All About Paragliding in Pokhara from Someone Afraid of Heights

All About Paragliding in Pokhara from Someone Afraid of Heights

I’m afraid of heights, but would go paragliding in Pokhara every day if I could.

 

We piggybacked onto another group’s trip to Nepal because a mutual friend planning the trip had previously lived in Kathmandu. He had traveled all over Nepal while living there and twice since, and planned the perfect 10-day adventure for us.

In addition to his favorite temples and a family trek up Poon Hill Trail, what he insisted we try was paragliding in Pokhara.

I didn’t bother trying to argue that I’m afraid of heights. I trusted this guy to only suggest the most incredible and worthwhile activities, so I knew getting into the air was something I just had to do.

My heart is beating out of my chest just reliving the crazy experience.

 

Some of the Best Paragliding in the World is in Pokhara, Nepal

 

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Pokhara, an inland city of half a million full-time residents, is known as Nepal’s adventure capital. It encompasses the Pokhara Valley at the base of the Himalayan mountains and is the closest urban starting point for the famous Annapurna trails. Population soars year-round as trekkers from around the world flock to Pokhara in preparation to summit some of Earth’s tallest peaks.

Those planning multi-day hikes have more to look forward to than climbing mountains, however. Because of it’s unique location Pokhara is home to plenty of other adventure activities. Adrenaline junkies can easily find zip lining, mountain biking, white water rafting, bungee jumping, and paragliding.

While Pokhara is most famous for it’s Himalayan proximity it’s also considered to be one of the top 5 tandem paragliding locations in the world.

 

Pokhara paragliding thermals

What makes Pokhara the perfect paragliding location is thermals. Thermals form when warm air is beside cooler air. A column of air rises when near something tall such as a skyscraper or mountain, then cools at higher temperatures. Paragliders can manipulate their parachute to catch the updraft of a thermal, which will send them higher into the air.

Since paragliders ride without engines, thermal energy is the most effective way to extend a jump.  Instead of using a parachute to gently float from a high altitude to a lower one, riding thermals allows the paraglider to continue upward.

Pokhara is known for having some of the strongest and most dependable thermal clouds due to it’s proximity to the Annapurna mountain circuit. The height of the mountains coupled with the depths of the valleys creates thermals that are relished from around the world. Other mountain valleys, such as the Utah Valley at the foot of the famous Wasatch Mountain Front, have similarly reliable thermal fronts.

 

Pokhara landscape

Not only do the thermals provide excellent paragliding rides, the scenery you’ll find while riding makes Pokhara any nature lover’s dream location.

Paragliders jump from one of many pre-determined foothills and riders are afforded an immediate and breathtaking view of other hills, the city, hilltop temples, the distant Annapurna mountains, and Phewa Lake. In one glance you are exposed to so much natural and man made beauty that you’ll appreciate the thermals which allow you to feast on the sight for as long as possible!

 

What to Expect When Paragliding in Pokhara

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Step 1: Getting to the right location

The first thing your paragliding tour guide will do is pick you up. Most groups are willing to pick you up from the airport or your hotel, or you can always meet them in town. Chances are your hotel and their office are both in the same general area, so walking to find their office shouldn’t be too hard.

After signing some waivers with the tour company and hearing a bit about what your jump will be like they will drive you, your tandem partner, and the necessary gear in a tourist-approved Jeep or SUV uphill. There are a few places your tour company has to choose from, but they will most likely be around 30 minutes – 1 hour’s drive out of town. Part of this drive could be on bumpy or winding roads, so be prepared for the adventure to start as soon as you enter the Jeep.

Once at the right spot, you and your tandem jumping guide will hop out and head toward a flat clearing on the side of a hill. The location has to be uphill and also flat, as the parachute is fully extended and laid out prior to jumping.

 

Step 2: Setting up the parachute

Paragliding Harness Paragliding Pokhara Nepal Best Paragliding in the World The Obriens Abroad Family Travel

 

It will take a few minutes to prepare the jump once you arrive at the right spot.

Your tandem paragliding guide will use this time to fit you and himself in proper harnesses, secure all loose items (like shoes, camera, sunglasses, etc. you may have brought), and prep the parachute.

There are lots of paragliding companies in Pokhara, so your jumping spot will likely have other jumpers around. There may only be room on the flat portion of hill for 1-3 jumpers, so your guide will wait until your turn is up. The paragliding companies all know and generally respect each other, so this isn’t a competitive atmosphere! The guides will acknowledge one another and agree upon the jumping order, so there’s no need to wonder if you’re being pushed down the line.

