Israeli paraglider is champion in Himalaya contest

At top of the world, Itay Taskerman bests 220 rivals for first place in five-day paragliding championships.

Itay Taskerman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy/The Media Line)
Itay Taskerman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy/The Media Line)
A 26-year-old software engineer from Israel has won the international paragliding championships held in the Himalaya Mountains, beating out over 220 paragliders who gathered on the tall peaks to fly with the vultures.
“It was amazing,” Itay Taskerman told The Media Line. “We have to fly as fast as we can and the one who flies the fastest is the one who wins.”
The Federal Aeronautical International (FAI) declared Taskerman overall category II champion after the five-day competition held in northern India’s Himachal Pradesh in Bir-Billing in the Himalayas, whose mountains include Everest, the world’s highest.
It involved launching daily from peaks over 2,200 meters high and reaching designated stations by hopping from thermal to thermal. More than 220 paragliders, including 27 pilots from the Indian Army, took part in the Himalayan Paragliding Championship. The participants also included 58 foreign pilots from a dozen countries.
Anatolij Lomovtsev from Russia and Gurpreet Singh Dhindsa from India, were placed at second and third position in the championships, which concluded last week.
“There were a lot of Russian and Ukrainian pilots and some from Australia and New Zealand,” Taskerman said, but added that there were no competitors from Arab countries or Iran.
“They treated me very, very nicely. India has good relations with Israel. They buy a lot of weapons from us and we buy a lot of merchandise from them. They know us and I got a very good reception from them,” he said.
Paragliding, as they say, is the slowest and apparently riskiest way to get from one place you don't really need to be to another. But ah, the journey is breathtaking. Bir-Billing is considered to be one of the finest aero-sports sites in the world and has often hosted international championships because of its steady thermals, or warm updrafts of air.
“Bir-Billing is like a paragliding mecca. Because India is very cheap, it is a place a lot of pilots from all over the world come and fly just for fun and also compete,” Taskerman said, adding that it was crucial to understand the weather patterns in order to fly safely.
“It is dangerous. People who do it know what they are doing. There is a lot to know about the weather there and how weather works in general. But once you know it you diminish the risk quite a lot,” he said.
“We fly from thermal to thermal and the thing about Bir is that wherever you expect a thermal to appear, it actually does. It is very nice to fly there.”
Average flights last about three hours, and cover relatively large distances, compared to flying in his tiny home country of Israel, which is surrounded by hostile states. 
“The borders are not so close to you so you can cover much more distances, for example to fly from Dharasmsala and back which is 90 kilometers,” he said.
One of the highlights of flying in the Himalayas was the initially ominous presence of the Himalayan vulture. Its broad wings span over three meters, making it appear like a flying door.    
“Himalayan vultures, which are truly amazing and giant birds, really like to fly with us,” Taskerman said. “They like to fly above the wing and in front of the wing and near the pilot and sometimes for a long time and they are very playful. Most of the time it’s a very harmless experience.”
“I didn’t feel threatened by them. Maybe on the first day it was a bit scary. Then on the second day I started to accept them. They are just everywhere. It’s true that there are some situations when the pilot should be aware of them and I think if he is, then it is not a problem,” he said.