Ann and Laxman above Lake Fewa

SYNOPSIS:  Ann’s birthday celebrated in style at the Hidden Paradise in Pokhara. About the joys and the miseries of paragliding; my experience in particular.  What happens when I try to have fun.

It was a glorious day.  And it was Ann’s 50th birthday!  She had envisioned a day she would never forget; different from all others.  And her wish got off to a very good start, especially given the spotty wind and weather conditions of the previous days. 

Laxman and his younger brother are paragliding pilots specializing in tandem flights.  Over 50 companies have latched on to that sport over the last few years and seem to do well.  Business is booming and conditions at Pokhara are ideal. 

After signing waivers of liability and paying up in the town office, a large jeep raced a load full of pilots and passengers up a bumpy serpentine road to the mountain top.  Sherpas carried the heavy glider-packs up the last stretch.  And after a brief introduction on what to do and what not to do, one by one we were running off a cliff, putting our fates into the hands of our skillful pilots. 

I was one of the first to take off.  That was a mistake!

What I should mention, just to put all of this into context:  that morning I had not done so well in the digestive department.  I had diarrhea…  But I am not a party-pooper (pun intended).  Ann’s birthday was today, and the weather was perfect.  So I went with the flow.  What I also should mention as a side note:  I get quite car sick, especially when the car drives up a bumpy serpentine road, like chased by the devil himself, as our jeep did…

I was absolutely miserable by the time we reached the top of the mountain.  But instead of admitting my predicament and asking for some time to recuperate, pride got the better of me:  Mind over matter!  I could handle this!

Well… within minutes of the truly exhilarating flight circling up and up and up, and zipping across straight at 35 km per hour, and the absolutely gorgeous views of the mountains and the lake – I could feel my stomach turning… First, I tried to hold it all in.  But that did not work.  I gave my pilot a quick warning — all was well, but my stomach had its own ideas.  I guess I wasn’t the first one in that situation, even though I turned out to be the only one in today’s flying batch. 

Spit it all out to the left, ma’am, he instructed me.  I wondered if I would inconvenience anyone below me, but the content of my stomach went side-ways in small, gentle waves and seemed to dissipate without being noticed by any of my flight companions. Thankfully, I had not eaten lunch.   Should I take you down, ma’am?  No, no!, I replied.  We just got started!  I was not giving up on this once-in-a-lifetime heavenly experience.  But that he called me ma’am, somehow made me feel even sicker.  I assured him that all was well and that we were going to continue.  As high up as he could get us, and as long as our trip was scheduled, 50-60 minutes! 

Let’s make a very long 50 minutes very short:  I threw up the entire time!  My hands got numb, my feet tingled, and I had to pinch as hard as I could not to lose it at both ends.  What a royal embarrassment that would have been!!!  The pilot kept asking if “ma’am” was ok, and I kept reassuring him, that all was fine (even though it wasn’t). 

In between my episodes, I smiled for the selfie-camera stick as best as I could.  We went up the highest of all of the teams:  2500 meters from the 1800 meter starting cliff.  But when it was time to go down and the pilot suggested that he could perform some tricks now, I politely requested to skip the tricks.  I had seen them from my balcony:  Full loop-di-loops in the air!  In my current state, I could do without those.   Perhaps, some other day…

Landing is easy.  I hardly remember anything of it, only, that I was so weak now, that I could not even get on my feet again.  Once ma’am had been pulled up by her pilot, her stomach started to revolt again, and again, and again…  That, I had not expected.

“Ma’am” got a VIP seat in the front of the jeep.  The driver did his best to drive extra slow and carefully now.  I made it to the junction leading to the Hidden Paradise, skipping the trip to town I had originally planned with Ann.  But now, there was a 1km hike up the road and then that stretch of a steep climb.  “Ma’am” was in no shape to even get up from the bench on which she had sought relief!  Help was sent down from the mountain to fetch me, with an umbrella for the sun.  But what I needed most was a walking stick; the umbrella was perfect.  Slowly, slowly up the hill I went, passed an absolutely obnoxious, half-drunk and foul-mouthed ex-pat American, up the mountain, and into my bed, where I spent the next few hours half conscious, wondering what had just hit me. 

By the time Ann and Laxman arrived at the Hidden Paradise it was dinner time.  I was up and walking again, ready for dinner and birthday cake.  The episode was over, and so was Ann’s birthday.

It will be a memorable day for her, I am sure, and no doubt, for me, too.

P.S.  There is a whole CD of images shot during the flight which I have not yet seen, as my computer does not have a CD drive.  I therefore downloaded an image from Ann’s facebook page.  I hope I look as good as she does.  For sure, the scenery is the same.