“The government doesn’t consider paragliding a sport,” says Manoj Roy, president, Paragliding Association of India (PAI). Things are changing, though, with the PAI and the Billing Paragliding Association (BPA) having hosted the 2015 Paragliding World Cup (PWC) in October in Bir Billing, in the Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh. Only eight Indians participated, so there’s still a long way for paragliding to qualify as a legitimate sport in India; still, the country has some breathtaking paragliding sites, and Roy lists the best ones here.
Bir Billing offers thrill seekers a chance to experience the Himalayas like never before. The starting point here, where flat land ends, is the approachable Dhauladhar range, one of the branches of the main Outer Himalayas, with the added advantage of easy landing fields along the ridges. “This is the base where you get to experience the Himalayas, but not the extremes of it. Also, here you have a long range of high mountains, which allows you to hop from one ridge to another,” says Roy, who has been paragliding since 2003. This is also the best place to do distance flying, from Bir Billing to Dharamshala (approximately 100 km) and back. Paragliders come here from across the globe to fly, from September to December and March to May. “Bir Billing also gives you a peek into Tibetan and Himalachali culture,” Roy adds. This place holds the record of 150 pilots taking off in a duration of 33 minutes.
Situated between Mumbai and Pune at a height of 2200 ft above sea level, Kamshet offers fantastic weather conditions. “This is the only place where you can fly eight months a year (October to June). Given the perfect blend of favourable weather, infrastructure and proximity to cities, it’s one of the best places in the world to learn, as you don’t get that many flying hours anywhere else,” Roy says. He is gung-ho about Kamshet, which sees scores of people from India and abroad coming here every year to learn. “It has the best institutions in India, including the Indus Paragliding School, Nirvana Adventures and Temple Pilots. In Kamshet, you can learn to perfect your take-offs and landings, gain height, make turns and fly for a long hours,” says Roy.
According to Roy, Panchgani has got world class flying conditions, due to a mix of mountains, plateaus and flat lands. “While flying, you get to cross the huge Dhom Dam lake, which adds to the experience and adventure. It has good thermodynamic conditions. As a result, people from across the globe come between December and March to participate in distance flying,” says Roy, whose Paragliding Association of India is planning a competition here in February 2016.
In this beach paradise, Arambol, Anjuna and Keri are popular places to fly. On any good day between December and January, you can fly for hours. “It’s strictly for beach flying, which makes it a fun experience. You can be in the sky and land on the beach. Plus, it has smooth flying and laminar conditions, making it easy for those who are into aerobatics. You will find pilots practice aerobatics in Goa,” says Roy.
At the centre of Sikkim’s tourism industry, Gangtok presents you the scope to fly against the backdrop of the magnificent Kanchenjunga, the reason it’s made the list. October to December is the right time to soar into the sky. “However, due to terrain, you can’t do distance flying. Moreover, it has limited landing scope. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful place to fly,” Roy says.
This idyllic hill station, situated 1,100 metres above sea level, is known in the circuit for hosting the International Paragliding Festival every year in February. “During this festival, paragliders are invited to participate and perform aerobatics,” says Roy. For the layman, there’s a club called Fly Vagamon, dedicated to teaching the basics of tandem flying and paragliding. “Vagamon offers the scope of ridge soaring and has good thermodynamic condition. So on a good day, you can fly 10 odd km at a height of 3,300 metres,” says Roy.