This is a great time to observe other jumpers before you go. It’s amazing to see so many colorful parachutes circling one place! You’ll be able to watch how other guides set up the parachute, how the attach everything, and how they take off. If you’re also afraid of heights this is a great opportunity to calm yourself down before it’s your turn. You’ll quickly see that it’s not scary or unsafe at all, and even quite fun and beautiful!

Once it’s your turn your jumping guide will bring your parachute to a large tarp. He’ll lay it out and set it up, most likely with someone’s help. He’ll then bring you over and connect you both to the end of the parachute.

 

Step 3: Jumping

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Once you’re in position your guide will explain how to jump. It’s much easier than you may expect (or at least it was for me!) You will be instructed to run when prompted, and to sit when prompted. Doesn’t get much more simple than that.

When we jumped my guide kept his eye on a wind sock down from our clearing. He paid close attention to it, the trees, and the feel of the wind to be able to tell when a thermal pocket of air was arriving. We had to wait for a few minutes, which he said was unusual, but when the appropriate wind arrived he told me to start running.

Since we’d been waiting for a bit I was a little surprised to hear the command to run and it took me a few seconds to get my head in the game. I mostly quickly walked while my guide pushed us forward, and we were off the ground before I knew it.

It’s pretty hard to run while being attached to so much weight, so when they say “Run” what they mostly mean is “Move with intention.”

The parachute will quickly fill with air once it’s being drug down the clearing, and you’ll naturally be swept away once you’re at the edge of the clearing.

 

Step 4: Paragliding

Paragliding Pokhara Nepal The OBriens Abroad Family Travel
Whit, 6, paraglides in Pokhara, Nepal

Once you’re off the ground your guide will tell you to fall back on your bottom to sit down.

To be honest, it feels a little unnatural to sit in a cloth seat above the ground. You can feel the chair bending around with the air and your body can sense the minute changes you make when being carried, so you may feel yourself instinctively tensing up. It’s easier said than done, but try to stay calm and tell your body to relax.

Once you’re in the air you’re completely safe in the harness, so don’t be afraid to look up, down, and all around you. It’s a beautiful, unique area and you don’t want to miss this opportunity!

Based on the thermals available your guide may ask if you want to ride a thermal upwards. This is a bit more extreme paragliding, so be prepared for swift movement. Riding a thermal means you’ll be swept upwards and carried high over the hills. This leads to really unique views of Pokhara and a longer descent at the end of your flight.

If you’ve gone paragliding with a group you can ask your guide to point out other members. He will probably even carry you back and forth in the same area so you and your friends can see and wave to each other in the air. The ride lasts for a while and the same view could get boring, so he’ll want to switch directions and find your friends to keep things interesting for you.

 

Step 5: Acrobatic Paragliding

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This step is completely optional, and you may want to discuss it with your tandem paragliding guide before you set off.

There is such a thing as acrobatic paragliding, or “acro” paragliding. It’s a sport where specially designed parachute wings and harnesses are used by well-trained professionals to perform tricks and trick connections in the air. Aerobatic paragliding is beautiful and death defying, and worldly competitions are held each year for serious competitors. Many of those competitors from around the world live and work in Pokhara, which allows them the opportunity to practice their tricks whenever they want.

Tandem paragliding doesn’t allow for the crazy aerobatic tricks, but a professional flyer can achieve some fun stunts with you. If he feels like you’re up to it (because getting overwhelmed or motion sick is a definite possibility) and the thermals are right, the most popular tandem trick is to complete a series of 360-degree circles. If you do this expect to be exposed to some serious G-forces! Don’t worry, your guide is trained to be well attuned to your needs so he’ll be able to watch for signs of you passing out.

Another acrobatic stunt option is rapid twisting from side to side. This can be performed while descending, as it doesn’t require as much thermal assistance as the 360 swirls do. Your guide would rapidly turn you left, then right, and back again. This could also make you motion sick, but it’s an incredible rush!

 

Step 6: Descent

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When paragliding in Pokhara you’ll most likely begin your descent toward the Phewa Lake. It leads to some of the most beautiful views you’ll catch during your entire flight!

