On day 3 of the Progression course, I was mercifully feeling very much better and performing at "95% POWER" (as opposed to the very commonly shouted mantra of "FULL POWER!!!"). Which was good, because this was the day that we relocated to Bandipur - an amazing little village about 70km from Pokhara. By this point James had left us for his trek, as had another of the Nepalis due only to work reasons, and so this time we were 'only' 8 students, 3 instructors and 2 drivers in the Jeep for the 2 hour journey.
Bandipur, from what I could surmise from the Nepalis' passionate dialogue, is the home of the planet's tastiest chickens (though they are difficult to catch because they run so fast... apparently!) and obviously it would also be a beautiful location in the central Himalayas. But I had no idea quite how picturesque it would be until we started our first hike up to the launch point...
Not being able to go down and view the landing field in advance, Sabrina sketched it out for us. Nah, it can't be too hard, only 3 tall trees on the approach, a canyon to the right and a road to the left, a slight gradient and of course don't overshoot otherwise you'll be in the hedge!!
I let a few people lead the way (especially one of the instructors who was flying tandem) and then had a flight myself...
I don't think it went too badly! The landing site is indeed tricky but I reckon I could just about land a sailplane there so I'm sure it would be fine for a more experienced paraglider pilot. As it happened, we were taught a useful S-approach technique which helps you land precisely even if you have obstacles on the approach. This worked quite nicely.
The landing site.
The return to the top of the ridge (which, by the way, we virtually had to ourselves) was another quite bumpy ride and this time particularly noteable for its dust!
Leon somehow (I won't explain exactly...) ended up hanging from a tree above a stream. He decided to jump. He got wet (but somehow, thankfully, his glider and harness were absolutely fine). Wet plus dust resulted in an amazingly dusty physique which is not justified by the photo!
We had a good meal of Daal Bhat in the evening, and James was able to join us en-route to the start of his Annapurna Circuit trek. The following morning I explored the town and was quite enticed by the very traditional buildings, the complete lack of cars, the general serenity and (only when I reflect on this) an absence of tat-sellers!
We met in the morning for more theory session - the slope breeze of Bandipur takes longer to develop than Sarankot due to its aspect, so we had lots of time to kill.
Up on the hill, we were dismayed to discover a down-slope wind and general crowdiness. The Nepalis, ever resourceful, found a large flat stone and scratched out the board for one of their favoured games, a non-symmetrical strategy game called (as far as I can make out) 'tigers and goats'. One player has up to 20 goats, the other has 4 tigers. The aim is for the tigers is to 'eat' 7 goats (by jumping over them); the aim of the goats is to surround each tiger so it cannot move. It is not as easy as it sounds!
We also found a Nepali 'love shack' and sheltered there while we were subjected to 5 mins of rain. The writing downstairs said (in English) "Sex this way --->" but the others would not tell me what was written in Nepali!
But eventually the weather cleared and the up-slope wind started. I set off in the glider - unfortunately there was no lift which I could use given my level of soaring, despite trying quite hard to fly in the lift band close to the hill - and had a 10 minute glide down to the valley. This time I had Baris's GoPro attached to my helmet, using a mount I had bought from another friend and gifted to Baris as a rental cost, and filmed the whole flight. It's a shame that it was pointing down far too much for the whole flight and these are the only frames I captured of the stunning Bandipur scenery!
We also got a good view of the landing area, and a spectacularly poor landing of mine. I did a low final turn and, not looking in the right direction during the final approach, I got transfixed on the ground and was scared about applying full brake (I had the sensation I was stalled). As a result I hit the ground HARD, managed a couple of steps before falling flat on my front! But no damage though, especially thanks to Dad's very rugged sailing gloves! Just pride etc.
We bounced up to the top (giving a lift to some of the local kids) and managed to fit in another flight, before travelling up as the sun set.
We had an awesome meal that, Daal Bhat again of course but delicious and all-you-can-eat at one of the best restaurants. And this time we didn't manage to double-book! All the students, instructors, hangers-on and more joined us and we had an enjoyable evening.
I was staying the night at a local guest house and, although it wasn't heated, I had the best sleep I think I have ever had in Nepal! It was delightful and I didn't even need my alarm to wake up - I had simply had enough sleep...
The final day was bright and sunny and gave our best prospects for soaring. On the march up the hills, lots of people were taking photographs, myself included...
The tandem paragliders were the first to launch - one with a commercial customer who had turned up at the Blue Sky office in Bandipur and the other was Baris with his Brazilian girlfriend. Gery also went flying solo and stayed up for a while.
They launched us students into the lift as well, but alas only a couple of people managed to extend their flights for a short period of time. Having been previously told off for sitting down (wriggling into the more comfy flying position of the harness) too early, I have been waiting to be told to sit, and as a result flew straight through the lift and never found it again. Grrr...
Baris was also able to give a flight to one of the Nepali kids who had been watching us pack our wings and playing around the landing site. They haven't been trained yet to pack the wings, so I'm not sure that they know they are missing out on 20Rp every time we pack our own... but it's good practice.
Anyway this young Nepali kid was dumb - at first I thought he was just assuming we wouldn't understand him if he spoke Nepali, but then he gestured to show me he could hear fine but could not talk. He was about 10 and communicated very well with us using pointing, show-and-tell, and very obvious sign language. As a result we probably communicated with him easier than any of the other Nepali kids that were around! He was a charming and fun kid, I wish I had photos of his flight and his reaction, but my camera was on the wrong part of the mountain...
Trying to escape the dust, I decided to ride on the roof on the last journey up the mountain.
And finally, the lenticulars on the distant Annapurna mountains decided to show themselves! It was a stunning evening and the wave was showing itself very nicely. This is quite unusual in Nepal because, strangely, it does not get any weather... only climate... To expand on this, the mountains are tall enough to push the high and low pressure systems which normally give our wind, right over the top and Nepal is effectively windless. However, it does get plenty of breeze - by which I mean air movement driven by temperature difference. Air rushes up from the valleys and flat lands into the mountains during the day and reverses at night - this is very predictable and driven mostly by the slope winds which we use to fly the paragliders. It's why Nepal's climate is so dependable, day after day, and year after year. It's why it is such an awesome location for paragliding.
That evening we had an almost terrifying ride back to Pokhara in the Jeep. All the normal swerving to avoid pedestrians, some of whom were drunk or just standing in the middle of the road, also bicycles and motorcycles. Through a scratched windscreen we would see a headlight in the distance, you would think it's a motorcycle, no it's actually a truck with a light out, bombing along at 80kph! As usual, the larger vehicles have priority over the smaller ones and we were overtaken by a couple of coaches, sometimes on blind bends, though we would normally get them back! And the corners of course, would often be cut by the oncoming traffic and you would find yourself driving off-road all of a sudden...
The driver, one of our pilots this time, did a good job of not killing us. But I don't think I will be travelling through Nepal again at night soon!