Sunday, 31 January 2010

Paragliding in Chitral, Pakistan

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return”, said Leonardo da Vinci.

Flying like birds has always been the earnest desire of men. The launching of HIKAP [Hindu Kush Association for Paragliding]—the first registered Civil Society Organization with a mission to promote paragliding in northern Pakistan—on December 6, 2009, is a big leap forward towards the realization of this unusual dream of the Chitrali youngsters.
The association has opened categories of professional and honorary membership with fee of Rs 1000/- for professional members. The beginners have to pay Rs 2000/- entry fee to learn the sport.

To begin with, Miftahuddin, ACO Chitral administered oath to the new office bearers of the association and wished the sport could be instrumental in the wellbeing of the entire region by highlighting it into an ideal destination and attracting more national and international paragliders on equal footing to Phokran in Nepal.

The speakers underlined the significance of paragliding as an innovative technology for tourism growth in future and ranked it as a budding product after the Kalash communities with mountaineering and free style polo to be ranked at third and fourth respectively.

Meanwhile the forum appreciated the step of the paragliders who, at first hand, learnt the sport without institutional supervision and now working assiduously to impart the gliding skills to other young people. The total number of senior pilots and new entrants is ten at present.
Given the perfect launching points and open landing spots coupled with clear blue sky, lofty snow-clad peaks and the buoyancy of the everlasting thermals keeping a pilot afloat for nine hours at times, Chitral could be the hub of both national and international paragliders.

Mr Saifullah Jan, himself a pilot and the newly elected president of the association shared his story of how he learnt to fly. He lamented the fact that in the beginning people discouraged him that the sport was life threatening and a difficult one. Despite all difficulties, he did not surrender. He saved some money, proceeded to Islamabad for some training and learnt it. Now he is recognized as a good trainer also.

“I can not find words to express the thrill that come when you fly through the air. It is a unique and unusual experience only to be appreciated by those who fly”, he said. He believes the sport is safe and easy for energetic youngsters to learn. “I was motivated for the first time when I saw a foreign paraglider who landed in Chitral polo ground twenty-three years ago. “On the inauguration of Jashan-e-Chitral 2004, five years ago, when I landed in the same polo ground for the first time, the crowd believed I was a foreigner. But when I took off my helmet, they were awe-struck to see a Chitrali paraglider”, said Mr Saifullah Jan. He thanked Shahzada Capt Siraj Ulmulk for the moral and technical support in the course of learning the sport.

We can not arrange international cricket or soccer events in Chitral given the deficiency in infrastructure and the huge budget that it involves, but we can easily organize an exceptional international paragliding contest as we don’t need any preparation or ground infrastructure for the sport. So why should we not use our favorable natural topography for promoting the sport and earn handsome income?

The participants termed the sport as an innovative sector of community development necessary to diversify people’s livelihood opportunities the way it has done in other parts of the world. They thanked the pilots to take adventurous initiatives to promote paragliding in region.
In his concluding speech, Mr Sartaj Ahmed Khan, Tehsil Nazim Chitral, appreciated the launching of HIKAP as a good omen for the future development of paragliding in Chitral and considered it not only an annotative area of entertainment but also a new sector of tourism promotion in future. He pledged his committed support from the Tehsil administration for the cause.

