Manali: Paragliding could be dangerous if safety rules are not followed. But in Manali, nobody seems to mind breaking the rules set by the Himachal tourism department.
After all, it is peak tourist season, and it’s time to make money.
Three years ago, after a series of paragliding accidents, the high court had banned the sport. Until the tourism department made registration compulsory, and listed safety rules and pilot eligibility criterion.
“Every tour operator has now been registered. We also inspect the paragliding equipment,” says Col Neearaj Rana, Director of Atal Bihari Mountaineering Institute and allied sports Manali (ABMI) Manali
Roshan Lal Thakur of the Himalayan Institute of Adventure Sports says there are no experts to implement the rules. “A technical panel is supposed to check the pilot’s equipment and fitness level. But it has no experts. They want pilots to be qualified, but who’ll list that criteria?”
Vinay Sharma, a local pilot, says to qualify they need five years of tandem and solo flying experience. But Col Rana says pilots should be trained from a recognized institute.
With a large number of paragliding sites came up in recent years, Himachal has emerged as the top destination for paragliding in the country. With nearly a lakh tourist trying hand at (tandem) paragliding, Kullu-Manali tops the list in terms of number. And the Kullu district is also topping the list of most fatal paragliding accidents. Five persons have died in four accidents this year only while many have sustained injuries. Human error is the main reason behind maximum accidents.
Tourists generally go for a tandem flight but nobody asks pilots for their license, registration and quality of the equipment. In many accidents, pilots were found to be flying without a valid license and registration with the tourism department. The pilots, who always remain in hurry to finish the flight to catch another customer, never brief the dos and don’ts to the customers who always remain in suspense that what to do next. Almost 100 per cent of the clients here are tourists.
Falayan, Solang, Majhach, Diyar and Kharahal are the main paragliding spots in Kullu district where thousands of tourists enjoy joy-rides. The most operators at these sites are not following the proper safety procedures. While some are flying with outdated paragliders and harnesses, some even fly with two children at a time. This is the reason dozens of tourists visit hospitals in the district with broken limbs every year.
According to experts, there are some dos and don’ts that should be taken care of before going for paragliding which should be checked for safe and thrilling experience.
Except for July to September, paragliding is legal and considered safe in Himachal. Still, this thrilling outdoor sport can be fatal if done during rain, snowfall, thunderstorm and on a windy day. Before booking the ticket, tourists should ensure that day is clear and pleasant. Paragliding in state remains completely banned during monsoon season under Himachal Pradesh Aero Sports Rules, 2004.
Col Rana said before you hit the sky, check if weather is clear and safe for paragliding.
He added one should ask the pilot to show his license to fly and make sure that he is registered with tourism of Himachal Pradesh. Before this, ask his full name. He advised one should check and make sure that flying equipment is new. Every paraglider is made to fly for certain hours, after which it retires. He further said pilot to brief you in advance on what to do and what don’t starting from taking off till you land and check your safety harness is tied and secured safely with you and the karabiner. With some mild jerks, you can check if the locks are slipping.
Col revealed wear a helmet of proper size and belt it up and ask pilot that he has working reserve parachute.
Col added Make sure that you are mentally prepared to touch the sky, several hundred meters above the ground. Once to take off, there is no way back.
He warned If you think pilot is putting your life in danger despite you resist, dial 100 (police) or 01902252175 (tourist information centre) to file a complaint.
Col Neerai Rana said Never do this that is do not attempt flying in bad weather condition, poor visibility, rain or during snowfall. He disclosed that Landing is the most crucial part of tandem paragliding. Do not wear sandal and chappals which can cause you leg injury. And never ask your pilot to do stunts like wing overs, spirals and top landing which have tendency to go increase risks for the tandem pilot rider. The stunts are meant for professional paragliding only.
He advises that if you feel unwell while midair, do not panic and shout. This can put the pilot in stress who can take a wrong decision under pressure. Instead, ask him calmly that you are not feeling well and he should land as soon as possible. He said do not fly if your harness seat does not have enough cushion where you can’t sit and which cannot provide you enough protection in case of dragged landing. Ask your pilot to change the cushion harness.
If you have knee, back, heart, breathing related problem, avoid paragliding.
According to Roshan Thakur, the first civilian paraglider of Himachal, who also runs a paragliding school in Manali, a safe paragliding is responsibility of both pilot and customer. “Kullu district has multiple paragliding sites. Tourists should choose a site where there is no rush. The site should be approved by the tourism department. It is always safe to book your ticket through paragliding association counter and ensure that you get a licensed and experienced pilot. Never ask your pilot for stunts and to go beyond the limit. If you feel unsafe and uncomfortable with a particular pilot, do not take off. Harness, helmet and other safety checks should be done in advance. High fly is always safer than the low fly as you get some time to rectify the errors in you are high above the ground.”
Another paraglider Rakesh Kumar said almost all the paragliding accidents in Kullu-Manali are result of human error. “We know that all adventure activity has risk involved with it. But we can reduce the risk if we act wisely. Tourists should not totally depend on pilot for safety checks as many pilots treat them just as a customer. Do not argue with your pilot. If, while asking for his license, other documents and condition of the equipment, tourists enter an argument, it is wise to cancel the flight and find another pilot as angry pilot is not less than a devil who will be controlling your life,” he said.
Manali Paragliding Association president Chaman Lal said his association has nearly 172 pilots who have valid license. None of our member flies in bad weather condition. The association has already made it clear that a strict action would be taken against the offenders who fly against the rules, he said.
Over 30 lakh tourists visit Kullu district every year and thousands of them try hand at tandem paragliding. The local operators here offer low and high flies in tandem. In past years, the number of accidents in paragliding has increased. In many cases, pilots were found to be flying without a license. Brawls with tourists are a common problem at paragliding sites. To deal with these problems, Kullu administration is framing strict rules for pilots so that the adventure sport becomes safe and memorable.