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Published: March 16th 2012
**Paragliding in Pokhara and Everest Flight**
At Kathmandu Domestic airport we sat on a bus meant to take us down the runway. Ready for the off the vehicle stalled, again and again. Fellow passengers looked at each other uneasily, and made simple, obvious jokes, “Let’s hope the plane takes off better...”
It was a last minute decision for us to take a mountain flight, starting in Kathmandu along the Himalayan vista towards, and ending with, Everest. Dad, an aficionado of mountains and the outdoor life, suggested it and, although it is something I would love to do I hadn’t even considered it; as usual, the budget dictates! This one was on Dad, and probably one of the most unique gifts I have ever received.
Once the bus had eventually fired up and chugged us down the runway we sat waiting patiently to board. Five minutes became ten which became twenty and the anticipation mounted as our patience lessened and we finally disobeyed the rules to stay on the bus. Parked beside our plane, a small vessel made to carry sixteen passengers, was another so small it made ours appear large in comparison. Dad, always looking for a
new way to distress my mother (it’s a playful dynamic in a very happy divorce), had me pose next to the tiny craft. The picture was later posted to “popular social network site” at which mother expressed her outrage etc, etc. Sorry mum, for the lie of omission. That wasn’t actually our plane!
At last we were given instructions to board. Eight seats ran either side of the craft and each with a window for ultimate viewing pleasure. We were seated at the very front and so reaped the benefit of the pilot’s window also. The cockpit was compact, to say the least. But then so was the plane in its entirety. The plane, with us inside, meandered down the runway. My patience had just about expired; in my excitement I was fit to burst and tempted to shout, “FLY!” I set to tapping my feet as an amicable alternative.
Time for takeoff. The pilot tested the engine as we rattled to the machines monster rumble. A recurrence of the bus ride, the engine started and stopped. But it was no realisation of an earlier premonition, just a safety test. Try telling that to Mr. Dramatic in the
In a shake and a flurry we were up in the air. The mountains were to the left, on Dad’s side. It took only a matter of minutes to clear Kathmandu and for the vista to become apparent. Snowy peaks, at long last. The hostess gave names to the individual summits as we passed. I’d heard of them all before (I’ve recently watched Michael Palin’s series “Himalaya”), but it was the Holy Mountain of “Machhpuchhre”, resembling a fishtail, and of course Everest, that I was really eager to see. Such a unique view point is had from the sky. From above the scale and sheer size of the Himalayas can be fully appreciated. I feel like I appreciated plenty.
One by one we were invited up to the cockpit for a private audience with Everest. The panoramic view was no less than gorgeous, with the World’s Tallest Mountain taking centre stage, shaped not unlike a pyramid. If not for taking this flight, we would not have seen Everest at all as we had no plans to travel east of Kathmandu. I would have had to be satisfied with the tiny glimpse caught at Darjeeling’s Tiger Hill.
Dad wasn’t satisfied with just one look; he took liberties and went up twice. Why not?!
The plane made a U-turn and now the mountain range was on my side. Dad passed me the camera (we’re currently sharing his new DSLR as Chris has taken our shared camera with him up Annapurna). Achieving a photograph to be happy with was quite the task anyway; what with the window and its reflection, the propeller and wings etc. To be frank, I didn’t much want to take photos anyway. I just wanted to look. Forever. I raved quite recently about the Taj and its magnificence. The Himalayas before me were equally as impressive, perhaps more so. It was different. Encompassing all those big words that just don’t do justice to the spectacle; breathtaking, magnificent, majestic, awe inspiring... Whatever. I can’t find the words to adequately describe what lay before me. Colours; a spectrum grey through blue. Light and shadow. Massiveness. Gorgeous. Monstrous! Still, language leaves me unsatisfied.
Thanks to Dad I was lucky enough to enjoy the kind of experience that lasts in the memory. To fly around Mount Everest was something so unexpected. Leaving school aged sixteen
I had little idea what I wanted to “do” or “be”. At that time I had no idea that I would travel widely. No particular inclination to visit Nepal. I’d have called you a lair had you told me I’d be able to take a wee-little plane around Everest. I never expected to be undertaking such amazing experiences, almost daily. How lucky I am, and how happy.