An adventures paragliding show in sawat by chitrali paragliders

Paragliding in sawat

It was the first week of January 20010 our association established in the name of HICAP(Hindukush association for paragliding club)A meeting was held in the PTDC hotel chitral. Majority of the nobles of chitral town were invited. Some clips of the local paragliders’flightrs were displayed. All the participants appreciated the efforts and healthy activities of the local paragliders.
Within a week we received a massage from our office, to participate in the activities carried on by pak Army’ in bringing piece process in the sawat valley. We had to perform paragliding on the occasion of passing out pared of sawat special police force. It was a great opportunity to promote our association. We had only few gliders. Any how we decided to avail the opportunity ‘to express our well wish to the depressed community of sawat.
A day before to leave for sawat we did ground handling, in order to remain familiar with our gliders. We left chitral the next day 0n 11th January. All the way we enjoyed our trip, as our company was the best. We had booked a van from chitral to chikidara.When we reached chikidara after at least six hours journey, the pak Army jawans took us on their custody. We set in another vehicle and start our journey towards sawat.On the way we could see nothing except the rushing vehicles. We enjoyed funny tales uttered by some of our friends and we reached khowza khela in about 7; o clock.
At khaza khela, our van left the main road, and cutting to the right, straight went in to a street. An army man, standing at the gate, allowed our van to the inside of the building.
It was a sensational movement for all of us. We were now in a army unit. The light had gone earlier. Every army man was rounding with a torch in hand. It was some ones residence, and before the operation all the family members had been shifted somewhere.
We had come across with an unexpected situation, which we had never experienced as being civilian. What we thought, was to stay in one of the luxurious Hotels in sawat and move freely like an ordinary man. We entered in a big hall, where charpoys (cuts) were stretched roughly with single mattress on each bed. Our team leader shahzada farhad and president Mr. saifulla Jan demanded to see any higher authority to make the situation favorable and comfortable for all of us. In the meanwhile a guy with three other army man entered the room and introduced himself. He was a major in the army rank, who had lived in the upper chitral in mastuj and knew nobles like colonel khoshwakhtul mulk’one of the British army commander. His attitude was friendly. He briefly told us about the situation. Now we had been convinced to change our mind and deal with meters accordingly. We ate super and went in to bed early ,as we had been tired due to the whole day journey.
Next morning was very exciting for us, because we had come to sawat for the first time and had not seen the surrounding hills of the sawat velly. I got up early in the morning and wanted to know about, how the weather was? I saw some of my friends, who had already woke up earlear’and worming up themselves by strolling around the roof of the building. An army man was setting different parts of the rifles together. We enjoyed the view of the different areas of the velly,specially the sun shine on the peeks of Mata hills across the river were clearly visible.
The building was el shaped with a square lawn allowing a clear view to the river side and partly facing the sun. It was a two story building. It was directly accessible from the street to the second flour of the building. Entering through the gate in the street, there were some more compartments in the left hand. The captured Taliban’s were imprisoned in these rooms. The whole lawn was decorated with tile of marble. The walls and ceiling were decorated with paints in different colors. In the right corner of the lawn the was a water tenk, and on that tenk there was a place for sitting or praying. It was very suitable place for meditation indeed. There were well decorated almerahs set in each room one side above three to four feet from the flour approximately. Some materials of the house members were left in the almerahs.There was a well defined picture of the owner of that house or hotel, hanging on the wall with another picture of may be his sun in another frame. For a while it seemed that the family in that building had left the house in hurry, as some other things had left in each room. With all the decorated work the building was not looking beautiful. May be because of the scenario and panic prevailed around. There was no enemy existed, but there was terror of enemy. An unexpected enemy who must not be a non Muslim. He can be any one, a misguided ,enthusiastic already involved in rubbery. His job is to increase terror.

The army jawans are always active and don’t know what ease is. All the night we could hear the sound of their shoes while walking on the roof of the building. If we civilians had mould our lives like them we would have achieved a different Pakistan. I mean how important such a life to bring change in a nation is. What is more important about them is, they have been accustomed to lead their lives according to the rule of law and discipline, which can not be produce by other ways

