Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm Flying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sarangkot from above with Himalayas through the clouds
While the wheels didn't actually come off the bus in Pokhara, we did, temporarily, lose some forward momentum. Our initial impression of the city was right- it really was a nice place to spend some time, and we ended up staying for five days to continue our “India recuperation” and to enjoy a bit of a vacation. 

One thing Pokhara is known for is its ideal conditions for paragliding, which is something we've both wanted to try for quite some time. We looked into the many companies offering tandem flights and settled on Frontiers Paragliding, which is one of the two original operations in Pokhara and has highly experienced pilots. They offer two tandem options- a half hour introduction and an hourlong, “cross country” flight. After weighing the options, we decided to go for the one hour flight, so we made a reservation for 11:30 am, peak flying time due to the warmer air and thus, more thermals, on Thursday. 

Looking super sexy and ready for takeoff
That morning, we got up, had another hearty breakfast at our guesthouse (Two eggs, a small loaf of warm brown bread, fried potatoes, and a bowl of fresh fruit, muesli, and curd, and coffee or tea. Really, more than any reasonable person should eat in a morning sitting, but we aren't reasonable. And we've been sick), and walked up to the Frontiers office to meet for the jeep ride to Sarangkot, from where we would fly. On the way, we stopped in to see a chemist who did consultations and asked about my cough and snot-filled respiratory system. She seemed to think that I had an infection and recommended an antibiotic and more cough syrup, which I purchased and started taking immediately. We got to Frontiers, filled out the necessary paperwork, and sat down to wait for our ride up the mountainside. When they announced it was time to go, I really figured that one or both of us would start feeling a bit nervous, but surprisingly, it didn't happen. We got in the back of the truck and held on for dear life for the terrifying ride up a very narrow, rutted, steep road to the launch site at Sarnangkot. When the jeep stopped and someone said, “We're here,” I again thought we'd be feeling some butterflies, but we both climbed out and followed the leaders up the path without feeling even a flutter. About halfway up the hill, I started experiencing some major difficulty catching my breath and thought, “Here comes the panic,” but I slowed down my pace and realized that it wasn't an emotional reaction, I really was having a hard time breathing since my lungs must have been about half-full (not half-empty. I try to be optimistic) of mucus. 

That's Colin and Ivan!
At the launch site, I sat down on the hill and caught my breath after a few minutes of coughing and felt just fine. Colin was the surprise- he's petrified of heights. He hates it when I lean over railings, edges of cliffs, Victoria Falls. He hated looking out the windows at the top of the Arch in St Louis. If a job requires a ladder, it's got my name all over it. But Colin let himself be strapped into the harness, put on his helmet, and I saw not a glimmer of terror, only excitement on his face. He and his pilot, Ivan, walked off the edge of the hill first and drifted away while I waited with my pilot, Serge, for a good wind. When Serge felt the wind was right, he said to start walking, and to keep walking right off the edge. Somehow, it seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do! As the wind caught the wing, we were lifted into the air. Oh my GOD it was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

My foot over Lake Fewa!
For countless years I have had dreams in which I could fly, well, more like, float. In my dreams, all I have to do is scoop the air with my hands, and I lift off and can move like Charlie and his grandfather in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Paragliding is as close as I can imagine to that feeling. Serge said we'd climb when we found thermals and to shift my weight to the left in my seat. When he instructed me to do so, I did, and we circled and climbed, higher, and HIGHER, until we were the highest of the bunch. To look out at the horizon and see the Himalayas, to see the vultures and kites (and Colin!) flying below us, to feel the breeze hit my face and hear nothing but that gentle wind (and Serge occasionally humming) was the most wonderful thing I have experienced in a long time. I smiled and smiled a big, goofy smile the entire time we were up. With the end of our flight nearing, Serge said that to land, I should put down my feet and stand up. We descended over the lake and circled around, and the ground got closer. At the end, Serge said to stand up, and I put out my legs, and we landed. I, on my butt. Fortunately Serge has done this once or twice (he's been flying for 38 years), and it was a gentle landing. On my butt. Once I was unharnessed, I had to go sit down. Colin was already unstrapped and had found a couple of other motorcyclists who were watching the landings to talk to, and I went to a chair under some trees and tried to absorb what I'd just done. It was truly an incredible experience, and I can't wait to do it again. Neither can Colin.

The Himalayas at last light from our guesthouse roof
Since our time in Pokhara was our vacation from our trip, we spent the rest of our time finding new spots to sit and enjoy the mountain and lake vistas in the sunshine.  On one particularly beautiful afternoon, we actually rode our bikes to one of the paragliding landing sites and watched them come down.  We read (for pleasure!).  We walked through the streets, looking at all the North F(aux)ce trekking gear, yak wool shawls, and knitted hats for sale.  We strolled along the lakeside, enjoying the scenery and stopping for coffee and pastries when the mood struck. It was pretty wonderful.

Colin's porcine pleasure of beloved bacon
The other thing we did in Pokhara was eat. We both regained our appetites (with a vengeance), and my sense of taste gradually returned as well. Since many of the travelers in Pokhara are returning trekkers, who apparently get tired of eating rice and lentils for three weeks straight, there are a lot of restaurants that serve western food. Since we were also kind of tired of rice and lentils, we partook of some really fine meals as well. We actually indulged in a couple of monstrous, two-inch thick (beef!) steaks our first evening in town (it was one of the goals Colin set for the day), accompanied by some really good, crisp fries, and sizzling hot vegetables. Another night, we found a Chinese restaurant and had amazing Gong Bao pork, Ma Po tofu, garlic green beans, a mixed vegetable dish, and fried wontons (we ordered way too much food and ate way too much of it, but man, it was tasty). Our meal there was so good, we returned a couple nights later for more Gong Bao pork (for me), duck with black mushrooms and baby corn in oyster sauce (for Colin) and more green beans. We also found an open air Italian restaurant with fireplaces that made some kick-ass wood-fired pizzas (try a light tomato base with fresh pesto, walnuts, sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and yak cheese sometime. A slice of it is a little slice of heaven).

No comments:

Post a Comment