Our third and final destination in Nepal was the gorgeous mountain town of Pokhara, about a 5 hour bus ride through lush valleys, river, and farmland outside of Kathmandu.
It was a relaxed and romantic four day trip. After having spent the last month or so in crowded, dirty cities in India (plus Kathmandu, which though calmer was along the same lines), a sunny mountain retreat was the perfect anecdote to the pollution, hassles, and crowds. We spent most of our days walking through the downtown area, taking a boat ride on the lake, hitting up backpacker bar happy hours and taking in as much mountain air as we could.
Our visit to Pokhara also happened to coincide with our fifth anniversary together. We decided to celebrate this occasion in style - by strapping ourselves into a parachute and running off a cliff. Paragliding involves floating in the air with a parachute and a pilot, un-tethered and very high in the air. It is sometimes confused with parasailing, where you and your parachute are attached to a rope that is tethered to a boat zooming around the water, and with hang gliding, where you and a pilot are attached to a glider that looks like a giant paper airplane. It was an exciting and frightening decision, but once we arrived in Pokhara and observed the dozens of paragliding flights soaring across a backdrop of the Himalayas we knew that a) Ok, the companies and pilots run these flights safely ALL THE TIME. The rare deaths in the last decade were also from solo pilots instead of the tandem flights we would take. b) This looks awesome we definitely need to go for it.
Before taking off, I had been nervous about being subjected to the whims of the air and the environment. How do we know that we won't land in a tree? What if the wind rattles us through the air like a plastic bag? What if we fall too fast or can't come down at all? We were about to find out.
The trip began with a 30 minute drive from the paragliding office in central Pokhara up a windy village road to the top of a mountain. Along the mountainside was a small field that was a bit narrower than a baseball diamond and covered with a large tarp. We met our pilots and strapped into our parachutes, which were lying uphill. Our Nepali pilots were professional and confident and told us not to be afraid, and that when they said go, to take off running for the edge of the field, about 15 meters ahead of us. When we got to the edge, instead of having to jump, the wind would pick us up and we'd be on our way.
Turns out, our fears about safety were completely unwarranted. Our seasoned pilots had near complete control of our flight while in the air. There were lots of air currents that the pilots used to adjust our altitude and by manipulating the edges of the parachute with pull cords, the could turn us seamless and move us laterally across the valley, around the hills, and over the lake. In fact, once we took off nearly the full first 15 minutes of the flight were gaining altitude... Our experienced pilots rode the air currents higher for an even more magnificent view. (Andrew asked his pilot how long a person could paraglide in one flight and his pilot said basically as long a person wants. It's not unusual for a person to glide for four or more hours, they just ride the air current up whenever they begin to lose altitude.)
Once we were in the air, it was easy to feel confident about our safety and just enjoy the ride. My wonderful husband agreed to be the photographer, so all the photos of me.
The paragliding flight was extremely fun. First, there were dozens of other people flying around at the same time, making me feel part of a great celestial mobile of swirling parachutes way up in the clouds. The bright sunny day cast a shimmer of light on the Pokhara lake below us, and we could see the Himalayas from on high off to our left. Finally, there were a large number of predator birds (eagles, vultures, hawks, etc.) joining us in flight, and it was impressive and awe inspiring to see these birds gliding through the air from up close.
We coasted in the air for about 45 minutes before making our descent to a landing pad along the lakeside. Overall, we loved our flight and would absolutely recommend it.
The one downside of the flight that we hadn't expected, however, was queasyness. About half way into both of our flights, we each developed a small bit of nausea from the gentle rocking back and forth in our harnesses from the air current. We weren't being shaken around by any stretch, but it hits your stomach a little bit after a while. For this reason, we were both glad to land when we did even though we both loved our flights. Note to future paragliders: take some motion sickness meds beforehand and you'll be totally fine. I'd also recommend gloves because my fingers got really cold.