By Lakshmi Swaminathan for BigRush
As paragliding season returns in Asia with colourful gliders forming a pretty foreground among the peaks, a million adventure enthusiasts out there still dream of flying on their own. Years ago, one of these was Yash Paul Thakur, a young boy from a middle-class family in Bir, Himachal Pradesh.
He first dreamt of flying at 14, and with sheer determination became a solo paraglider. Now 22, he recollects, “We would come every Sunday when we were in school to watch people fly. Most were foreigners and we were never allowed to touch the gliders.” Today, the youngster flies a minimum of 150 km a day.
He practised initially with a competition glider called Gin Boomerang 3 after which he found a mentor to guide him. “A good friend of mine who knew Ranjit Singh very well told me the ace paraglider would teach me how to fly. One day, at noon, he suddenly called and asked me to come to fly with him,” smiles Yash, remembering his experience.
Paragliding was new in India back then and no one believed that a middle-class boy could afford to fly. So the young Yash ran away from home at the age of 16, heading for Manali to chase his dream. He stayed there for over two years and flew tandem gliders. He chose to stay in Manali to become better at the sport, and ended up doing over a thousand short flights.
“I was doing tandem from the beginning. Whenever I had the chance to fly solo, I would. I didn’t even care about food. I just practised the whole day,” he recalls. Later, he went to Rohtang where he flew long distance in the evenings.
After his return to Bir, he tried doing the wingovers he’d picked up in Manali on a BiGolden 2, a small sensitive glider. One of his best experiences flying in strong wind over open valleys for the first time was at the Vagamon Tandem Flying Festival in Kerala in 2014.
Once he returned from Kerala, he went to Srinagar as the weather in Bir was unsuitable for flying. There, he tried to reach maximum heights on long flights, flying through the clouds to reach the next hill.
On a friend’s request, he tried a twist to his regular paragliding acrobatics, something he doesn’t normally do with clients. “I tried to do a SAT spiral, which we generally do by increasing speed, going into a wingover and then entering a SAT. I’d never done a SAT before, and the moment I tried, the glider collapsed and it was only 20 per cent open. I let it spin and recovered afterwards with a lot of difficulty,” says Yash, who learnt his lesson with the experience and stopped taking unnecessary risks.
He is not the kind to back down from challenges. After he returning from Srinagar, a close senior asked to do a season with him. There he had the chance to experiment flying in an Axis solo glider.
He went up till Solan city where the winds were really strong and another time to Chamunda from where he spotted Dharamsala. “The flight took five-and-a-half hours and I was a little disappointed as I couldn’t even complete 100 km within that time. But I had seen many foreign pilots practise long distance here and that motivated me. So, I kept practising until one day I managed 100 km in 3h 42m,” he notes of his first flight to Nainital.
As his addiction for slow flying and love for heights rose, he was asked to do an expedition over the next season. This led to him to fly to Kullu, rising above ridges and peaks while other friends flew to neighbouring villages. During one of these flights, he hit a thermal. “The glider is really sensitive. I had to be very cautious because a bit of carelessness can cause it to twist and tangle. My glider twisted once but I didn’t let it get another twist. This greatly impressed my expedition lead,” says Yash, who is now more confident with long distant flying, thanks to these experiences.
He is constantly finding inspiration and motivation from those around him. “During one of my first long-distance flights, I flew for two hours and I wanted to fly a bit more. That’s when I saw another pilot zoom past me. His high speed motivated me and I began to follow him. I flew for six hours straight and for the first time, I was above 4000 m. The flight was so demanding that I could not feel my hands or legs in the evening. The next day, I ended up flying over 160 km,” he recalls.
Despite the many challenges that come with being a young paraglider on his own in India, Yash remains motivated to constantly get better. He recently decided to buy a glider that performs well and hopes to fly full of confidence in the hope of setting a record. Now that’s a dreamer who is a doer.