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Just about two years ago the Tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir introduced Paragliding at Astanmarg near Srinagar, and slowly it is becoming quite popular with the tourists. When I was there recently I decided to check it out. In one word the experience is adventurous, including the ride and the hike to the mountain from where it starts.
Astanmarg is a beautiful small hamlet on the outskirts of Srinagar barely connected it to any pukka road close by. Three years back it was picked up as a spot to start the first paragliding experience camp in Jammu and Kashmir and since then it is slowly becoming a recognisable name, at least amongst the adventure sport enthusiasts.
Its rather interesting to reach the spot for paragliding though. Its close to a village called Dara about 15 kilometres from Srinagar on the Nishat-Shalimar garden road. The road leads towards Dachigam National Park and thereafter the climb starts, which is actually very very steep and you will need a Safari or a similar vehicle to take you up. The last 2 kilometres of drivable road is basically just rocks on a barely-there road. We got lost at least four times before we reached this road (no sign-boards and you need to constantly ask the villagers for directions). However, I think it added to the adventure as well as excitement for me!
The last 1.5 kilometres is a lovely hike to the jumping ground. As you walk up, the lovely scenes below open up - on a clear day you can see most of Srinagar, Dal lake, Nishat and Shalimar gardens along with the beautiful villages below. The first part of the hike is a little steep, thereafter its just beautiful.
It was afternoon when I first went up and there was already a crowd of people waiting for their turn so didn't get my a chance to jump that day. There are only four sets of equipments and after each jump they take quite sometime to come up again (unto a couple of hours)!
However, I made my second trip early in the morning and we were ready to jump at 9 am! I was with my photographer friend and we were the only ones there. In fact we had to first wake up the pilot in his village and then make the jump :) Since, I was part of the press consignment invited to the state, they very readily and happily complied. The pilots are actually all from Himanchal Pradesh where is paragliding is a much developed adventure sport
And what can I say about the jump itself! Its simply fabulous...the view is simply to die for. After the initial hesitation of jumping off the really huge mountain (height of 7400 ft), you are simply carried off effortlessly by the parachute and you can take out your cameras, take pictures and also talk with the pilot. He can actually tell you many stories of past jumps and some very interesting near misses :) The fly down takes about fifteen minutes, and it actually depends the wind and air temperature. Its longer in the afternoon when the air is warmer.