We made short flights from nearby hills to the colleague ground. In the late hours of the afternoon brigadier Ajub khan happened to visit the unit. He treated us like his own family members and directed the authorities to take care of us. He put a lot of strength in us by his friendly and kindly behaviour.We were very encouraged and gained more confident. He conformed it to us, saying that army jawans are standing in the faraway peeks around sawat, and the terrorist either run away or killed and captured. The day passed in a pleasant way, now we had good affiliation with all around. After eating supper each member of our team contributed in telling funny jokes and stories.
The next day two of our friends went to the top, and made flights. The rest of the team went up to the nearby hills, and made short flights to the college ground. In the afternoon we decided to visit the nearest market. We sat in the army vehicles and with full protocol happened to visit different shops and bought some required things. The army command gave an extra ordinary honor to us. We returned to our residence in the late hours, and met three more paragliders,who had come from Abatabad to join us in the last day paragliding show. Apart of being expert paragliders, we found them good human being. One of them is mr.Rafaqat.He is expert of making good scholarly discussions, like well learned schoolers.He is well learned, friendly , and above all one of my favorite singers. There are many qualities in this guy. The night passed in singing and in the middle funny tales kept us pleased and delighted. There was an important discussion about paragliding as well.
Next morning we got up early and did some exercise. After having break ,we were picked up to the half way by vehicles. There we took breakfast again.Subidar Rashid with his team joined us to the top. Some local porters were hired to carry the bage and baggages. It was two and half hours tracking to the top. Every day we were taken to the top from different directions, and we happened to see many destroyed and demolished buildings. Mostly schools were targeted. The destruction and sign of bullets on the walls were witnessing the combate between the pak Army and terrorists. while we were passing through the steep hilly congested village. We happened to see a young lady watching us through the door of her room. When once she tried to come out from her room to have a clear look to what was going on, as we passed by with army jawans, ponies and some local boys in hubbub. A young bearded man standing in the lawn, who was also watching this whole procession, suddenly turned back and pushed her behind the door of the room.
We got to the top within two and half hours. The highiest peek of Rakapushi was clearly visible from the top. Almost all the vallies of sawat are visible from the top of Baney Baba.There was a lieutenant and some other army man. The lieutenant was a sober cool minded young guy. Before we could take off a cup of tea was offered with a plate of potato chips.

Baney Baba

The highiest peek of Baney Baba is approximately 8000 feet.Baney Baba was the most highiest and strong sector of Taliban. The most wanted commander, Muslim khan was living here in a cave. There were many caves on the top. From the cave to downward’ a passage was digged through the bushes and gasses, so that no one should be seen while going to the caves through the bushes. There were sign of heavy bombardment on these caves. Most of them were demolished, and the remaining ones were now used by the pak army. There were plastic chapels scattered there in the bushes. The caves were made digging wholes in the rock by drill machines. Electricity was made available by running generators. The take off place was quite difficult, as wind was blowing over there from different directions and suddenly changes it direction. Too much bushes can not make you run forward and balance your glider before take off. In the morning time the wind blows from the east, and allows one to take off facing the sun, but after eleven o clock the wind changes its direction and starts blowing from the south west direction.

Landing place

It was a college ground surrounded by evergreen trees in Gali Bagh. There was college building attached with ground, but was destroyed by a terrorist attack. The roof had sat down and the flower plants in the front side of the destroyed building were still green. One can not imagine that a patriot Pakistani will not weep to see the disaster brought by so called justice seekers. Any how the ground was decorated, and the chief minister was expected to come. The sawat special police force pared was going on. While circling over the ground we heard the sound of Allah Hu Akber raised by the special police force. When we all the paragliders landed, we met the Ghazi Afzal khan Lala, The great anty Taliban activist, a well dignified personality a true Pakistani and a moderate Muslim, who fought against the terrorists till pak army eliminated the elements. He was a chief guest of the day. We also happened to meet an army general and Brigadier Ajab khan himself received us and gave us shabash.All the nobles of sawat and college students were the participants in the event. After having tea and sweets we returned to our residence in the after noon.

