paragliding in Himalayas is the month of March-April or September-October. Around these months, the monsoon isn’t around and there are enough thermals to keep the glider in the air. The monsoon months of June-August do not see many outfits organizing paragliding due to unpredictable weather.
The winter months aren’t the best time too but then, you can glide if you want. The duration might be a little less but the views are out of the world!
Here’s a video from my flight in January 2012 in Bir-Billing: (the first 30 seconds is about the takeoff and isn’t very clear, please bear with it, the rest of it just beautiful )
Regarding the photos, you don’t necessarily need to make one member of your group stay on ground and click. In all of these sites, there are professional standing with their big zoom lenses and they will click your pictures and record your videos irrespective of whether you have asked them. Once you land, they will approach you and show you the pictures. If you like them, you can buy them, else they will delete them. Easy peasy!
The costs can range from Rs. 100-500 for 3 photos and the video.
Lastly, don’t forget to bargain hard, cause well, its your money afterall!
Please feel free to share your paragliding experience, details, queries, correction and criticism to this article. Hope it helps!