Debu Chowdhury, the founder of Hi-Fly in Manali, has been paragliding more than two decades. Most of his experience has been in Europe, but he has now set up a base in India. His aim is to promote paragliding in India through his business. He wants to move the large mass of Indians who are currently just tandem flying into a space where these same people can fly themselves.
He talks to BigRush about paths one can choose to take flight.
I want to paraglide. I’m based in India. What do I do?
The first thing you have to do is a tandem flight. From that experience you should be able to figure out if it is for you. Some people decide that it’s too much to do on a regular basis. These people feel that once is enough.
The next step is to find a good instructor and do a basic course for a week. You start out with a couple of ‘hops’ and end the course with a couple of hi-flies with your supervisor giving you radio instructions.
Only after this, do you decided whether you should invest in your own equipment.
I’m usually all over the country. So which are the main locations in the four corners of India?
The main locations in the north are Manali and Bir Billing, which is near Dharamshala.
The people in the south and west of India can look at a place near Pune, called Kamshet. The schools Indus and Nirvana are pretty well-known here. In the same vicinity is Panchgani, near Mahabaleshwar. And of course, one can always fly in Goa, off the cliffs by the sea.
The paragliding scene is just about starting out in the North East. A couple of sites in Sikkim are looking very promising.
Which are the best seasons for these respective places?
The best season in Manali is between May and June. For Bir Billing it’s March to mid-May. Then both these locations have great flying conditions during October and November.
Pune and Panchkani are good for the whole winter and more, that’s October to April. Goa is the same.
I’m not sure about Sikkim, but I expect it to be the same as Bir Billing because it is almost the same altitude and similar weather.
What’s the paragliding ladder like? What are there different grades?
First one must do a course under instructions. Then you’ll get a club pilot license where you fly under the supervision of your instructor. Then comes the pilot license where you can fly alone. Then you have the advanced pilot license which lets you do more complex flying, like cross country.
All of this, however, is what it is like to fly in Europe. India doesn’t have a proper licensing system. In India you can do whatever you like. For example, there are some people who start tandem piloting within a month. This is unheard of in the rest of the world, where it takes at least three years of effort and money to reach that level.
It takes that much time, money and effort to be legally allowed to take people up commercially in Europe. In India it is often about three weeks. Of course, I’m not saying that this is the case everywhere. There are some really good pilots in India. But there are plenty of these three-week experts.
So how can the industry be put in order?
The only way is if the government cracks down. Plenty of bad accidents have happened and then the government bans paragliding in that particular area. We even had a ban during the Commonwealth Games. But the ban always tends to fade within a month.
How much money and time should one keep aside for this?
The basic course takes a week to 10 days, depending on the weather. It can cost between Rs 1500 and Rs 2000 per day, depending on the instructor.
After that you can do an advanced course, which is another week to 10 days at about the same cost. Different schools have different systems.
What are your plans during the Indian monsoon season, when the paragliding business slumps?
During these months I head out to Europe where I fly and blog about it on my website.
You can reach Debu at firstname.lastname@example.org