Phewa Lake is the second largest lake in Nepal covering 4.43 km (1.7 mi). It’s a freshwater lake and produces an incredible turquoise color throughout the year. The image of the blue lake against the green mountain foothills with snow-capped mountains in the background is an image that makes the entire paragliding experience worthwhile (even if you the fun and thrill of flying doesn’t). 

The Lake has a stretch of land at one end where many paragliders touch down. It may make you nervous to approach a small body of land in the middle of wide lake, but don’t worry- your guide has done this thousands of times. And, if necessary, he will perform an emergency descent in the water, which would be much safer than on land, anyway.

The descent feels faster than it actually is. After flying for 30 minutes you get used to being in the air, and approaching land seems to happen quickly as your eyes, mind, and body adjust to the change of altitude and scenery.

As you get closer to approaching the landing space your guide will adjust the parachute to keep you going in the right direction. He’ll explain that all you need to do is keep your feet up when he says and to stand when he says. As opposed to skydiving, there’s no need to run as you touch down.

 

Step 7: Cleaning up the parachute

Once on the ground you will detach from your guide and the parachute. He will begin to lay out the parachute and fold it up as quickly as possible, as prolonged sun exposure eventually degrades the wing fabric.

You’ll have this time to get yourself out of your harness and wander around as others land around you. It can be a hectic place, but there’s plenty of space to wander to make sure you stay out of someone’s way when landing. Seeing parachutes land around you in the middle of Phewa Lake is incredible, but you want to take special care to avoid those landing as the parachute cords could come out of nowhere and cause some damage.

For reference, my hyper 6-year-old landed before I did and was excitedly running around and toward me as I landed. He was completely fine.

Step 8: Heading back to Pokhara

You’re driver and Jeep will be waiting at the landing site by the time you arrive. Once your guide has finished packing the wing you will head toward the Jeep together to begin the drive back to Pokhara.

The drive back to town takes place on a ground-level road around the hill you jumped from. It’s a much shorter ride than the one which took you up, as it’s generally a straight shot into town.

Once you arrive at the paragliding office you can pick up anything you may have left (like your suitcases if you left directly from the airport) and are free to leave. The tour service most likely provides guides for the popular Annapurna hikes and other adventure activities in Pokhara, so be prepared for a short sales pitch which they feel may fit your needs if you’re staying in the area.

 

FAQ About Paragliding Pokhara

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How do you find a paragliding tour?

We found ours through Google. We searched for paragliding in the Pokhara area and called every company with a 4-star rating and higher until we reached one that had an opening on the day we wanted. There are tons to choose from, so don’t be alarmed if the first couple you try are booked.

You could also wait until you’re in Pokhara to set up a paragliding jump. There are lots of adventure tour agencies in the main part of town, and simply walking down the street from your hotel will show you plenty of options.

 

How can you trust your tour company?

I suggest looking for a company with a Google or Yelp page where you can see reviews from past customers. A recommendation always helps you know what to expect!

You want to make sure the company is a registered tour agency, not just an individual who owns a wing. You can ask to confirm credentials.

You may also want to ask how long the agency has been in business and how many jumps or flying hours each guide has. More experienced flyers will have been working for 3+ years and have thousands of hours of single and tandem jumps under their belts.

 

How much does paragliding cost?

The cost depends on the individual agency and how long your jump lasts. Most agencies around Pokhara charge around $70-90USD for 30 minutes of flight time. They will offer a discount to extend the jump to one hour, which you can pay for once back at the office if you decide mid-flight to extend your time.

You could negotiate a lower price if you’re jumping with a group (4 or more people) or if you ask a local guide for help. Some friends of ours asked our Poon Hill trekking guide to help them arrange a jump for multiple people and the guide was able to negotiate a lower deal than our friends would have made on their own, for instance.

 

Can I take pictures while paragliding?

Definitely bring your own camera or phone to take pictures before and after the flight. Your guide can secure it in a zipper pocket of the harness while you’re flying, or you can strap the camera tightly around your torso to maintain use of it on your flight.

It’s difficult to take your own pictures while flying, and you do so at your own risk, but entirely possible if you keep the camera strapped around your neck.

Most tour agencies will provide GoPro videos and pictures of your flight. Each guide will have one on a selfie stick which they’ll pull out once you’re safely in the air. He will use it a few times to capture still and video of you and the scenery and provide you with the images on a USB once back at the office. If you happen to bring a laptop to the office you can download them to your computer directly, which will save a step and some time.

