25-year-old Trisha Shrestha Bomjan is breaking boundaries for women in Nepalese adventure sports, with plans to take her skills to an international level this summer. We head to Pokhara, her hometown, for a flying lesson.

25-year-old Trisha Shrestha Bomjan is breaking boundaries for women in Nepalese adventure sports, with plans to take her skills to an international level this summer. We head to Pokhara, her hometown, for a flying lesson.

Each morning, the skies above Nepal’s second city of Pokhara are speckled with dozens of distant silhouettes of paragliders. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Annapurna Himalaya Range, they twist, swoop and gracefully interlace their flight paths above the lake below.

From a distance, Trisha Shrestha Bomjan looks indistinguishable from the other silhouetted flecks. But she is different. Four years ago, at the age of 25, Bomjan made history and qualified as Nepal’s first female paraglider pilot.  Now looking to compete in her first international competition this summer, she’s breaching new frontiers for women in adventure sports in the country.

Bomjan remembers her first solo flight vividly. Not the take-off or landing, but the intense, liberating ecstasy of cruising above Phewa Lake in her hometown of Pokhara, with the streets and livestock and buildings she knew so well drifting silently below her.

“It felt like I was touching the stars that day,” she remembers. “I felt like this is what I’m meant to do, and I didn’t want to ever come down.”

Trisha Shrestha Bomjan

That was the beginning of her career, when she resolved to make her living from tandem flying with tourists in the resort town. However, despite now being married to the founder and owner of popular company Sunrise Paragliding, this ambition proved surprisingly difficult for Bomjan.

Traditionally, women and girls in Nepal are raised to be homemakers, wives and mothers. The country is a mecca for adventure sports, trekking and adrenaline activities – but for all those employed in the sector, only a small fraction are women. A Nepali woman becoming a pilot was controversial, but that fact motivated Bomjan to succeed in a career synonymous with danger and masculinity.

“My husband wasn’t sure about my training to fly tandem,” Bomjan explains. “He definitely didn’t want to teach me. Even when I was learning to ride a motorbike he was teaching me sat behind me always worried I was going to get hurt. He was a real backseat driver.”

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Although physical fitness and height aren’t indicators of skill in paragliding, Bomjan has been faced with challenging male clients who are sceptical of her ability when they see her tiny 5ft 3 frame.

“I manage the pilots and pair them with clients when we get to to the take off point at Sarangkot,” she says. “All the time when I have men that are put with me they say ‘you’re the pilot?’ and they’re surprised and want to go with a man. So I have to pass them to my colleagues. I don’t understand it.”

It’s not the first time Bomjan has had to contend with other people’s judgement. Her mother and two sisters continually questioned her decision to learn to fly, and often tried to get her to give it up to become and homemaker. Yet despite that resistance, not much changed for Bomjan – even after she became a mother herself. She gave up flying after her third month of pregnancy in 2014, but says she thought about it every day.

“I was so wanting to get back up in the air,” she remembers. “After three months of having my daughter I went back out again and when she turned two I took her on her first tandem flight.”

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The opportunity for new challenges in her sport has been scarce. Competitions in speed, accuracy and acrobatics are divided into male and female categories. But with only six female pilots in the country, competing can become heated. In August, she will be travelling to Indonesia to compete in her first international paragliding competition, representing Nepal.

“I think if we get to 20 female pilots then that will be good for Nepal in the next couple of years,” Bomjan says.

When asked how she feels about being a role model for other women and girls who want to carve a living for themselves in Nepal’s lucrative adventure travel industry, Bomjan pauses before breaking out into a huge grin.

“I’m very proud of myself to do something that isn’t normal for girls. I’m not cooking and cleaning and staying indoors. I want to be a good example for my daughter and for other girls.”

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