Thursday, 22 September 2011

An armchair in the sky

All year I have wanted to jump into the sky.  My desire to skydive in Namibia was sadly thwarted due to local bureaucracy.  One of the many advantages to travelling to Pokhara from Kathmandu was that Pokhara is THE place in Nepal for paragliding.  As soon as I arrived in Pokhara yesterday, I wanted to seize the moment and go and sort out a flight.  I visited several paragliding places for a chat before finally plumping for Sunrise Paragliding.  They seemed suitably professional and were offering a 15% discount for a one hour “Cross Country” flight.  I signed on the dotted line.

This morning, after a light breakfast, I had extra time to wind myself up as they were running behind schedule due to having had to fit in all the flights which hadn’t been possible yesterday (due to weather conditions).  We finally left the office an hour and a half late for the 20 minute drive up to the take off site at Sarangkot: three passengers and three pilots.  I was quiet on the way up.

Things happen pretty quickly once you get to the take-off spot.  My pilot, Herve “The Master”, has been paragliding for 22 years (4 here, 18 near Chamonix).  He is one of the elder statesmen of the Pokhara paragliding world and instantly put me at ease.  Within minutes, I was strapped into my “armchair” and ready to take off.  When Herve said “walk”, we walked and when Herve said “run”, we ran – up and away without any fuss.  I felt surprisingly calm about the whole thing and relaxed back into my armchair.  Beyond the undemanding “walk, now run”, as a tandem passenger, you have nothing to do other than enjoy the flight and take photographs.

Paragliding is of course all about the wind and taking advantage of the thermals.  We moved around watching the birds and then Herve took his guide from them.  Before long, we were moving higher and higher thanks to the thermals and ended up in the clouds.  I had asked Herve before we took off about how it would feel.  “Like being on a motorbike with the wind in your face”, he said.  I was amazed at how peaceful it was and that he could and I could converse normally.  This was important so that I could listen to his advice to “look forward, not down”.  It was very liberating to be floating in the sky looking down over the Pokhara valley.  Watching the other paragliders, they seemed to be whizzing around (like on a motorbike) but from where I was sitting, it felt that we moved around very gently.

We had excellent weather conditions in the end and were able to stay up for pretty much an hour.  It was too cloudy to see the Himalayas but I'll be seeing them up close in a few days time.  We climbed high up above Sarangkot, moved around over various villages and then hovered for a while above the forest trees looking for monkeys.  We then spent some time over the lake before coming into a very gentle landing – again, I was surprised at how easy it was.  Bizarrely, landing had been one of the main fears for the whole thing.

My stomach has now recovered sufficiently for me to be enjoying a Gorkha beer with some chips at Moondance.  New to-do list: where can I skydive in the following countries?  Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia.  Answers on a postcard please.

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