Disaster in sawat

To day was our rest day, thus we decided to visit mangorey and saidu sharief. Our paragliders team was joined by the army jawans in civil dress and we sat in a private vehicle, and took the way to the city. It was very easy to estimate the destruction brought by the anty country fighters. Each government property was damaged. Various beautiful buildings of schools and colleges were demolished. Even no work has been started to remove the debris. The shops have been left destroyed, and no efforts have been started till yet to improve the situation. The army is alert every where, and continuous checking of each individual and vehicle is the activity of the day. When we reached in the centre of mangorey, a person told me that in the Taliban period, people were brought to the chouk,and slayed in the main chowk.Not only that ,their dad bodies were hanged there for at least three days.Femals were strictly bound to go out of their homes. Life every where was full of stress. Collecting money from the shopkeepers in the name of jihad was another issue. It was told that once in the early days of Taliban within three hours, fifteen hundred thousand rupees chanda was collected in the main bazaar.Femals were compelled to sell their juleries to contribute in bringing Nizam Adel in sawat. A seventeen years old girl was flogged infront a croud. We left to saidu sharief and visited the shrine. The shrine is situated in the right side of the mosque. There are many people coming to the shrine and pay homage to the saint Baba. Our team members visited the shrine and we all prayed and kissed the tomb, stayed in the court till fulfillment of our spiritual satisfaction. We also visited the residence of wali e sawat, but he was not present in his residence. It is said about the rule of wali sawat’who was a saint and justice was prevaild during his regime. When his regime ended, even than he used his influence and did a lot of work to promote education in sawat. Prices of the same commodities were varies in each shop. One dozen Oranges were hundred rupees in a shop, and after few shops the same quality of oranges were twenty rupees one dozen.
The next day after short flights we went to see the upper areas, such as malam Jaba.A wonderful valley and unique in its beauty. God has blessed such a country side to us. what is needed to remain grateful to our bellowed Allah. We can promote tourism and encourage the local and foreign tourists, to do so only we need to be piece loving nation and prove ourselves to be friendly, honesty, and a good human being once again. We have no enemies, but we are the enemies of our own. The ruthless cutting of the forest is going on. The beautiful hills of malam jaba have been made barren and roughly designed houses and tin roofed houses have put negative impact to the pleasant environment of the paradise like land. God is always blessing, and we human being are ungrateful therefore disaster becomes our fortune. The Anger of God can come in any form, because God wants his human being to be good indeed.
We returned by evening, and continued our lovely discussions, mostly funny tales and jokes. in the late hours we also checked our gliders and packed them for the last day event for the next day.
We got up early took our break fast and left in the army vehicle once again to the half way up. This time we had an additional break fast. It was a young army soulder, and he was the pupil of our paragliders friends from pak army. We enjoyed the testy dish with a cup of tea. thanking God we left the spot and after two and half hours tracking once again we got to the top. When I opened my bag, the helmet was missing. I was worried and tried to find it, but it was really missing. We were worried, very upset and remorseful on our mistake. I couldn’t tell to my senior friend saifulla. Finally I had to tell him about. He remained calm and quite, for a while and it was very panic movement for us. The tea was offered, but I could not enjoy it at all. Any how when the wind changed its direction, we had to move in to another place a little distance ahead. To take off from another direction. When we reached there, what I see. My helmet was shining there. I didn’t believe on my eyes. Really it was my helmet. The porters while tracking up had taken out the helmet, and given it to another boy to be carried to the top. On the top rather to put it in the bag or to give it to us, it was misplaced. Such incidents can be dangerous in paragliding. We made normal flights once again, but the wind was strong in the ground. The chief minister had canceled his visit. We met the chief guest of the program, who was an Army general Mr. Sajad Ghani. There were musical program. It was very colorful day, but every body was missing the chief minister.
When the program was over, every one of us reflected’ the main theme was, why the chief minister canceled his program? may be due to any threat. Were we enough stupid to fly in such a situation or our lives were cheaper than any politician. We could be targeted easily. No, we did it with the power of our respect and love for our country and to express our love and affection for our army and loyalty to our country.

Visit of the Madras
In one of the days of our visits, we once happened to see Bridger Ajab khan. The dining hall was well furnished and carpeted in white colour.We thought may be high renk officer of pak army should have that standard of living, but The brigadier sahib told us, that only the carocine heater was the army possession, all the rest was belong to the Taliban commander, who was a imam of the Madrasa. The building reminded us the era of the mughol kingdom, when the art of architecture was in its apex. Now even one can not dream about. The head of the Madrasa was not the king like any mughol king, than how that madrasa was built with its unique feature?