20 November 2010

Paragliding in Pokhara

Trying to fly kites unsuccessfully in Nagarkot
The trip back to Kathmandu was a hairy one, more akin to a rollercoaster ride than a scheduled flight.  Audrey spent most of the flight praying to whichever God came to mind.  But it was nothing in comparison (in my opinion) to the 6 hour drive to Pokhara (Audrey was unfazed by this one).

We were heading there to do some paragliding, which I’ve been itching to do for ages.  We had already arranged a driver and vehicle, and convinced Fabio, a bubbly Brazilian, someone we met a few times in the mountains, to join us for the drive.  I was regretting the drive pretty quickly.  It started with a mammoth traffic jam leaving the capital, followed a road which would have even been considered a disgrace in the south of Ireland in the early 80s, combined with a crazy driver who must have felt he had a sixth sense that could see around corners.  This was the main “highway”.

Fabio and Audrey, and a dog's arse

Normally I can cope with dodgy driving, and it’s Audrey who whips out her luggage-case-strap-cum-portable-seatbelt on every bus journey.  On this one though, I was grippping the armrest tightly, and thinking about the cost of flying back.  And I reckon Fabio was wishing he had taken the bus.  Audrey, meanwhile, was calm in the front seat, oblivious to the obvious danger we were in; perhaps her seatbelt giving her a false sense of security.

We arrived safely.

Getting my first cut-throat-razor shave in Pokhara
Pokhara, despite being the third biggest city, was a complete contrast to Kathmandu, laidback and spacious, no in-your-face people trying to sell anything.  There wasn’t much to see either, but I needed a relaxing environment after the drive, hiking and Kathmandu.

Paragliding was good, but not as exhilarating as I expected.  Audrey had been really worried about it, but when we landed I was greeted by an over-excited Audrey.  She had loved it, and my disappointment was mainly due to the fact that my pilot had failed to hit the thermals properly to get up some good height.  Plus, the pace was a bit pedestrian, and I like to be in control, but that wasn’t possible.  Take-off was interesting, running down a hill towards a cliff, but the parachute really picks up the wind well, so we were up in the air before you know it.

Talking to the locals in Nepal was quite easy , as most spoke a good level of English.  We noticed that a lot had been to work in the middle east.  No one had much good to say about being there, which ties in with the recent stories in the news of torture by Saudi families on maids from South Asia and Indonesia.  Most went from Nepal during the Maoist insurgency, when tourism was at a nadir.  But now they have their peace process (which moves just as slowly as the one in Northern Ireland), and little threat from paramilitaries, tourist are returning in droves.

The only positive thing a couple of people could say about Saudi Arabia was that cars obey the traffic lights, which in Kathmandu isn’t really an option, as I only seen one set in the entire country, and that was on the blink, literally simply flashing orange, reminding me of this story of a county in Ireland.

The drive back to Kathmandu was similar as the journey there, but I’d gotten used to it by now, plus the driver was quite good even if he was a bit insane.  We met up with our guide Raj again, and he’d just come back from an audition for the Nepali version of Pop Idol, which I thought was quite funny.  He’d been bursting into song every so often on the mountains, practising I now assume.  He’d managed to get down to the last twenty, but missed the crucial cut for the last 10.  He says he’ll be back again next year.  Good luck to him.

A few more days wandering around the city followed, and we attempted to fly kites we had bought.  We got a quick lesson from one of the locals while we were on the roof of our hotel.  Kite fighting is a popular sport here, where the goal is to cut the string of other peoples kites with yours.  I thought it'd be really difficult for anyone to cut the string, but we predictably lost our kite after a group of experts from a balcony about 50 metres away got their kite string into the path of ours.

After a one night trip to Nagarkot, we headed off to Tibet on a 7 day tour.


King prawn said...

I would have loved to do paragliding with you guys. This year it's all about the hang gliding. Maybe you would like to join me??