Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone! I've found some time to write up missing blog posts now that I have safely returned to the UK . But more on that later.
The night after the risotto, I got up very early and made my way across Lokanthali with most of my luggage and onto a bus for Kathamandu. I couldn't recognise anything in the dark, but eventually the conductor called 'Rathnapark' or similar and I found my way to the tourist bus which whisked me effectively to Pokhara. It only took about 6 hours and we stopped twice for food - a very easy journey in comparison to the others I've had.
Checking in to my hotel I was delighted with a nice, soft double bed, a balcony with a view over the lake, and a hefty discount due to the fact I'm a volunteer!
Having the afternoon to myself, I wandered around the lake to one of the main paragliding landing sites where I chatted to a few people - including a chap from the UK called Dave, who I am sure is here more for the women than the flying - and then headed back to Blue Sky paragliding to sign in.
One of the main landing sites.
At the Blue Sky office, I went to meet the instructor (a charming Frenchwoman called Sabrina) and the other 8 (!) members of the course - a British guy in his twenties called James, a French guy in his 40s and then 6 Nepali guys between 20 and 40, most of whom lived in the area and decided to take up paragliding because it's what they had always wanted to do.
We went straight upstairs for our introduction and first theory class, me starting to relax into the French accent as I was gently reminded about lift-to-drag ratios and adiabatic lapse rate while the eyes of the others gradually grew wider and the scribbling in their notebooks became more frantic! Here at least, I would be at a slight advantage...
The following day, we drove in the Jeep out to an island in the lake, connected by a ridiculous bridge of 3 concrete pipes, and started to examine the wings. We started to learn how to summon them from the ground into the air like reluctant snakes, gradually getting a feel for how to manoeuvre the giant kites.
We were joined on this day by two more assistant instructors, Baris (from Turkey) and Gery (from Bulgaria) who were superb additions to the team, especially given the size of the group (about which I initially had my reservations). After lunch (sandwiches from Pokhara), we strapped into practice harnesses and started to raise the wings using our weight and legs, walking and eventually running into the wind.
The otherwise hot and sweaty day was punctuated with theory chats and the occasional paraglider coming to land in our field - on one famous occasion, an incoming pilot couldn't decide where amongst us to land and ended up touching down flying downwind at a cow, right near the edge of the water. The cow did not appreciate being tangled up in the lines and was about to bolt, but the swift actions of the instructors (and probably the placid nature of the beast as well) prevented the unlucky pilot from being dragged all across the island!
At the end of all this running about we retired back to the Blue Sky office for some more theoretical education.
The next two days proceeded in a similar fashion at another field about half an hour's drive from Pokhara. There was a large, slightly sloped field in the bottom of a valley with no-one else around. Unfortunately, this had been burnt in a few places which rendered it partially unusable but in the end this was no big deal.
Some amazing wildlife in the form of vultures and buzzards kept us in awe on many occasions. This bird is BIG- well over 2m span!
Our reason for coming to this field was to practice inflations and launches, utilising the gentle slope to get extra speed and become accustomed to the feeling of running down one. Time after time, we laid out our wings, checked all the lines (and occasionally pre-inflating), then on the word of the instructor we would walk forwards to get the wing overhead, brake it to stop it overshooting, then run down the hill with conviction. All useful practice for the actual flight.
I found that the most difficult thing was looking in the right place. I would want to look up at the wing while it's rising, in order to brake it at the right time, or look at the ground so I knew where to put my feet, but never looking forwards into the distance which is where you are SUPPOSED to look! I guess I've never been much of a 'feely' person, preferring to see visually what's going on, and this would prove to be a hard-to-kick habit...
In preparation for day 4, which would be the first day actually taking to the air in the machines, we were fitted for our flying harnesses and introduced to the 4th instructor, another French chap called Mathieu who works alongside Sabrina often - they were a really great team together. With him, we learnt how to stand up and sit in the harness.
Then, we took the Jeep to the far end of the lake which would be our landing site for the next day's flights. Having had 3 days learning how to launch, we now had 2 hours to learn how to fly and land - luckily Mathieu has done this lecture many times before and it seemed to make pretty good sense! The landing field is huge but has a few hazards like buffalo, stone walls, a river of stone and many more stones everywhere. Not to mention the large banana tree.
Apprehensive but excited, we went to bed looking forward to the first solo flights in a paraglider...