I’m flat on my arse on top of a muddy hill, my legs flailing and my feet scrambling around. As I fell backwards one of my shoes came off and is lying six feet ahead of me. My face is blushing because everyone that was on the bus with me up to the top of the mountain is standing around and they must have seen what happened. Ugh, I knew this would happen. It’s like when I got capsized when I kayaked along the Mekong river between Laos and Cambodia a few years ago when the “instructor” riding on the back of my kayak was fucking about showing off to some backpacker types in our group and ended up tipping us over. I hate making a fool of myself in front of other people.
I didn’t exactly get much training for the take off. I was strapped into the harness, told not to lean back or forwards and just run to the end of the cliff. Which is exactly what I tried to do, and look where it landed me. It’s a bit weird to try and run when there’s a guy strapped onto your back and you’re not supposed to lean, and the weight of the instructor and the sudden jolt of the wind into the sail took me off guard.
Nevermind. All I can do is try again. A chap puts my shoe back on and the instructor hisses at me to just go forward and not lean. I take a couple of steps and feel the air begin to lift us up as it hits the sail. I lift my feet up and lean back into the harness as I was instructed, and we just about make it over the edge of the cliff without scraping my feet against the rocky ground.
It’s a strange feeling to leap off a cliff. You’d think that you’d just lift up into the air, kind of like what you see when someone opens a parachute, but no. I feel us both sinking a little, which is a little unnerving because there’s a bit if ground and some houses approaching us. My instructor knows what to do though. I set about settling myself into the harness – I’ve to sink back a little, so that my knees are at 45 degrees and my feet are sticking out. He’s working furiously behind me to get lift make us rise up to catch a wind stream. After a a minute or so I can feel us begin to climb a little higher.
There are several paragliding companies in Pokhara, though I have forgotten which company I went with. I booked my paragliding experience through my hotel in Pokhara. I enquired about any weight limits, as in the past when I was bigger (I lost 30kg in 2017) I’d been denied hot air balloon rides in Bagan, Myanmar and a helicopter ride across King’s Canyon in the Uluru National Park in Australia due to being too heavy. I’m told it’s all fine, although there are some snarky comments when I get to the top of the mountain. It’s only when we’re up in the air that the instructor tells me I’ll have to be weighed when we get back to the office and if I’m over their weight limit I’ll have to pay an extra 2,000 rupees ($20) for the experience, which somewhat sours my feelings.
Oh well. I’m here now, and I’m pleasantly surprised. Like most things, I didn’t really know what to expect from paragliding. I’m surprised how close we are to other gliders when we’re up in the air. We’re mainly circling around while the instructor tries to get us to climb. I’ve been told I can’t bring my camera or my phone in case I drop them and that the instructor will take photos and videos from a GoPro. He’s busy now steering us and getting us to climb, but I really wish I had my camera in hand. The view of the lake is great, but what I’m most astonished by are the large vultures that are flying amongst the paragliders. I mean, when do you ever get to sit just a few feet away from these massive birds as they glide alongside you? I really wish I could have got some pictures of that.
There are about fifty people taking part in the experience. Some are flying (gliding?) themselves, while others have instructors. I We weave around each other as we all seek to climb higher and higher. I’ve paid for the 60-minute flight, since I don’t know if and when I’ll ever do this again. Everyone else on the bus has taken the 30-minute option. I’m told that it may not be the full 60-minutes due to conditions, etc, which is fair enough. We’ve been up in the air now for about 15 minutes and I’m still waiting for him to turn on the GoPro. I really want some pictures of me up there in the air!
Eventually we’ve climbed high enough and we begin to manoeuvre away rom the cliff we jumped from. We head back over it and then take a sharp right turn. A mountain ridge is below us, and we follow that. Below are small houses and farms, and it’s fun to see the people outside going about their daily lives. One of them even waves up at us, so I wave back down. I feel a sense of peace and serenity as we glide through the air and look down at the lake and the mountains. No other gliders are around us now, and I imagine what it would be like if we really could fly. Wouldn’t it be so cool to be able to just lift off and go wherever we wanted? The old ABBA song “Eagle” comes to mind, and it goes around in my head for the rest of the day.
And I dream I’m an eagle
And I dream I can spread my wings
Flying high, high, I’m a bird in the sky
I’m an eagle that rides on the breeze
High, high, what a feeling to fly
Over mountains and forests and seas
And to go anywhere that I please…
Below us I can see the landing area and I think about G, the lady I met yesterday who told me her dream was to have enough money one day to do this. She sees the gliders every day as she walks across the lake bed to her mother’s house to collect food that she takes back to her home for her kids. I know it’s a long shot, but I strain to see if I can see her walking, but the people are too far away to discern. I really hope she gets to do this one day.
