"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return”, said Leonardo da Vinci.
Flying like birds has always been the earnest desire of men. The launching of HIKAP [Hindu Kush Association for Paragliding]—the first registered Civil Society Organization with a mission to promote paragliding in northern Pakistan—on December 6, 2009, is a big leap forward towards the realization of this unusual dream of the Chitrali youngsters.
The association has opened categories of professional and honorary membership with fee of Rs 1000/- for professional members. The beginners have to pay Rs 2000/- entry fee to learn the sport.
To begin with, Miftahuddin, ACO Chitral administered oath to the new office bearers of the association and wished the sport could be instrumental in the wellbeing of the entire region by highlighting it into an ideal destination and attracting more national and international paragliders on equal footing to Phokran in Nepal.
The speakers underlined the significance of paragliding as an innovative technology for tourism growth in future and ranked it as a budding product after the Kalash communities with mountaineering and free style polo to be ranked at third and fourth respectively.
Meanwhile the forum appreciated the step of the paragliders who, at first hand, learnt the sport without institutional supervision and now working assiduously to impart the gliding skills to other young people. The total number of senior pilots and new entrants is ten at present.
Given the perfect launching points and open landing spots coupled with clear blue sky, lofty snow-clad peaks and the buoyancy of the everlasting thermals keeping a pilot afloat for nine hours at times, Chitral could be the hub of both national and international paragliders.
Mr Saifullah Jan, himself a pilot and the newly elected president of the association shared his story of how he learnt to fly. He lamented the fact that in the beginning people discouraged him that the sport was life threatening and a difficult one. Despite all difficulties, he did not surrender. He saved some money, proceeded to Islamabad for some training and learnt it. Now he is recognized as a good trainer also.
“I can not find words to express the thrill that come when you fly through the air. It is a unique and unusual experience only to be appreciated by those who fly”, he said. He believes the sport is safe and easy for energetic youngsters to learn. “I was motivated for the first time when I saw a foreign paraglider who landed in Chitral polo ground twenty-three years ago. “On the inauguration of Jashan-e-Chitral 2004, five years ago, when I landed in the same polo ground for the first time, the crowd believed I was a foreigner. But when I took off my helmet, they were awe-struck to see a Chitrali paraglider”, said Mr Saifullah Jan. He thanked Shahzada Capt Siraj Ulmulk for the moral and technical support in the course of learning the sport.
We can not arrange international cricket or soccer events in Chitral given the deficiency in infrastructure and the huge budget that it involves, but we can easily organize an exceptional international paragliding contest as we don’t need any preparation or ground infrastructure for the sport. So why should we not use our favorable natural topography for promoting the sport and earn handsome income?
The participants termed the sport as an innovative sector of community development necessary to diversify people’s livelihood opportunities the way it has done in other parts of the world. They thanked the pilots to take adventurous initiatives to promote paragliding in region.
In his concluding speech, Mr Sartaj Ahmed Khan, Tehsil Nazim Chitral, appreciated the launching of HIKAP as a good omen for the future development of paragliding in Chitral and considered it not only an annotative area of entertainment but also a new sector of tourism promotion in future. He pledged his committed support from the Tehsil administration for the cause.