Gilgit-Baltistan: Belgian Paraglider Became the First Person to cross Karakoram Range

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ISLAMABAD (ET): A Belgian paraglider recently spent 20 days flying solo through the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), in the process of which he became the first person to cross the Karakoram mountain range on his own.

At a press conference on Saturday, Thomas de Dorlodot spoke about parasailing, while talking about his adventures in the air and stories about the people he met along the way. “There is always the excitement about where one will land and how people will react,” he said.

In addition to achieving this great feat, Dorlodot shared his unique insights on G-B with The Express Tribune. The adventure sports enthusiast has been coming to Pakistan every year for the past four years and has been staying in the quaint, pastoral village Hushe, a five-hour drive from Skardu. Dorlodot has witnessed the development of the village from egalitarian and self-sufficient to more modern.

“When I first visited Hushe, there was no electricity or information technology but now they have water supply, televisions and next year they will probably have cell phone signals and internet access,” said Dorlodot. Sarabastal, a Spanish organisation that he is supporting, has built four schools there.

He stated that the late arrival of amenities was double-edged for residents as the village is losing its indigenous quality because of migration to cities and bringing about a class disequilibrium. Resentment may also ensue, Dorlodot fears, as they might not be able to match the aspirations instilled by the media considering the scarcity of resources. “Each family has about 10 children and the crop yield is not enough to feed everybody,” he added.

Conversely, Dorlodot seems to be fulfilling all the aspirations he had as a young boy by practising adventure sports the world over.  He dabbles in skydiving and base jumping as well and said that the experience of jumping across high-rise buildings is a novel one.  He states that paragliding is something anyone can do with a few days’ training and that Pakistan should employ their resources to make paragliding more accessible.

“I always have such a wonderful time in Pakistan. Breaking away from the world for a few days and then coming back to it is exhilarating,” Dorlodot commented.  He hopes that the media will show the real face of Pakistan to the rest of the world and clarify misconceptions. “The people I have met here are the most hospitable.”

The fascination with being airborne was reinforced at the age of 15 when Dorlodot was finally able to see what the world looked like from above on his first paragliding flight. The Belgian’s hunger for adventure fuelled his expeditions including the distinction of being the first paraglider to fly over Machu Picchu in 2008. He also set the world distance record for his flight from Brussels to Istanbul the following year.

His achievements do not end there. He conquered the three biggest glaciers on earth, Hispar, Biafo and Concordia and K-2, the second highest mountain in the world. He has signed up for the 2013 edition of a commercially sponsored Alps expedition and says he is already looking forward to his trip to Pakistan next year.

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