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Valley gets wings

Valley gets wings
What would happen if you are tied with some strings attached to a parachute and asked to jump off an 8,000 feet height? Goosebumps are expected. But once you take off, life looks different and  beautiful. Gliding down a lush green valley is an experience beyond imagination. It becomes mesmerising if you are at Bir Billing valley in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. Paragliding is not just a fun-filling adventure, it’s a competitive sport and thanks to the 2015 Paragliding World Cup (PWC) at Bir-Billing for making India acquainted with the fact that it has a competitive side too. Over 150 pilots from as many as 31 countries thronged the sky and made people watch their aerobatics during a week-long tournament (Oct 23-31). The Paragliding Association of India (PAI) and Billing Paragliding Association (BPA) ran from pillar to post to bring the PWC to India, which can be largely attributed to the successful hosting of the pre-World Cup two years back in 2013.

Government at unprecedented speed: The otherwise nondescript Bir area has gone through a massive makeover for the event. From decking up Bir, Billing and its adjoining areas of Palampur and Baijnath to freshly laid out roads, towers for better mobile signals, ATM vans, more options to stay, the local administration with the help of state government showed an unprecedented speed and will power to make it a world cup event. Tourists were also seen visiting the popular McLeod Ganj area in Dharamsala, which is just a two-hour drive from Bir. Popular tourist destinations like the ancient Shiva temple in Baijnath and the Sobha Singh Art Gallery in Andreta also witnessed a rise in visitors.

The quietness of the villages of Bir and Billing in the Kangra valley architectured by God waited for this buzz since 1990, when all it had was the Chachu Chai tea stall, the famous Sherabling monastery, handful of villagers living in shacks and a few foreign enthusiasts who recognised it as a perfect paragliding site. Everything has grown in the years gone by – reaching this date when Bir-billing is now the second-best paragliding site in the world, after Italy. To back that claim, the PAI, BPA and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) did their bit to help the event leave a mark and become launchpad for the sport in India.

Not just paragliding now: After the picturesque Bir Billing has made its name for world class paragliding, foundation stone of National Institute of Paragliding has also been laid during the event last week. A Rs 9 crore amount has been sanctioned initially. The Institute would be first of its kind in the country in the public sector.  Having gauged the craze and future prospects the state government is now also mulling an 18-hole golf course  and an artificial lake here. Presiding over the closing ceremony of the week-long event, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said Bir Billing was one of the world's best paragliding site and more pilots should participate in this event in future. “The state government will consider creating artificial lake which will help increase tourist attraction to Billing,” minister for urban development and president of the Billing Paragliding Association 
Sudhir Sharma said.

Interview:
Swiss pilot, Michael Kuffer finished as winner in the Paragliding World Cup and the 26-year-old says Bir is going to become world’s best site for the sport. Excerpts: 

How was your experience?
It’s was an amazing experience to be in India and Billing. First time ever I came to this country and I am amazed to see the well-oraganised event full of local spectators. Though we faced some weather problems in the beginning but later on it went well and we reached here at the end.

When did you take the game up?
Ten years back I started playing this game and for last six years I have been professionally taking part in paragliding competitions. I am also a business student and as a profession I also work as tandem pilot in Switzerland and I fly around with people; a lot of them from India too (laughs).

Where do you rank Bir-Billing as paragliding site?
For sure, it’s one of the best sites in the world. I flew in South America, Columbia and Mexico a lot and I must say Bir did not disappoint me at all.

Which are the main areas where this place needs to improve?
I think this place is blessed with natural beauty and an ideal place for this sport. All I want to suggest is just improve transport system from Delhi to Bir. I personally faced unavailability of Internet as all big hotels were booked and we were in a small one.

What’s unique about this site?
I think it has the capacity to fetch paragliders from all over the world. As I’m from Switzerland’s Alps region where during spring season, it rains five days a week, we look for Bir-Billing like destinations where from September to December weather conditions are favourable and that’s how this place can become one of the favourite sites.

Paragliding is not a popular sport, what more is required to make it popular?
I think paragliding is popular in many parts of the world; it’s the Paragliding world cup which is not popular yet. Only events like these where media, spectators and more aspiring flyers can understand the sport and adopt it and make the sport more famous.

It’s not a TV friendly game. Does this worry you?
I think with more technological advancements, it will become a spectators’ friendly sport. In countries like mine, people watch it in great numbers. TV coverage has its limitations, so we need to 
understand that. 
Parveen  K Dogra

Parveen K Dogra

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