The sky is the limit, it seems, for the potential of ultra-lights to add a new dimension to recreation and adventure tourism in Nepal.
This was proved by the pioneering flight of two powered gliders of Avia Club Nepal, Pokhara to Bharatpur roundtrip, on the occasion of the Chitwan Mahotsab on 9 January. The Club has been operating sightseeing flights from Pokhara airport for nearly 10 years now, but the proving flight last week showed it is feasible to also ferry tourists to other destinations and give them the time of their lives en route.
"This is absolutely one of the most exciting flights I have done in Nepal," said pilot Stefan Shrestha of Avia who flew one of the gliders. "It was very smooth, the scenary was spectacular but it was really cold up there." Stefan has been flying tourists on ultra-lights along the Annapurnas and over Phewa lake for several years now and if he was that excited, it must really mean something.
The one-hour flight took the old DC-3 route along the Seti River when Royal Nepal Airlines used to have a shuttle service from Pokhara to Bharatpur before the Mugling highway was built. Being slower, the ultra-lights took an hour to make the journey, flying at 11,000 ft above most of the other scheduled Twin Otter flights between Kathmandu to the west.
Once in Bharatpur, the ultra-lights made a low fly-past trailing banners and dropping flower petals on dignitaries attending the launch of Chitwan Mahotsab, which included the prime minister. Avia Club then conducted free flights for locals during the two-day festival in and around Bharatpur and the Chitwan National Park. "There was so much excitement and interest to go up on the aircraft that many had to be turned back but we promise to return to Bharatpur," Avia Club's Natasha Shrestha told us.
Nepal is an ideal country for ultra-lights and there is great potential for sports and adventure tourism. The aircraft is cheap and easy to fly and besides sightseeing, can also be used for a host of other applications, including national park patrolling, research and wildlife tracking. "We want to explore the possibilities of ultra-lights in Bharatpur, not just for tourism but also for environmental conservation," says Natasha Shrestha.
Avia has successfully tested flying ultra-lights with pontoons from Phewa Lake and is awaiting civil aviation clearance to begin regular takeoffs and landings from the water.