If you look high over the hills to the north of Pokhara, you see what appear to be dozens of birds of prey. Swooping and drifting in the wind, they’re like vultures circling the terrain below. It’s only upon closer inspection you notice the colourful parachutes and arched openness of what can only be a group of paragliders.
On Monday morning, one of them was me.
I’d read about paragliding opportunities all over Nepal, but Pokhara seemed like the right place at the right time. I’d met a handful of fellow travellers who had paraglided here, and they had all told me about the awesome feeling that comes with soaring amongst the Annapurna Himalayan Range. It doesn’t hurt that Pokhara is listed as one of the best places on the planet to paraglide, either.
So I signed up for flight: December 30 at 11:30 a.m. Nearing the end of 2013, I figured it was good to round off the year with a new and exciting experience.
At shortly after 11 a.m. that day, myself and three other paragliders made our way up to the launching area in the back of a large jeep. The views of the mountains and down onto the sprawling reaches of Pokhara were stunning from the open back of the jeep, and I couldn’t wait to see the same sights from thousands of feet, floating freely through the Himalayan thermals.
The paragliding trips all take off from the town of Sarangkot, 1,450 metres up. Each company has its own private take off spot, each lined up next to one another along the steep mountainside.
My pilot, Laxman, got me buckled into the harness.
He then instructed me how to take off: walk, walk, walk, ruuuuuuuun! The actual take off process really didn’t last that long, and is not a hugely fear-inducing activity. Prior to my trip, I had pictured something more like the Lukla airport: a steep runway area, a fast run and a leap off a cliff. This was much more tame. After a few seconds, the wind takes over, and filled our creamsicle-coloured parachute, carrying Laxman and I up off the ground.
Soon we were high above the take off area, my feet dangling beneath my seat in the harness.
The view was spectacular. On one side, breathtaking views of the Annapurna Range: Dhaulagiri, Machapuchare and Annapurna II, lined up across the horizon, their sides only slightly obscured by a few wisps of cumulus cloud. The proximity of Pokhara to such clear Himalayan views is impressive and humbling: a toy-sized city stretched out beneath their magnitude. In the other direction was the ravishing blue of the Phewa Tal, a breeze creating a surface of sparkling diamonds. The silhouette of the World Peace Pagoda on the distant hillside; the city; the distinctive plots of nearby homes and farms. All was visible with such a sharp clarity.
The actual experience of paragliding involves a series of soft turns, following the air flow as it pushes you up and gently drives you down. The movements of the paraglider (thanks to Laxman’s expertise) are graceful and calculated.
Marlon had lent me her small point and shoot camera (with wrist strap!) for the ride, and I while up in the air I practiced the ancient Nepalese art form of the “selfie.” Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Overall, an incredible experience, and another check off my bucket list!