MASTERS OF THE SKY: NEPAL’S PARAGLIDING TEAM

MASTERS OF THE SKY: NEPAL’S PARAGLIDING TEAM
Pokhara is the most prioritized destination for domestic and international tourists for paragliding for the past two decades. It has been a strength to boosting tourism in Pokhara

Paragliding glorifies the enchanting beauty of the mountains and scenic nature from the top. Paragliding in Pokhara started almost around two and a half decades ago. Paragliding, in simple terms, means to glide in the air before the touchdown on land. There is a unique thrill in jumping off the hill and breathing in nature around as you see the snow covered mountain ranges. Pokhara is the most prioritized destination for domestic and international tourists for paragliding for the past two decades. It has been a strength to boosting tourism in Pokhara. 


It barely came to anyone’s prediction that paragliding would be a pride of the nation. In the 18th Asian Games held in Indonesia from 18 August 2018 to 2 September 2018, Nepal won the silver medal in the paragliding sports competition, that too at a time when paragliding was included in the games for the first time in 2018. After winning no medals until the eleventh day of the games, this win was a savior to Nepal. 


Nepal had competed in the Cross Country and Accuracy aspects of paragliding. A maximum number of games in the Asian Cup was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Paragliding was held in Gunung Mas, Puncak. This sport has now marked a new history. This is the second silver medal in the Asian Cup for Nepal. In the 1998 Bangkok Asian Cup, Sabita Rajbhandari had achieved the first silver medal for Nepal. It was a satisfactory performance for Nepal in “Accuracy” and the gliders were neck and neck with the winners in “Cross Country.” Nepal gave an unforgettable performance on the last day. While competing in Task 5, Nepali  gliders had the best performance. 3 of the 4 gliders successfully completed the overall task and reached the goal. If the fourth glider too had completed the task, the Nepali  team would have upgraded their score above Japan and won the gold medal. The Nepali  paragliding team consisted of Bijaya Gautam, Bishal Thapa, Yukesh Gurung and Sushil Gurung under the leadership of Bimal Adhikari. Among the 4 team members, 17 year old Yukesh was the youngest. On the final day, the team managed to score 2700, whereas the Japanese team who led the leader board on the previous day had only managed to score 2057 on the last day. On the last day, the Japanese team only managed to complete 2 tasks. 


On the 5th level competition Japan led the scoreboard with a score of 9314, while Nepal occupied the second place with a score of 8567. Nepal’s exceptional performance on the last day had expectations of turning the score around. But with a score of just 27, Japan still led the competition. Thus, the final score after all the levels was;  Japan with 11,391 and Nepal with 11,364 winning the gold and silver medals respectively. 


The coach of Nepali Team Mr. Yogesh Bhattarai seemed to be slightly disappointed for not being able to win the gold medal. He expressed that he had a vision to change the Nepali sports history in the Asian Games. However, winning the silver medal in the 2018 Asian Games held no less value to them.  


The Nepali  paragliding team’s participation in the Asian Games was finalized around February 2018. Thus, for a period of 6 months, the team worked their best and returned home with the medal from the finals. The Nepali paragliding team had participated with 8 members in 6 events at the Asian Games. The female paragliders were Prativa Bhujel, Trisha Shrestha Bomjan, and Sabita Tamang. They scored the sixth position among 10 groups in Women’s Team for “Cross Country”. If analyzed in terms of financial grounds, paragliding requires the most investment because of the glider, harness, parachute, GPS, radio set, barometer, electronic compass, gloves, helmet, etc. The cost sums up to around 0.7 million rupees. On the aspects of “Cross Country” and “Accuracy” for both men’s and women’s competition, around 1.4 million rupees was spent. While it was impossible for the country to spend such a huge amount, the enthusiasm to participate in the first ever paragliding competition encouraged the participating team to cover their own cost. The courage shown by the team to represent their country with pride and to bear the cost is truly remarkable. 

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The very first inclusion of paragliding in the Asian Games with an overwhelming result was astonishing to many. If you turn through the pages of the history of the Asian Games, Nepal has claimed medals in various other sports. Before their participation in the Asian Games, Nepal had participated in the Pre-World Cup Competition held in China. After winning the bronze medal, the Nepali paragliding team represented the nation in the Asian Cup. The medal in China wasn’t just the initiator for the Nepali team in the Asian Cup, it also made them medal winners. On the basis of the previous achievements, National Sports Council of Nepal started having hopes for medals in paragliding. 


Nepal has its own history with paragliding. The paragliding performance of the Nepal Army in the opening of 1999 South Asian Games left everyone dumbfounded. 5 years later, when Pakistan hosted the South Asian Games in Islamabad, the performance of the Nepal Army was also commended. 

The First Paragliding Company in Nepal 

Paragliding in Pokhara started in 1996 AD. A local from Pokhara, Biru Bomjan partnered with a British pilot, Adam Charles Hills and established a paragliding company called “Sunrise Paragliding Company”. This is the company that started bringing foreign pilots for paragliding. Hills is considered to be an influential person to root for the culture of paragliding in Nepal. He initially came as a trekker to Annapurna Base Camp. As soon as he saw the possibility of paragliding from Sarangkot, he initiated the idea into a business. 


Even with the commencement of paragliding, safety was still an issue to be considered. Initially, only people who came to trek the Annapurna Circuit would try their hands at paragliding. There were only 4 paragliding companies till 2007, but since there was a boom in the business, more companies cropped up from 2010 onwards. Till date, there are around 5 dozen paragliding companies in active operation. In peak seasons, these companies operate up to 500 flights. Paragliding can also be done in Tarepani and Mandra Dhunga. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has provided around 300 temporary licensed pilots for paragliding. Only 25 pilots are fully licensed. Compared to previous years, the dependence on foreign pilots has decreased. 


Besides Pokhara, the other authorized paragliding destinations in Nepal are Dharan, Syangja, Tanahu, Bandipur, Palpa, Kathmandu, Surkhet and Lalitpur. Various other places have schools established to train paragliders. 


The 13th South Asian Games, slated to be held in 2019 is said to be hosted by Nepal. With Nepal’s recommendation, the South Asian Games have decided to include paragliding in the competition for the first time. The perception for paragliding as an adventure sport had yet to be explored. Even today, people perceive it merely as a thrill-seeking adventure. This notion will hopefully change in the coming years, as paragliding is gaining a pedestal as an adventure sport, evidenced by the Nepali paragliders’ medal-winning prowess. 

Buddha Air