Manali: One has always dream’t of flying like a free bird and to satisfy the desire various inventions have been tried over the generations but none can match the experience of a ride on a Para glider.
Off late, Solang Valley at Manali has become synonymous with adventure sports in general and Paragliding in particular.
Talking to Hill Post, Balbir Thakur ,SDM cum District Tourism Development Officer Manali, said that in 2011, there were five companies employing 55 pilots registered with Himachal Tourism and this year 11 companies with 83 pilots have applied for licences.
To ensure the safety of the tourists, surprise checks are done by tourism authorities to see whether ambulances have been deployed for fast intervention during accidents.
However, a visit to Solang Valley brings out that ground realities are totally different.
While the number of licensed pilots last year were only 55 and there were about 83 applicants this year but in Solang Valley more than 150 people are engaged in providing paragliding joy rides to tourists.
Whats worse, majority of these unqualified pilots do not have proper training and hold no knowledge about the thermodynamics of a flying area leave aside the wind conditions rendering the valley extremely prone to accidents.
Ajay Kumar, a champion Para Pilot from Haripur village in Manali, who runs one of the biggest Paragliding Schools in India says “due to the excellent geographical location, the adventure sport is flourishing in Solang Valley.”
About 150 Para Pilots are operating on Solang Slopes and they generate a revenue of more than 2 crores annually, he claimed.
In the last few years Himachal Pradesh has become the hub of commercial Paragliding in India, though the adventure sport is also available at Kamshet in Maharashtra, Goa, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu.
Due to it’s strategic location and excellent thermodynamics available, Bir Billing in Kangra and Solang Valley in Kullu district has emerged as one of the best spots for commercial as well as cross country flying.
At Solang, tourists do enjoy Short/Medium and High Flights varying between 1-15 minutes, he added.
Cautioning about increasing risks of para gliding accidents, he said such accidents are mostly a result of a combination of pilot error, and poor flying conditions.
Given the risks involved, para pilots let Hill Post know that to maintain safety standards and not allow unqualified people conduct the sport, technically qualified persons should be deployed to monitor the adventure activity in Solang.
Photo: Sanjay Dutta
Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice.
He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express.
With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology.
Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.