We landed safely back in Kathmandu to a chorus of “I survived! I SURVIVED!” from Mr. Dramatic, made all the more amusing in his caricature continental accent.
I’m an adrenaline junkie. Can’t get enough of that rush. Sometimes I don’t brush my teeth before bedtime. I’ve been paragliding!
It all started as an excuse to avoid dining at the home of a local man we had just met. I don’t usually consider myself a good liar, but this was a stellar effort at deceit, I can tell you. Upon the invitation of “come eat at my home and meet my family” (a kind gesture although it presented an awkward situation as we had barely spoken to the man, nice as he seemed) Dad sat behind
his Everest beer like a deer in the headlights. Under the bottle was a flyer for Sunrise Paragliding. “We’d love to, but tomorrow we’re going paragliding”, I responded.
Leaving the restaurant I asked Dad if we would really enquire into it. He’d already said that he was keen to, having enjoyed skydiving years ago. Before the idea’s hasty transition to becoming reality, I thought I wanted to Paraglide. Now my stomach was knotted and I wasn’t too proud to admit my uncertainty. We entered the shop for more details.
Cost; 7,500 rupees. Duration; 30 minutes. Take off; 9.30am the following morning. Dad looked at me for an answer. “Do it before I change my mind”. He insisted that I think about it, but no sooner had we left the shop we were back inside, to the staff’s amusement, and paying a deposit.
“Don’t tell your mother”. Too late, I’d already informed my sister, and she’s got “loose lips”. We soon received a message from Mum; “Stephen Foster, you’re dead. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.”
I didn’t expect to sleep well that night. I thought I’d have a belly full of butterflies but I
was fine. I woke up at 6am the next morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep, not on account of nerves but because I was so excited.
A jeep collected us and drove us up Sarankgot Mountain to the north of Pokhara’s Lake Fewa. Our bones were rattled during the ascent, and I already knew my preferred way down; a run and a jump. Out of the jeep I was quickly given a helmet and buckled into a harness. Koom would be my tandem pilot. “I’ve only been doing this a year”. That’s really great Koom.
He gave me instructions to the effect of “when I tell you to walk, you walk. When I say run, then you need to run. Don’t sit down until I tell you and remember to breathe.” I wasn’t 100% confident that I could manage all that at this moment in time, but I told him I thought I could handle it. Dad took off just seconds before me and was quickly swept up by the thermals.
“Walk... run...!” I did. My legs were still going but no longer connected to terra firma. I was suspended in the harness and getting higher.
It’s going to be an uncomfortable half hour, was my first thought, as I hung rigidly, ropes cutting into my skin. “Amy, you can sit now,” said Koom as he pulled a sheet of canvass around my rear end. Much better.
And that’s how I spent the following thirty minutes, floating above Pokhara. Suspended in thin air from a silk parachute that was attached to me and my harness by strings that looked all too thin. It was exhilarating, as you might expect, but never frightening. The thought of free falling at speed from a height, such as in bungee or skydiving, is just not for me. Honestly, I’m not overly brave and I hate that feeling. I gave myself a migraine just watching Chris bungee last year on Nami-do in South Korea. Paragliding was different, a rush but also soothing in a strange way.
We gained height and the strong wind kept us up there for a while. Eagles rode the thermals around us; useful tools in the popular modification of paragliding, “parahawking”. We had a view of all Pokhara including the city as well as lakeside and Lake Fewa. Unfortunately the day
was overcast and the mountain vista out of sight.
Towards the end of my flight Koom soared over the lake and asked did I want to do some tricks. He swung and twirled me around for a while. Dad was taking pictures, following us, and said that he could hear nothing but me laughing my head off. It was so much fun, such an amazing experience.
The time came to land, and now I felt a little uneasy. We seemed to be moving much faster now that the land was still and solid before us. I clenched my teeth ready for impact, but that was unnecessary. Just as we touched down Koom pulled the handles of the ‘chute and the up thrust eased our landing. Dad landed moments later and as soon as I was unhooked I ran over to give him a big hug. The rest of the day I spent bouncing about the town, “high on life”. Still am, actually.
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