Humans have always fantasized about having wings and flying like birds, way above in the skies. We have surely made huge technological advancements in terms of flying and even space is within our reach but nothing beats the thrill of Paragliding which is one of the most adventurous and exciting activities. In India, paragliding scene started in the early 90s when some foreign paragliding experts explored the possibility of paragliding in the valleys of Himachal Pradesh. They explored places like Kullu- Manali and Bir Billing near Kangra and soon the activity was picked up by local adventure lovers and now it has blossomed into a full-fledged subsidiary to the travel industry in India. People now throng to places like Kullu valley, Manali, Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh and other places in Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Karnataka and North-East. It has become a pan-India adventure activity now and contribution of Himachal pradesh and especially Manali is paramount in the growth of paragliding in India.
One of the early adventure enthusiast who took up the adventure activity and contributed in making it popular in his own little ways was none other than the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi! It is highly surprising that a full-time politician who runs the nation, attends election rallies across the country and does diplomatic parleys with world leaders was once involved in paragliding in Manali. But PM Modi is known to surprise all and he was once a travel and adventure enthusiast, some will say he still is (no pun intended). Talking to Financial Express Online, Roshan Thakur, one of the first paragliding trainers in Manali’s Solang valley and someone who flew with Narendra Modi spoke about his first adventure with the PM and said, “Modi ji first came to Manali in June, 1997. During his first visit, the weather was not good. It was raining and the slope was slippery. We stopped paragliding activity for tourists due to bad weather. I was also new to paragliding as I started in 1991 only. We had limited equipment.”
But weather did not deter Narendra Modi. Roshan Thakur recalls, “I told him it is slippery but Modi ji insisted that he wanted to do it. When we do paragliding, the paragliders have to first run on a slope and launch themselves. Generally, first timers are afraid of this run and launch but he had no fears at all. Even though the slope was slippery but he had a perfect and smooth launch. It was a small flight but he did it well for a first timer.”
When asked how PM Modi reacted to the first flight, Thakur said, “He was very confident, he said if you can do, I can also do it. This quality of his impressed me the most.”
Thakur told Financial express Online that this first flight started an association with PM Modi. “After this, whenever he came to Manali, he would come to meet me. I would go to Kullu airport and pick him up in my small Maruti car from the airport. In late 90s, he visited us four-five times. After his flight, he liked this adventure sport so much that when he came here the next time he proposed that this activity be made popular in other parts of the country as well. Then later, he took me along with him to Ahmedabad, where I stayed for 10-15 days. He introduced me to an industrialist and asked us to promote paragliding in South India’s Ooty. I went to ooty and rekkied the area. ”
Sharing another interesting anecdote, Thakur said, “At that time when he did gliding with me, I was running a paragliding school. there were many students with me. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji became the Prime Minister, he used to come with him. And he never came alone. He came with a team since he was a senior politician. While others could not even walk till the launching area, Modi ji would do the activity comfortably.”
“He used to come regularly till he became the chief minister of Gujarat,” Thakur said. But a natural calamity changed everything. “There was massive Earthquake in Gujarat and he got busy with the reconstruction of his state and because of the added responsibilities he could not come again. We lost the connection then. But he always used to send people coming to Manali from Gujarat and asked them to meet me for paragliding,” Thakur fondly remembers.
But Narendra Modi is not someone to forget people easily. Years later, as the Prime Minister of India, when he visited Kullu in 2017 to address an election rally he mentioned his association with Roshan Thakur. “I was there in his Kullu rally. He called my name and it was such a nice experience for me. It feels good when the nation’s PM recalls you even after so many years,” Thakur told Financial Express Online.
Since Modi first did Paragliding in Manali, the adventure activity’s scene has gone through a dramatic change. “It is happening all over India now. In Manali, during season 500-1,000 people take part in paragliding per day. Here, at least one person from every family is working for paragliding. Tourists get an adventure, we get local employment. This high level adventure is available so easily for tourists here. Those who have only seen such things on TV or movies are now enjoying it here in Manali. Flying in air is a big achievement for them,” Thakur said.
When asked about what he has to say to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is fighting a re-election bid, Thakur said, “I want to paraglide with him, make him fly again. If he can remember me after so many years and call my name from stage, I would also like to fly with him in Manali. But I know it is not possible now due to protocol and PM’s security. But atleast, I want to meet him once. He told me that he will come to Manali for Rohtang tunnel’s inauguration. I want to show him how the paragliding scene in Manali has changed since we flew in 1997. It was the beginning of paragliding in India. I consider Modiji to be one of the first persons to get actively involved in paragliding in India.”
Thakur signed off wishing PM Modi best of luck for the Lok Sabha elections.