“You wanna do some tricks?” asks the instructor. Absolutely, I reply. I remember the glider that swooped down above me yesterday yelling out in delight. Tricks, it turns out, means making us swing out to the left and then to the right in a half a figure of eight-type manoeuvre, and then I’m told we’re going to land. I can see several people landing down there on the spot, and I’m told that I have to keep my legs out and then as soon as my feet hit the ground I’ve to start running so as to avoid and impact with the ground. We descend and I watch the earth rise up towards us, hoping that I can manage this move and not fuck it up like I did the take off. Closer and closer we get, and the instructor tells me to stick my legs out and get ready. I’m nervous, but I manage it. My feet hit the ground running and I thankfully stay upright.
I check my watch. Thirty-five minutes we were up in the air. Since everyone on the bus has landed and has gathered around it (it has been driven down to the landing spot to collect us all), I’m assuming they didn’t want everyone hanging around waiting for me. Slightly annoying, especially as I am indeed plonked onto a scale when I get back to the office and made to stump up an extra 2,000 rupees for being a heavy-set 6ft 5-incher, but then again I had a great time up there in the end.
Back in the office I am duly presented with my CD of photos and videos from the GoPro (he finally put it on for about 5 minutes when we were up in the air). Sadly, I don’t have a CD drive in my computer, but later on at the hotel the reception desk will let me use theirs to rip the photos onto a USB stick. I had a great Saturday morning up in the air, though if you ever find yourself in Pokhara and you want to do paragliding, I wouldn’t bother paying extra for the 60-minute flight.
That afternoon I decide to hire a boat and get out onto the waters. After all, I’ve been above them and around them, but not yet on them. I walk along Lakeside to the boat station and I hire a boat for two hours. A nice gentleman will be my oarsman, and we set off across the other side of the lake to the shore below the World Peace Pagoda.
It’s a gentile pace we go along at. We’re sticking to the shore for now, where we’re in the shade. We got past the temple on an island in the middle of the lake and we get about halfway along the shore of the lake. I ask if we can go onto the temple in the middle so he turns us around. He offers me another hour in the boat, but I decide against it. I could stay for the sunset at the temple in the lake, but it is only small and it’s already crowded, and besides, I would rather see the island in the lake at sunset rather than the view of the shore.
We step off the boat and I have a wander around the temple. It’s not large, but it’s interesting. The sun is beginning to go down now and golden hour is approaching. People are praying at the temple and performing their rituals, which is always interesting to see. I walk about trying to get some photos of the colours and the tikka. As I’m heading back towards the boat I look back and see the sun glimmering on the roof of the temple, so I stay a little longer trying to get some sunburst photos. Most of the time while I’ve been in Nepal I’ve been using automatic settings on my camera, though lately I’ve been reading more about using manual mode and about editing pictures in the RAW format, so I am starting to put this knowledge into practice by lengthening my shutter speed to capture the sun rays.
We set off from the island and head back to the boat station. The man tells me he has two young teenage children at school. In Nepal you have to pay for children to be schooled. He walks from his village about five miles away to the boat station in Pokhara every morning and then back home at night to earn money for them to go to school. He of course gets a tip from me when I disembark from the boat, since I paid my money directly to the boat station. He gives me a thanks, and then he’s off again – a tourist has come along and wants a ride, so he jumps back in and away he paddles.
I stay behind on the lake shore to watch the sun go down and take some more pictures. My time in Pokhara is coming to an end, and it’s time to take the bumpy bus journey all the way back to Kathmandu again. I’ll spend a couple of days there before moving on to India. I have booked a mountain flight to see Mt Everest from above, but sadly on the day the flight is cancelled due to lack of visibility over the ranges. At least I got to see it in Nagarkot, anyway. I get my money back for the flight and then change it into Indian rupees, ready for my arrival in Delhi.
I’ve had a really nice time in Nepal, and I’m a little sad to leave but I’m also excited to get to India. The Nepalese people have been charming, friendly and very polite with me, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some people here. Although there is still a lot of damage from the 2015 earthquake, it’s definitely still a place to visit, perhaps now more than ever since Nepal depends heavily on tourism. Go there and discover its wonders for yourself.