Day 60 – Location: Pokhara; Nepal
I went to the travel agents office at 9am, where I was picked up in a jeep with a few other people for the paragliding. We stopped at the paragliding office where the instructors loaded the parachutes in massive backpacks onto the roof, and hopped in the back. They were all western. We set off and drove up the road to Sarangkot where I’d seen the sunrise a few weeks ago. Near the top on one of the hairpins were a bunch of people, and a big winch which was pulling a car up from a sheer drop into the forest! You couldn’t see the front of the car but it must have been fecked. I wonder if the driver survived. The roads is very narrow and at every corner the cars honk before going round the bend, but with the madness of the drivers here and the old vehicles it was probably a swerve to avoid collision, or a brakes failure. I wondered whether the inhabitants had survived, it would have been a long drop. Amazingly it’s the only road accident I’d seen so far despite the crazy roads here.
We passed through Sarangkot village and onto a bumpy dirt road which took us to the top. There was a stream of paragliders and porters carrying the big parachutes up the path to the takeoff area. This was a sloping patch of grass overlooking the Pokhara valley. We got some brief instructions and were paired off with instructors. I got a friendly, bearded American guy called Mitch. He laid out his parachute flat on the slope behind him, strapped his harness on and my harness clipped to his. We were one of the first to leave. I had my camera around my neck, but we had to clip it behind the chest straps so it wouldn’t smash me in the face when we took off. Unfortunately that made photography limited as it was trapped by my chest and I couldn’t make adjustments to the photos easily.
I was strapped to Mitch’s chest, and so to take off I had to run hard down the hill. He said don’t stop unless I tell you to. I ran as hard as I could; you have to have faith as it feels like you’re hurling yourself towards your doom. I felt a hard resistance pulling me back and kept running, held in place as the parachute behind me raised up. Then we surged forwards again and in a few seconds our feet left the ground and we were flying. It felt surprisingly solid and pretty cool. The ground soared away beneath us and I shifted back into the cradle seat which was comfortable.
We soared through the air amongst many other paragliders. The view was good but very hazy today, it was better looking at the ground below and I really felt like a bird. We hit a thermal and felt the hot air pulling us upwards. The thermals work like carousels with the paragliders, they travel around them in circles in one direction, and there are right of way rules to avoid collisions. There were probably about ten other paragliders up here with us. It was a cool feeling.
As we swooped around I was chatting with Mitch about his sport. He started doing it in Utah and had been doing it for about 8 years, progressing to tandem flights recently which are completely different due to the weight, size of the chute and the responsibility for another person. He said sometimes people are freaking out, being sick or whatever. He’d had no accidents aside from a fall when taking off – sometimes people trip or the chute can snag and people fall flat on their face. I met a girl about a week later who had done just that and had the scar to prove it! When alone he likes to do cross country paragliding, where you just float around for miles and miles picking up thermals on the way. As long as you always have scoped a potential landing site within a safe distance, you can continue doing this as long as you can keep finding thermals, and he told me about people who have travelled over a hundred miles doing this!
I asked about thermals and he said they depend on the angle of the sun and the ground below. We left the main thermal as we were getting low and he steered us over forest and fields to find another. By looking at the ground he spotted a potential place, over some harvested rice where he said the ground would be emitting more heat. Sure enough we were gusted up in a strong thermal and gained more airtime. Soon this thermal was packed as other paragliders spotted what we were doing – when someone finds a good thermal everyone else can join in too. It was peaceful up here, not noisy at all, we could easily hear each other talking and there was hardly any wind noise. The chute always felt very stable too.
It was only a half hour booked flight and this early in the morning the thermals aren’t too strong. I’d chosen the early morning session for the views, but actually the big mountains are behind you anyway, they looked great on the drive up but after that the view is just the same as from Sarangkot. In future I’d instead want to try a midday session for longer when the thermals are better. As we got lower to the landing site by the lake, we started to do some tight spiral turns for fun. You get some g-force and an adrenaline rush from the maneuvers, it was cool. We came in quite fast to land, and he told me to hit the ground running. I thought we were in for a hard landing but at the last second he pulled up sharply, bringing us to almost a stop and we plopped neatly onto the ground with W a few paces needed to stop us completely. Very professional! We watched others landing, most of whom landed on their bums on the air pads there. We were the super-pros. Mitch told me when you get good, you can land within a space of a few meters. When the others had arrived the guys packed up their chutes and we took the jeep back to Lakeside a few minutes away. It had been a good experience and I’d like to try it again for longer, and with more stunts.
After chilling out I walked about half an hour to the tourist police station in Pokhara. The woman there was friendly and I filled out a police report for my stolen things. But really annoyingly, there is a government policy that they won’t add stolen cash to any police report! What the hell! I’d lost about 500 quid and without having it listed on the report, there was no way I could claim it back from the insurance. I pleaded with the woman but as it was policy there was nothing she could do. I decided to take it up with the embassy when I arrived back in Kathmandu.
I spent the rest of the day getting organized and on the internet. In a stroke of luck Bikrant, the guy from Fantastic Nepal who had shown me around the Indra Jatra festival in Kathmandu was in town. I met him for dinner and we caught up. Coincidentally he was off to Chitwan as well, to see a relative there for the festival. I had an early night because tomorrow I’d be up early for the tourist bus.