Adventure sports is still a nascent industry in India, and the fact that the Paragliding World Cup in 2015 was held in Bir village in Himachal Pradesh went down without much buzz. Novita Singh’s documentary Glide revisits the event and its impact on Bir and its people. Glide was filmed over nine months in Bir and Billing, the take-off site for paragliders. The documentary is in the editing stage and is currently crowdsourcing for funds.
Nestled in the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, Bir and Billing are counted as among the best sites for paragliding in the world. Air columns called thermals and ridge lifts created when the air strikes the surrounding hills and mountains, make riding the air much smoother.
In 1984, Billing hosted its first international hang gliding rally. Since then, encouraged by endorsements from foreign pilots, the state government has been organising annual events.
As the sport developed, it has sunk deep roots into the local community, Singh told Scroll.in, “For the locals paragliding is a blessing,” she said. “The village Bir as of today boasts of at least a hundred pilots if not more. It has become a source of employment for many young boys here... The site was earlier a hang gliding site... and these young kids would watch them (foreign pilots) and want to fly, and many of them are now flying.” Several locals practice tandem flying, which is a commercial activity for tourists. It’s looked down upon professionally, but affords the residents the money to buy the gear and gain expertise through practice.
Singh first travelled to Bir in October 2014 and started working on the documentary six months later. The idea initially was to make shorter videos and upload them on YouTube, but as the project grew bigger, a feature-length documentary seemed more apt.
Bir routinely hosts international paragliding events and has also hosted pre-World Cup events. In October 2015, the top 150 pilots from across the globe competed in the aerial racing event. Eight of the pilots were from India.
Singh described the filming process as life-altering. “A whole new dimension of air opened up for us and to understand that was superb,” she said. “When you fly cross country, you are on your own. You need to understand the wind, air pressure zones, thermals and where they might be, to be able to cover distance, and if anything goes wrong you have to have the presence of mind to be able to handle it. It is adventure sports after all, and you cannot panic.”