Kamal Singh Oberh
As the COVID continues to rise in certain parts of the Country so is parallelly the urge to move out, to step out and to unleash ourselves from these bonds of social distancing and quarantine. Adventure is one big thing that we could find ourselves knocking at.
Paragliding is one such aero adventure sport that has inbuilt characteristic of adrenaline rush, absolute thrill and getting one closest to feeling like a free bird in the sky. You could enjoy a paragliding flight either as a tandem passenger with a qualified paragliding pilot, or go solo – all by yourself – just you and the winds – aur kuch nahi!
As of now there is negligible paragliding activity in the region while Jammu is home to multiple paragliding locations. Let’s explore these sites in our region, panning various high reaches, which are a treat to visit even if you don’t wish to take to the skies!
I shall restrict myself to only those locations which have been personally accessed by me, so far, on ground, along with other experts in the field.
Let’s start – literally from the bottom. Siyara. Am certain you’re many of those who have neither heard this name, and obviously so, nor been there (as yet!). Don’t you worry, just hang on to me as I walk you through this location. Siyara is on Basholi – Bani road (so did I hear you say, “okay”? Good! Now you know the general area I’m talking about!). Standing at Siyara, facing South East, looking at your eye level, you could pass a smile to our distant cousin, a Himachali Dogra, in Dalhousie, just 13 kms as a crow flies across the valley. In the valley below, between you two, is the beautiful river Ravi, delimiting J&K and Himachal. Siyara is about 200 kms from Jewel Chowk.
Once you take off from this site the overall view is just breathtaking, mountains, river, valley, cool winds brushing your face. Landing area is on the J&K side in fields near Hutt. Flights here could last for half an hour.
Creation of accommodation at Siyara would be an inescapable requirement in order to provide basic amenities to the tourists.
Let’s move up North West now, along the Dhar Road. Chountra Mata. A pilgrim destination that is well within the reach of a million people who visit Mansar annually. It’s about 25 kms from Mansar. One could comfortably extend their day out trip from Mansar to Chountra in less than an hour, enjoying the picturesque Dhar road drive.
After paying respects to the deity one could enjoy a smooth 10 minutes flight down to the foothills.
While there is good road connectivity to Chountra Mata from the Dhar Road junction, the last kilometre or so yet remains to be commissioned. For any paragliding site to become user friendly, it needs to have convenient connectivity right till the launch point and the landing area as well. This is critical to facilitate the pilots to carry out multiple launches.
Same ridge line, let’s move further up North. Pingla Mata. A destination again well within the reach of a million people who visit Mansar annually, or 10 million yatris to Mata Vaishno Devi.
At 23 kms from Mansar, this location already has excellent road connectivity to the top through the desired landing areas in the foothills. Opening up of the site by the authorities for regular operations is all that this location awaits. One could get 10 minutes of flight from here to the landing area.
Ladha This is a gold mine as far as paragliding in Jammu is concerned. Jewel of all locations. Tourists could get the best paragliding experience here. The feel of a flight from here would be heavenly. Flights here would go beyond half an hour.
However, for actual success of his site, this spot needs to be linked directly with Kainth Gali, as the landing would be towards that side. As long as this vital road link, of about 6 kms, is not in place, paragliding operations here would not be a financially viable option for the pilots. While the location in itself is excellent, effective adventure tourism shall have to be patient until this vital link is in place.
If there is one place in this region that has seen some regular paragliding, it is at Dhanua, which is about an hour’s drive from Katra. Kudos to the perseverance of the operators here. Dhanua site has been basically catering to the yatris visiting the holy shrine. One gets about 5 minutes of flight from this beautiful location that has jungles all around and a perennial stream below.
On Jammu Surinsar road, Aithem is sitting right in our back yard at 20 kms. Successful trials were conducted here, however the activity is yet to take off. Probable cause – grant of final permissions for conduct of commercial activity.
A flight here would last a little longer than at Dhanua. However, one thing is assured, as in Dhanua, the pleasure of flying can certainly be experienced here as well. The landing area couldn’t be any better with the sandy banks of Sardan Nala.
Bhaderwah too offers few excellent locations for paragliding in the region. The location towards Padri is well connected by road which offers multiple points for paragliding launches. As one launches from the beautiful meadows situated at 8,000 plus feet, the valley down below offers comfortable landing areas. One could easily get flights close to half an hour here.
Paragliding Training Institute
In order to make paragliding a sustainable tourist attraction the Govt would have to come up with a Paragliding Training Institute that would have the wherewithal for ab-initio training, instructors, certifications, and availability of equipment. It may certainly take time for this to build up, but then Rome too was not built over night. It is sad that paragliding trials have been going on in this region for the past two decades, but the sport could never get to spread its wings to help soar tourists or adventure enthusiasts. It is high time we act now, lest another ten years from now we read yet another story of a remarkable trial conducted in Jammu region for paragliding.
Let the Govt please do it now, if not, it’ll be never. Let’s lay the foundation stone by training a team of twenty odd youngsters, thereby also creating job opportunities for them. Let’s hire instructors, even if at a premium. In times to come, we would be self sufficient as is Himachal today in terms of independent operations.
Come on Jammu, we have taken many a ‘first steps’ by conducting trials, more trials, and then few more trials. It’s high time to move ahead. Enough of ‘first steps’ have been initiated in the past, it’s high time now to take ‘The Second Step’…..
Until next time – blue skies and happy landings! But what an irony, for Happy Landings, one would first have to get airborne. Isn’t it?
Jammu! It’s now, or, never…..
( The author is a qualified Parachute Jump Instructor and recipient of Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for excellence in Aero Adventure Sports. )
Kamal Singh Oberh