Looking back, paragliding in Nepal wasn't necessarily the wisest of decisions. It's not a country known for its rigorous OHS regulations and the place we chose operated from a tiny room in a back street in Pokhara.
I'm not sure if we were just unlucky but we both ended up with surly Bulgarian instructors.
Still for me at least, it was an incredible experience. Cat was not so lucky. Here's why.
The day of reckoning had arrived. I was going to go paragliding again, five years after a mishap in Guatemala. Rather than gliding effortlessly off the mountain into the sunset, my long haired French paragliding instructor, Guy, and I nosedived down the cliff taking plenty of vegetation with us until finally the wind picked up and we finally made it in to the air.
Needless to say, I could still remember the blood (mine), tears (Guy), and slightly hysterical laughter (my sister), I was determined to put the episode to rest with a positive experience in the famous Annapurna mountains.
It didn’t bode well that as we slowly wound our way up the mountain to our launch point we realised the mountains were completely shrouded in fog. It was these same mountains we had been happily admiring in perfect clarity for the last six days.
Today, however, the fog was so dense you could not even tell that one of the highest mountain ranges in the world were lurking just a few hundred metres away. I decided that it was the safe flight that mattered and we would still have a nice view of the lake so it was best not to be too disappointed.
After being introduced to my surly Bulgarian instructor, you could be forgiven for thinking that he did not speak any English such was his lack of communicating in anything other than grunts and frowns.
My heart sank, spying the cliff we were soon to be hurtling ourselves off, I was quickly losing faith in my guide.
However, there was little time to ponder, and before I knew it we were strapped together and I was being told to run. Fast.
The next thing I knew we were in the air, there was a few moments of relief before another feeling swept through my body – motion sickness.
Now I hadn’t expected to be handed a sick bag whilst paragliding.
Far from being sympathetic my instructor looked vaguely horrified and refused to speak to me again. Even when we finally reached terra firma and I had to refrain from kissing the ground, I turned around to thank him but he had already gone.
I think I can safely say this time, never again!
Similarly, I also had a gruff Bulgarian who only spoke in brief bursts. I imagine that I must be a nightmare to tutor with something this dangerous as my lack of concentration is legendary and I am easily distracted.
However, to get me back on track he ordered, “DON’T TAKE PICTURES. CONCENTRATE ON TAKE-OFF. VERY DANGEROUS”. Once we were in the air, we soared spectacularly. Or maybe too quickly as happy chappy Yevgeny proceeded to say:
“THIS IS NOT NORMAL….. WE ARE 2,500M HIGH…… I DON’T GO THIS HIGH….. IF YOU SEE PLANE, LET ME KNOW AS WE ARE NOW IN RESTRICTED ZONE”, pointing to the nearby airport in concern.
I did think we were unexpectedly high, but just appreciated that we were soaring way over the massive mountain we’d struggled to climb two days previously.
On our descent, the instructor then proceeded to start singing the theme tune to the Adams Family.... Hardly the kind of landing music I was expecting.
To him I was an annoying tourist who didn’t take paragliding seriously enough; to me he was a charmless instructor who had no sense of fun and the conversational skills of an SS Officer.
For me, it was an incredible experience. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see Annapurna, that we went into the flight path of a very busy airport or that I didn’t like my instructor, there was nothing that could take away my enjoyment of soaring over Pokhara and the childish enjoyment at flying so ridiculously high.
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