Companies may charge as much as $20USD extra for GoPro footage, and others include it in the cost of a jump. It’s worth asking to see if yours includes it and trying to negotiate a lower jump price if they do but you aren’t interested in the footage.

 

Can children go paragliding?

Most likely.

Make sure the company knows you have a child in your group when arranging the flight. They will ask you some questions, like how old or how big your child is. Some agencies are equipped for children, others are not. Call around until you find one that is.

Different wings (parachutes) have different weight requirements. In order to accept a child, the agency will want to pair him or her with a smaller guide so they can both fit in a smaller, safer wing. So the office will need to have a small guide on staff and access to a small wing and harness/ chair.

The general rule of thumb is that a child needs to be 20kg or more and able to listen to commands to make a jump. Most tour offices will have a scale to confirm the weight of the child before you leave.

The child will be well prepped on what to expect and not expected to do much of the running work to set off. They will be asked to move, but not responsible for actually doing the work of getting off the ground. Once in the air the guide will often ask your child how they are feeling and keep the flight calm (no thermal riding or acrobatics) to make sure they are having a good time.

 

How long does a flight last?

A typical flight will last around 90 minutes from start to finish. This includes driving to the jump site, waiting and preparing to jump, 30 minutes of flight time, descent and packing, and driving back to town.

You will have the option to extend your jump to one hour, which will extend the time of your overall experience.

You’ll have plenty of time to fit in a jump on the same day as other adventures in Pokhara, or before or after a trek!

 

Our Experience Paragliding in Pokhara

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Just writing about this adventure makes my heart pound. I’m afraid of heights, but the experience of flying was thrilling!

We decided with hours to spare that we wanted to go paragliding in Pokhara. We found an agency with availability for our family from the Kathmandu airport while waiting for our flight. Two hours later we touched down in Pokhara, grabbed our bags, and were in our tour agency’s car heading to their office.

We left our bags with the tour agency and headed toward the jump site with our gear and three jumping guides. We peppered them with questions as we drove, which they answered good naturedly. Ben and Whit were both excited, but I was feeling nervous.

I’m afraid of heights.

I chose not to tell my tandem partner that I was afraid of heights, but I think he could tell. I played it cool while Whit was harnessed up and took off, then started to shake as I stood on the ground waiting for my turn. It took longer for the wind appear for us than it had for other jumpers, and the anticipation started to drive me crazy by the time we were ready to take off.

It was easier to run and leave the ground than I thought, and I could finally relax once I was seated in our flex chair. I couldn’t help but stay tense while sitting, since I just couldn’t let go of the feeling of being unstable while shifting with the wind.

Despite the tenseness in my legs I did enjoy myself while flying. The feeling was incredible!

I repeated to myself that I was completely safe and in the hands of a well-seasoned professional, and was then able to appreciate the view and sensation of being in flight. My tandem guide did all the work of adjusting our wing, which left me to sit back and enjoy. The view of Pokhara, Phewa Lake, and the Annapurna mountains were incredible and I’m so grateful to have had this quiet moment to reflect on the beauty around me.

I think my guide could sense my apprehension, so he didn’t ask me about riding upward thermals. Instead we stayed near the top of the foothill we jumped from and spent our time looking for and “chasing” my son. Whit and I giddily yelled toward each other as we passed one another, which made the experience even more special.

My guide did ask if I was up to doing some tricks. I readily agreed, as I do love the adrenaline of speed and movement and had gotten used to being in the air. He led me on a few minutes of rapid turns as we neared Phewa Lake, which was absolutely thrilling. I gave a yell of excitement as I was able to really let loose.

Our descent was just as thrilling in it’s pure beauty. I wish I could have caught the moments of lake and mountains on camera, but it was one of those times that better enjoyed in person and kept as a special memory.

Once on the ground Whit ran to me, all smiles, and we hugged and danced among the floating parachutes while waiting for Ben. He was a few minutes behind and told us about riding thermals high over the hills and the feeling of G-forces of wind around him. It sounded thrilling, but I’m glad my guide had the foresight not to take me higher.

Although I’m afraid of heights, I never felt unsafe while paragliding. My harness was secure and I could feel the connects between me, my guide, and our parachute. It was an experience I’m proud of myself for having and would do again in a heartbeat!

 

If you’re planning a trip to go paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal, pin this article for later!

 

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