Twenty-seven years after he took Narendra Modi to the skies, the pilot of a paraglider is flying high over the Prime Minister’s visit to this picturesque tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh on October 3.
But his hopes of meeting Modi again have come crashing as Modi’s tight schedule and security prevents him from taking off in the direction of his dreams.
In 1997 when Modi was in-charge of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Himachal Pradesh unit, he had the opportunity to learn and take a maiden paragliding flight in the Solang Valley in the western Himalayas.
And the first paraglider pilot who accompanied Modi was Budhi Prakash, a known instructor for backpackers, honeymooners and tourists in Solang, just 13 km uphill from Manali. A tandem flight gives a novice the chance to fly with a professional.
“Modiji was sturdy and daring when he did his maiden paragliding in 1997," an elated Prakash, 45, who was selected for the flying, said.
He said at that time there was no ropeway in the Solang Valley.
“The takeoff site for paragliding was challenging at that time. One had to trek to reach the peak. Normally, the tourists were huffing and puffing by the time they would be climbing to the top of the hill. But Modiji trekked to that spot without any break or stress," he said.
“Normally, the first-timers are very scared about taking a flight, but Modiji was not scared about it and even not fearful when flying. In fact, he said it was a good experience for him," Prakash said, adding the flight was nearly two minutes.
“In fact, after his firsthand experience, he was keen to go for a longer duration flight. For that, he said he would come some other day by sparing time," he recalled.
After that Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat and never returned to the Solang Valley.
But the Prime Minister Modi always loves to share his experiences during his stay in the hill state in his public addresses.
In November 2017, while campaigning in Kullu for the Himachal elections, Modi spoke in public about his experience of paragliding when he visited Solang two decades ago.
On October 3, Prime Minister Modi is again visiting the spot where he did his tandem paragliding flight.
After inaugurating one of the world’s most challenging and a marvel of engineering motorways — the Rohtang Pass highway tunnel — near here, Modi will address the public in Solang.
“I will be among the crowd to hear Modiji, but I don’t think I will get an opportunity to meet him," said Prakash, who belongs to the Burua village located on the outskirts of Manali.
“I have no remorse for not meeting him again. When he took his maiden flight, he was an ordinary human being. Today he’s the Prime Minister, the most powerful man," Prakash told IANS.
“But still I am feeling proud to have got an opportunity to fly with him," Prakash, who was 22 years old when he took Modi to the skies, said.
In the 90s, Modi was BJP’s in-charge of Himachal.
Local leader Gobind Thakur, who is now the state Education Minister, facilitated Modi to visit the paragliding facility.
Himachal Pradesh, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, every year attracts tourists who surpass the state’s population of about 6.8 million.
Kullu-Manali has emerged as a favourite tourist destination, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala, the abode of the Dalai Lama.