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Soaring like a bird: A paragliding pilot’s story

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Paragliding pilot Madhav Prasad Dahal grew up in Kathmandu at his neighbourhood of Gothatar which is close to Nepal’s only international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport. But he hadn’t thought of becoming aircraft pilot. Nor he did dream of becoming a professional paragliding pilot. He was an avid adventurer and was active in mountain biking and trekking. He had been to Gosaikunda, trekked to Thorang La Pass, travelled to Langtang, among others.

Dahal was stationed in London from 2001 to 2007 for his studies. An organic nature-lover, Dahal could not prolong his London stay despite repeated requests from his friends and relatives. Turning down all requests, he flew back to his motherland and supported his family-run business of construction materials. He would tour outside Kathmandu valley to quench his thirst of never-ending natural camaraderie.

Once he had been to Pokhara with his foreign friends. There was competitive two-kilometre Tourist Race in Pokhara offering free paragliding flight and other touristic discounts as the prize. His friend won the race and did his free paragliding flight. Dahal also made his paragliding plight paying 4,500 rupees in 2008. Having accomplished paragliding flight in the beautiful skies of Pokhara with amazing mountain range in the backdrop, Dahal instantly fell in love with this adventure sky sports. He dreamt to be a professional paragliding pilot in Pokhara.

His paragliding urge was boosted when he was 34 with two school-going sons and a loving wife to look after. He tried to persuade his reluctant family to take his professional paragliding pilot course in Pokhara. “I did spend almost two years to convince my family on my paragliding passion”, says this friendly paragliding pilot, “Ultimately I did 14-day paragliding pilot course in Pokhara and I was guided by a French pilot.”

As per existing practice, Dahal made 80 solo flights in Pokhara before starting ‘Tandem flight’. Dahal said he invested 2.5 million Nepali rupees for his paragliding course, equipment purchases, travelling and accommodation and has almost paid back entire loan in his eight-year career track so far. Interestingly, having flown hundreds of flights commercially, Dahal got his government license for professional paragliding just couple of years ago. Nepal government initiated licensing system in paragliding and Dahal is one of few Nepali paragliding pilots obtaining license in early stage.

Dahal is happy for being member of the first batch of license-holding Nepali paragliding pilot. ‘My license number is 42 and this speaks volumes,’ says elated Dahal. His was associated with Phoenix Paragliding, Sunrise Paragliding and Blue Sky Paragliding in Pokhara before he initiated his own paragliding company at Dharan in collaboration with his entrepreneur friend Roshan Adhikari. Till date, Dahal has made 900 plus solo flights and more than 2,000 tandem flights for his customers from Europe, Russia, America and Africa. ‘Interestingly, most of my clients are frequent fliers,’ says Dahal at his paragliding company Dharan Sky Adventure in Chhaatachowk, Dharan.

These days, Dahal flies in the skies of Dharan and Bhedetar. His company, Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding, is the first commercial paragliding company in East Nepal. So far, more than 300 people have enjoyed paragliding in eastern skies and Dahal and his fellow pilots from different nations are making regular paragliding flights from Dharan. ‘I have seen growing trends of adventure sports like paragliding in east Nepal and I am happy to be a part of first commercial paragliding company in Dharan’, says Dahal, ‘East Nepal has tremendous paragliding potentiality owing to its magical mountains and heavenly hills.’

Dahal’s company, Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding, has flown clients ranging from seven-year-old Pranita Adhikari to 75-years-old Pingala Devi Rajbhandari. ‘Ours is safe flight service as we are cautious about weather pattern and associated risks in every flight,’ Dahal assures of his air safety, ‘This is the solid reason we have no instances of casualties so far.’

Dahal dreams of golden paragliding future in Dharan. He is optimistic about growing paragliding craze among locals and adjoining Indian state of Bihar and West Bengal. ‘Whenever our Chinese border crossings at Kimanthanka of Sankhuwasabha district and Olanchunggola of Taplejung district come into commercial operation, we can expect mass arrival of overland Chinese clients because Chinese love paragliding a lot as seen from Pokhara.’

By Birat Anupam