Sunday, November 29, 2015

Off to Pokhara and Paragliding

We returned to Kathmandu on November 3rd, and we were pretty worn out from 13 days of hiking, so we spent the day taking it easy and enjoying a warm hotel room and a hot shower. Kathmandu and the rest of Nepal were in crisis due to a fuel shortage.  Due to a tough political situation fuel was (and still is) being blocked from entering via India, causing extreme shortages of fuel for cooking and driving.  Many restaurants in Kathmandu were closed because they didn’t have propane for cooking, and prices for taxis’ were at least double. Luckily we were staying in a larger hotel which had the ability to keep a generator and the kitchens running.
After a day and a half of relaxing we flew to Pokhara which was an easy hour and twenty minute flight in a Beech King Air. Again we decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel and Hotel Pokhara Grande was exactly that. The room, restaurant, and the hotel grounds were all excellent and the service was very good. When we checked in we had mentioned it was our 20th wedding anniversary and out of nowhere, we were told they were making an anniversary cake for us. A few hours later a cake with Happy 20th Anniversary inscribed on the top and a bottle of wine showed up at our room! Can't beat that for service. It was great tasting cake too!  We took it easy the first day, had a massage and arranged our paragliding flights.
Our friend Jim Bennett, who lives in Pokhara put us in touch with Bella from Karma Flights an organization of paragliding pilots who help raise money for children’s in education in Nepal. After the tragic earthquake in April they immediately used their network of volunteers to assist victims of the earthquake to rebuild. We had hoped to meet up with Jim, but he was still in Mongolia at the end of an epic 3,500km bike ride across the country, check out his fabulous blog here: The Transglobalist.
When I talked to Bella I explained that even though I had thousands of jumps and canopy flights I have a lot of injuries which prevent me from being able to run well. Depending on the winds at take off sometimes you have to run to launch your flight. She said she would see if Yann was available as a tandem pilot. Yann was from France and was the 2010 world champion and has made thousands of tandem flights. Bella arranged our paragliding flights with a company called Open Air and scheduled two great pilots to take us on our flight. There are at least 35 paragliding companies in Pokhara, it is a big tourist business and Pokhara is one of the best paragliding locations in the world.
The next day (November 5th) the weather was good and in the morning someone from Open Air drove over to our hotel and picked us up. We went to their store location to sign up and pay for our flights. Next we loaded up in the back of a big jeep and drove the bumpy winding road to the top of Sarangkot Mountain. We hiked a short distance to the side of the mountain where they lay the canopies out and got them ready to hook to your harness and launch. There was a good stiff breeze coming up the mountain which makes it a lot easier to launch and the side of the mountain was pretty steep so you could be off and in the air quickly. Sara went before I did, she was flying with with Tomaz from Slovenia. He was a good pilot and a super nice guy. Yann and I were launching higher up on a steeper part of the mountain where we waited for good winds. Once we got situated we were off and in the air with just a couple of steps, very much a piece of cake.
As we flew along Yann gave me the selfie stick with his GoPro camera to video us in flight, unfortunately the battery failed and we only got about 30 seconds of video, good thing I had a camera with me!  Yann was an absolute master at finding lift and thermals, we continued to go up and up. At one point Yann said “we will go up and touch the clouds” and we did. It was easy to see why he was a world champion.

We flew cross country for about 50 minutes and I am sure we could have stayed up a lot longer if we wanted to. Slowly we started to descend and finally landed down at the lake where everybody else had already landed. The landing was also a piece of cake. We had enough wind that Yann just had me pull my legs up and we came to a complete stop and soft landing. Sara had a great flight with Tomaz as well. The whole experience was a big highlight during our time in Pokhara.
The next day we went to the Gurkha museum which was interesting. The Gurkha's are very famous soldiers from Nepal and are part of the British army. They are well known as very fierce fighters. We rarely visit museums, but this made a nice change.

Pokhara is on the shore of  a very big lake called Fishtale and there are a lot of shops and restaurants along the lakeside so we went there for a late lunch and a walk along the lakeside. The next morning we had a little time in the morning before our afternoon flight back to Kathmandu so we went to the International Mountain museum. When we were trekking in the Khumbu we had met one of the Sherpas who helped start the museum so he highly recommended we check it out. It was excellent and pretty big with a ton of pictures and information about not only the Nepali Himalayas but also famous mountains from around the world. It was enjoyable and very informative.  We sadly said goodbye to Pokhara  and flew back to Kathmandu that afternoon to enjoy a few more days of our holiday.

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