Every day, a new experience. I was talking with Paul, a filmmaker from Vermont, who is also staying at our guesthouse. Over an Americano and a hot lemon ginger (no honey), he told me about “bad news, good news” lessons from one of his lamas. He said, “The bad news is you are falling, the good news is there is no ground.”
Monday morning we saw our son off to school for his “Explore Nepal” field program. He spent the entire week at a monastery not far from where we live. He was without phone and electronics, so we were unable to stay connected save for a daily update from the school principal. He would be doing all sorts of monastic activities, hiking, and bonding with his classmates. He was sorely missed, so to fill the void we decided to do a little “Explore Nepal” of our own.
Off to Pokhara. We drove out of town down a long winding mountain road. Again, I am given new insight into the bowl-like landscape of Kathmandu. It is entirely surrounded by steep hills and mountains. The only way to India is also along this highway….and not like a US highway. No lanes, passing at your own risk, diesel spewing trucks, speeding buses and micro buses, pedestrians, livestock and everything else. Winding, up, down, through villages, along rivers and over bridges. My friend who was behind the wheel showed no fear. Another reminder of dealing with life on life’s terms. If this is normal, then why stress? Just go with the flow.
For me, though…I white-knuckled it the entire way. Whenever I looked out the window to take in some amazing view, so would the driver. I only knew this because of the sudden jamming of brakes. My neck and head jerked forward to face a giant bull—bulging eyes, inches away from our swerving car—and after, nearly swallowed up under the rear bumper of a giant truck with “Road King…Blow Horn” painted on the rear. After this happened a third time, with mounting laughter coming from my fellow passengers, I decided just to face forward for the rest of the ride…except for once more to catch a quick glimpse biggest quarry I have ever seen…only to once more face-plant into the dash.
And that basically sums up the entire six hour journey. A few stops for tea, bathroom and lunch and we were there. The same could be accomplished via a 45 minute plane ride, but they have a bad habit of crashing into mountains. When you have two unfavorable travel choices in front of you, how do you decide? You go with the one your wife picks.
Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal. It is nestled into a sub-tropical valley along a mountain lake. The main tourist strip in the town is like any other haven for the hippie adventurer: Boulder, Dharamsala, New Hope, etc. The shops and restaurants are all carbon copied from Thamel (the main tourist destination in Kathmandu), with the addition of paragliding offerings every fourth store.
In my heart I knew this is why we were here. Besides for the momentarily breathtaking view of the Annapurna range we had at dawn prior to the sky clouding over, a leisurely boat ride on the lake, the only big thing left to do was paraglide or start a trek (sorry World Peace Pagoda, we’ll see you next time). We had neither time nor plans for trekking, and so there you have it.
After searching the hotel internet at dial-up speeds [cue old modem/AOL sountrack], Boodi (the affectionate Nepali slang for “my old lady”) informed me that she had found something exceptionally unique called parahawking, where you do the usual paragliding stuff, while feeding an African vulture. Run off a mountain with your fate in the hands of a parachute pilot who is strapped to your back…just so you can feed an endangered species a few thousand feet from the earth…why not?
So there we are, riding up to mountain with Scott, Damu and Bob (two humans, one bird). We take a steeply ascending and winding cliffside road (term “road” used loosely here) up those few thousand feet to the top of the hill…and wait.
A paragliding competition is taking place over the next week and the launch site and surrounding airspace is populated with chutes floating around like fruit flies on the edge of the hill. Korean tourists stumble off the mountain ledge in tandem lazily into the grey skies. Agro-professionals bully each other for launch space, complain about tandems (us) crowding the hill, before pirouetting like ballerinas up, up into the air.
A half hour passes, and I decide to sit a look and photos and videos I shot on my iPhone. My butt is barely to the ground before Scott yells over for me to get strapped into my harness. I’m flying attached to Damu, who gives me some basic instructions about how to launch in tandem, and then how to feed Bob. I ask if there is a backup chute. He says, “Yes…very safe.” I ask him if he ever had to use it…he just smiled and mumbled something inaudible, and then clearly said “OK…run off hill now.”
The good news? There was ground.
It was there to seal an experience of a lifetime, and to greet us just before the rain and hail rolled over and down the tops of the hills.
Echoing off the tin roofs, the rain later became a steady muted white noise amidst the distant chirping, cockadoodling and muffled Korean conversation in the hotel room next to ours.