Elish Thapa, a Professional paragliding pilot, instructor, and sky diving pilot and Asia’s one of the Acrobatic paragliding pilot and his counterpart Pratibha Bhujel, Nepal’s first professional women paragliding pilot are engaged in adventure sports-Paragliding in Pokhara- for the last one decade.
In a recent virtual interview with our Creative Editor-Anita Gurung, the duo paragliding pilots divulged some of the hidden significant facts pertaining to prospects and challenges of paragliding in Nepal. The edited excerpt follows for our valuable readers:
My paragliding started with my own paragliding business company. One day when I took the flight with my uncle, I felt that I was made for the flight. Then I started taking training for it. My first instructor was Damodar Prajuili.
I have spent one decade in this field. Covid-19 has affected all the sectors although Nepal is a good place for tourism. Even after opening the adventure sports like paragliding, the problem continues to manifest. We have not been able to maintain social distance while paragliding. We move together with the passengers by bus and during the paragliding. The internal tourists are coming as we have given discounts to them.
There is no foreigner tourist in paragliding now. Now, at least 300 to 400 clients are flying every Saturday and all of them are domestic tourists. For safety measures, we have enforced the use of masks, sanitizer,s and social distance, but it is not possible to maintain social distance while flying with the passenger.
For paragliding one must pass an 18-month course of paragliding. Then one can get a non-professional paragliding test during which the pilots on trial must fly 100 passengers.
Then the incumbent pilots undergo the final tests in written and practical tests. Then you have to work as an assistant instructor to be an instructor. Exams are taken for it.
Initially, I never felt that I could be a commercial flight pilot. Then I started learning about acrobatic paragliding. Then I learned about many tricks and maneuvers of flying. Then I felt it easy to fly. But I also felt the responsibility of the pilot to safely fly the passengers.
It has been 20 years since paragliding started in Nepal. At first, there were only tourist pilots for paragliding in Nepal. But now there are more than 300 Nepali pilots parading.
The weather condition of Pokhara is very consistent for 365 days. So, it is one of the best flying places in the world. Next is Sirkot for flying followed by Bandipur, Godawarri in Kathmandu, and Mardi Himal and Tirunglapass.
There are other areas yet to be explored too. If Mardi Himal can be opened then cross country flight can be opened which can promote the tourism industry for which pilots from abroad can come. But there is not much stress on it. But there is a high possibility for cross country flights in Nepal.
Pilots can go back to their countries and come back in winter as seasons start for paragliding. A pilot can earn as much as 2000 to 3000 dollars. More than 6000 passengers have come for paragliding so far.
Three types of flying are in practice these days. One is solo and the other is tandem. Cross country flight is going from one hill to another hill. Another is thermal flights. The acrobatic flight also is in fashion. But two flights are done now.
We usually do our flights according to the interest of the passengers. One flight maybe around 15 to 30 minutes. Cross country for 45 to 60 minutes. The acrobatic flight may be for the stunt which may be operated from 10 to 4 pm if the weather condition is good.
About the flying rate, normal flight costs are Rs 5000/6000/ as fixed by Nepal Air Association. Acrobatic flight has a different price. About the pilot training, there has to be recurrence training, but in Nepal this situation has not come yet. We are weak in this sector.
Paragliding is beyond the competition. There is still unfair competition among the operators. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) should look into it. The present practice is to earn money at any cost which is unfair enough. So paragliding is going down. In Turkey when paragliding was going down, the government intervened and now it is going up. The standard rate is going down as there are 60 companies that are struggling to come up with unfair means.
Annapurna and Dhaulagiri peaks, Fewa lake, lakeside, Begnas Tal can be seen while flying with passengers. Unfortunately, the government has not paid any heed to the problem manifested in this sector though we need a lot of support. For example, we need insurance policy and rescue through helicopters as risk is linked to it / Landing and taking off should be well managed. The roads are not good now. To promote paragliding more the focus should be stressed on organizing festivals and promoting it abroad through video advertisement.
I am Pratibha Bhujel from Pokhara. I have been in this field since 2013. I was a bit inspired by some of the tourists. I have also spent one decade though I started this professionally since 2013 only.
During the lockdown, we were safe at home only. It affected paragliding. We do ask guests to use mask and hand gloves, but some of them may not follow it. There is no guarantee of safety in paragliding. The course is extra challenging as one has to fly not alone, but with another passenger to make him/her comfortable including flying duration. I felt that I should be sensitive to do this job for those who come to this flying come to us by trusting us that we will make them fly well.
It is not so hard as I felt. There are 10 female pilots in Nepal now.
It is not difficult to convince tourists to do the flying. They come with a ready or pre-planned flight schedule if they come to Nepal. Challenges in this field mean the people do not trust the female pilots at first. This is what I have found with even female passengers. Since Nepal is male-dominated there may be some difficulty for a female pilot to work here from outside. I am from Pokhara. So, I take it easy.
There may be problems during the menstrual cycle for a woman. I usually take leave during such time. Every tourist likes to come to Pokhara for fun. There are no other recreational sports.
There is a film called, “Waiting for the wind.” That inspired all Chinese to come to Nepal to fly. They come to Nepal for paragliding only. Such is the effect of the movie. Nepal is famous in European countries. We don’t have to do much of marketing for Nepal. For other countries, a lot of marketing is needed.
Nepal is already a promoted place. Only the government should focus on this. September to October and February to March are the months of rush hours for us. I think the government has not supported this profession so well. It may be a good profession in our country. Both male and female pilots get the same wages for the flight. I think pilots should take the training recurrently.
I agree that there is no fixed rate for flights. Many companies do not meet the standards too. They take a low rate to fly. On top of it, there is no monitoring mechanism for it.
Landing and flying are very easy. Taking off to landing is our key responsibility. We make the passengers feel easy. Landing and taking off should be well managed and the female pilots should be encouraged to come into this field in the days ahead.
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