Last week we felt the urge for a quick escape from downtown Kunming, where Dali Bar is based. So we reserved a spot and on Saturday morning, within a few hours of departing the city, we were gliding at 2,600 meters in altitude suspended from a paraglide sail and admiring views of verdant mountains and Dianchi Lake with Kunming spread in the distance across the lake.
The sport of paragliding has shot up in popularity in China during recent years. Today there are paragliding clubs across the country, as well as other groups dedicated to similar action sports such as paramotoring and hang gliding.
Paragliding harnesses the sun’s energy, allowing one to soar high above the ground in a seated position suspended by thin Kevlar lines from a parachute-like gliding wing. As the sun heats the earth’s surface it creates winds and localized updrafts called thermals. Using the lift created either from wind flowing over a mountain or from thermals going up the slopes of mountains, paragliders are able to launch from the side of a hill or mountain and rapidly gain elevation as they ride the air currents upward. They can stay in the air for several hours and even travel hundreds of kilometers hopping from one updraft to another before floating to the ground.
Paragliding is expensive compared to many other sports (the cost of a paraglider is usually at least a few thousand dollars), but is nevertheless one of the cheapest and most environmentally friendly ways for a human to experience flight.
As none of us had any experience with paragliding, we needed to go on tandem flights with an instructor controlling the paraglide sail and looking out for our safety. We went with Mike Fougere, a Canadian based in Kunming with 14 years of experience flying paragliders who is certified both to fly tandem paragliders and teach paragliding.
Yunnan is ideal for paragliding due to several factors including, “the long dry season and lots of mountains,” says Fougere. “The air above Yunnan is cool and dry most of the year, so when the mountain flanks heat up from sunshine the hot surface air rises and creates good thermals.”
Kunming in particular offers, “many treeless and grassy summits which are perfect for takeoffs,” says Fougere. “And of course when we land on a local farmer’s land he is always very friendly.”
Speaking about first time passengers, Fougere said, “as soon as we launch the passenger is usually quite tense. Within a few minutes he or she relaxes and becomes overwhelmed by the sensation of flying and ascending in complete silence. The perspective of looking at birds flying next to us is impressive, so is the perspective of nothing between your feet and the ground one kilometer below.”
Through his company, Paraglide Yunnan, Fougere runs trips all around Kunming and Yunnan. He says the best paragliding locations in Kunming are to the west of the city, including, the Xishan range of mountains, Jin Bao Shan four kilometers south of Xi Shan and Lao Qing Shan another three kilometers further south. Fuxian Lake and certain areas of Yuxi also offer good paragliding conditions and are accessible as day trips from Kunming. Further afield, areas north of Dali including Shaxi and West Lake also offer great paragliding conditions.
“There are many mountain ranges I need to explore and fly in Yunnan, like the Lancang Valley west of Dali, Lugu Lake, Haba/Jade Dragon snow mountains and Kawakarpo, aka Meli Snow Mountain,” says Fougere.
We hope we’ll have a chance to join him on one such trip and experience the amazing feeling and unique perspective of paragliding over a new part of Yunnan.