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There are a vast number of flying sites in Nepal, but the core area for flying is, and always has been, the Pokhara valley. Set 180km west of the capital Kathmandu, the verdant Pokhara valley is nestled at the foot of the Annapurna Himal and offers tantalising views of three 8,000m peaks and outstanding flying opportunities.
The Pokhara valley sits at an altitude of 800m ASL and the subtropical climate here means that for much of the year, you can fly in shorts and t-shirts. The microclimate of the valley makes it an ideal area for flying, with constant and predictable conditions.
There are several sites in the Pokhara valley to choose from, but the most accessible is Sarangkot (1500m ASL), a viewpoint 700m above Pokhara. Sarangkot is unique in that it has a tarmac road running to the top. A comfortable 20 mins jeep ride up this road brings you to several purpose built take-offs, all of which face east – south east. With regular cycles providing easy reverse launches, you could not ask for a more picturesque site. With the lake 2000ft below, the mountains behind, and the unlimited potential for XC and out & returns, this has quickly become the main site for the area, and many pilots have based themselves in Pokhara for the winter season, flying from this mountain alone.
There are an abundance of other launch sites around the Pokhara valley but most require more driving and a little walking up the hill. With names such as Torrepani, Dicki Danda, Devi Falls & Poomdi, all can be connected by air from Sarangkot, so in practice, few pilots bother to check out these other launches.
Once you have climbed out at Sarangkot, the first out & return becomes immediately apparent. Running 8km to the west, the Sarangkot ridge runs in a pretty straight line and offers an amazing introduction to himalayan XC, with excellent landing & retrieve options to both the south & north. In addition to roads in both valleys leading back to Pokhara, a dirt road runs along the top of the ridge connecting a bundle of charming hill villages, so if you happen to top land - you have an easy trip back to Sarangkot and the main launch.
About 8km west of Sarangkot, the ridge dips away slightly to the town of Naudanda. It's not easy flyign here, as the terrain has very little relief, and the thermals are not easy to work especially in light conditions. So it's 8km back along the ridge to Sarangkot, or a 2km hop north to the Dhampus ridge and thereafter the Dhampus Green Wall.
This is a spectacular site, with everything that makes flying in Nepal so awesome. Accessed from the Dicki Danda take-off, or even from Sarangkot, the Green Wall is a south facing jungle-covered mountain that rises 1600m up from the valley floor – and works spectacularly well throughout the year, but particularly in the winter & spring. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, waterfalls and dense forest, and is one of the last forested mountains before the high Himalaya erupt onto the skyline.
The near vertical slopes of the Green Wall mean that there is constant thermic activity throughout the day. You can opt to cruise close to the terrain, soaking up bubbles of lift as you go & scaring troops of monkeys swinging in the trees just inches from your wing tip. Or push out to one of the many spurs disecting the mountain, and catch a sweet thermal that will carry you straight to base. Whatever your preference, you’re guaranteed to get high, particularly when you break above the ridgeline and your vision is filled with snow-capped peaks just behind.
The Green Wall is 7km long (west to east) and consists of 2 peaks – commonly referred to as ‘West’ and ‘East’. The XC route from Sarangkot and Dickie Danda brings you initially onto the lower slopes on the western side of the Green Wall. From here, the terrain dramatically rises up to 2700m – the highest point on the mountain. From here, you head in a south-east direction following the high terrain. After passing a saddle between the 2 peaks, the east face of the Green Wall tops out at 2150m. From here, you can fly back to Sarangkot. You’ll want as much height as you can get to make the 10km glide, but as a rough guide – 2500m should do it on an intermediate wing with a decent glide. Check out the Green Wall circuit tracklog in the Google Earth interactive widget below.
This is another gem of an XC which starts at Sarangkot or Dicki Danda, takes you north onto the Green Wall, then in an anticlockwise loop from the Green Wall West to Korchon, Korchon to Dhampus Green Wall, Dhampus Green Wall to Kaskikot, and Kaskikot to Sarangkot. The transitions on this loop are all around about 6-7km, and this 50km loop takes around 1.5 - 2 hours to complete.
In the spring months, you will be flying over a carpet of colours as magnolia and rhododendron forests fill the terrain below. Until, that is, you climb above the tree line and find yourself above alpine grass on the flanks of Fishtail (6997m). Here at Korchon, the terrain takes on a whole new scale and the views become intoxicating with waterfalls, glaciers and massive cascades of rock and ice in the terrain behind.
At every stage of this XC, as with the Green Wall circuit, there are landing options, with roads connecting back into Pokhara and the tourist area of Lakeside. It may take a few hours if you land out, but you’ll always find a friendly face to help guide you back.
There are some great flying sites further afield, which are accessibly by road and jeep track – and just a few hours from Pokhara. Sirkot is a beautiful flying site to the south west of Pokhara that not only offers great conditions for low airtime pilots, but also excellent XC opportunities for intermediate and advanced pilots. There is a hugely rewarding XC route back to Pokhara that not only follows the trunk road (and therefore offers excellent retrieve options), but also utilises the south-north airflow of the Andi Khola valley. It is classic Himalayan foothill flying. Four thermals, 4 long glides, and 40kms later, you’ll be having a BBQ in Lakeside. Have a gander at the Sirkot to Pokhara tracklog below using the Google Earth widget.
From 2012, there are accommodation and guiding facilities in Sirkot on a permanent basis. ‘Sirkot Paragliding Resort’ is the home of Babu Sunawar Sherpa, who successfully launched tandem from Everest in 2010 and then broke the world altitude height gain record by thermalling up above the summit. He's an incredible character and his place is definitely worth a visit.