Saturday, March 12, was a day I had been looking forward to for quite some time. When I started doing research for this trip back in October, I kept reading over and over again that Pokhara was one of the best places in the world to go paragliding. The main reason for this is because of the incredible mountain views with supporting factors being stable thermals, convenient take-off and landing zones and the safety of a large lake below you. It didn't take much convincing for me to be convinced I absolutely had to do this. Luckily, Jennifer and Vinny were both on board as well. You only live once, right? When I turned twenty five, I went sky diving with my friend Lindsey down in San Diego as a way to celebrate making it a quarter of a century. It sure was an exhilarating experience and I always knew I wanted to do it again. For now, paragliding will fill that craving.
In the morning, it was pretty overcast. We all had high hopes the clouds would soon burn off and the sun would start to brightly shine, welcoming us to its sky with open arms (or open rays I guess). Every hour I was doing my "come out to play sunshine dance" because how could something l'd been so excited about for so long not go perfectly?
Around 11am, Phoenix Paragliding (owned by an Austrian husband and a Nepalese wife) came to pick us up at Hotel Middle Path. We swung by their offices about ten minutes away, filled out some paperwork, signed our lives away and then drove up a steep hill, higher and higher and higher and higher above ground, until we finally reached Sarangkot Mountain, which is where we will be jumping off from. Literally, jumping off. Jumping off a cliff that is. Are we crazy? The owner, Jochen, wanted to wait a little while until the wind picked up a bit and with the optimistic thought that it would get a tad bit clearer with every passing minute. Unfortunately, unlike that morning we went to the Taj Mahal, it never really cleared up. I was so bummed I wasn't going to get the full experience of seeing the various Himalayan ranges. I wanted to scream to the weather gods, "why are you doing this to me!!!!!!!!!" but then I took a step back (luckily not a step forward or else I wouldn't be writing this right now), observed everything around me and realized who cares if the weather isn't perfect. You are about to go paragliding, in Nepal, with two very important people in your life by your side. What else can one need? I'm a lucky girl to be here and if I have to provide my own sunshine, so be it.
My pilot was the Austrian owner while Vinny's pilot was French and Jennifer's was Japanese (you can slightly seem them in the photo above to the right). Very ethnically diverse staff they have. It was a United Nations party thousands of feet above sea level. Once we got the green light to begin the pre-flight preparations, it was go time. No turning back now. The three of us were carefully dressed in helmets and harnesses and were given very simple directions. When they say hit it, you walk, run, run, run and once you no longer have the ground underneath (ahhhhhhhh), keep your legs in running position until they say relax. At that moment, it was smooth sailing. I just sat back, let my legs loosely dangle in mid-air like spaghetti noodles off of a fork, observed all the incredible sights from high in the sky, smiled for the GoPro camera and absolutely loved every minute I was gracefully soaring like a bird. If there was a theme song for this experience it would be Tom Petty's, Free Falling. "And I'm freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, freeeeeee falling"!
The whole flight was only twenty minutes due to the lack of wind to keep us up but it sure was fun while it lasted. As we glided over the lake, we did some crazy spins (on purpose, don't worry) and my stomach dropped it liked it was hot. It's that feeling you get when you go on a rollercoaster and it suddenly dips faster than you can handle. Such an adrenaline rush. But in a good way. The landing was pretty easy as well. There was a large open grass field that you basically run for a few steps on then your mission is successfully complete. Just a typical Saturday, no big deal.
After we celebrated with our two feet proudly on the ground and patted ourselves on the back for surviving, we headed to lunch at Cafe 17 French Bakery, which was in town and recommended by the folks at Phoenix Paragliding. It was a very small, simple, sweet little place that only had a few menu options. We sat outside, enjoyed some of their fresh homemade bread and then asked for the check. Usually when this step in the process happens, the waiter brings a printed or written piece of paper that lists out what you ordered, how much it was, then adds in tax and sometimes service charge. Well, not here. The waiter came back with a calculator that read 675. HA! This was priceless. Definitely a first. I just love the simplicity and they are saving a tree so go them.
For the rest of the afternoon, Jennifer and I walked along the lake while Vinny chilled back at the hotel. We ended up at a place called Bamboo Cafe, which was right on the water, and ordered fancy "mocktails" (cocktails without the alcohol, don't judge) and a butterscotch cake with ice cream. Such a random combination, but who cares, we can have our cake and eat it too. We sat outside reminiscing on countless childhood memories that would sporadically pop into our minds. And there sure were some classic ones indeed. When you have literally known someone your entire life it's so incredible to remember the good old days when life was so much simpler than it is now. Almost every birthday, every holiday (Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas Eve, etc.) and any other excuse our parents could think of was spent together ever since we were born.
That night, we all had dinner at Busy Bee Cafe, which considers themselves "a place like nowhere else". When we first got there, it was pretty quiet, just a few other people. But by 9pm, it was packed. People were smoking hookah, drinking beer and there were random sports being televised on big screens such as cricket, badminton and European soccer. But the best thing about this night was the live Nepalese cover band of about four guys. They sang everything and anything including a reggae version of Adele's "Someone Like You", Maroon 5, Oasis, Pearl Jam, 4 Non Blondes, Kings of Leon, Red Hot Chili Peppers and so many others. The three of us just sat there for a few hours and sang along, out loud, as if we were the only ones in the restaurant. So much fun. Definitely a night to remember.
Today, March 13, was our last day in Pokhara. We hired a driver to take us to two fairly random sights a bit further away. Sundari hilltop, which was real life, no tourism influence. Unkept roads, tiny villages and locals going about their everyday routines.
When we got back to town, we walked to Boomerang for lunch, wandered around the other side of Pokhara (which seemed a little more upscale and less backpacker-ish), found a nice park where locals were playing soccer and as we were heading back to our hotel, it started to downpour. Raining cats and dogs. We took cover in a nice mans jewelry shop hoping it would stop in a few minutes. The guy didn't even ask us to buy anything in return, he just wanted to help. I just love everyone in this country. Some people hid under trees and in random shops while others weren't phased by getting drenched so they continued on with their day. After about thirty minutes it calmed down a bit so we hopped in a cab and made our way home.
Our last supper was back at Cafe Concerto because we all loved it so much. And Vinny wore his new Nepali hat, which at least three local GUYS told him he looked very handsome. I have to agree.
Pokhara was such a chill, calming, almost detoxing place. You can't help but feel relaxed here. Maybe too relaxed at times. Four nights was a little long but it provided us all with a chance to go slow. It was fairly touristy in certain areas but there was plenty of things to do and see that allowed us to escape those massive crowds from time to time. If I could do it all over again, I would most likely do one less night in Pokhara and add one night to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha himself. But if we always knew then what we know now, life wouldn't be half as exciting. You live and you learn and if you don't learn, you aren't really living.
Tomorrow we will be heading back to Kathmandu, which is about six hours by car, on the same narrow canyon like road we took to Chitwan and Pokhara. Oh geez, here goes nothing. From there, Jennifer will head back to LA that night and we will head to Bhutan the next morning. The one thing I am going to miss the most is picking up Jennifer on our walks through Patan or yelling from across the balcony in Chitwan or calling her in her room in Pokhara. We sure had an incredible eleven days of sightseeing, adventure, eating, laughing and enjoying the simple things in life. Miss your face already, Jaye!
Overall, I loved Nepal. Just like India, it can be dirty, crowded, polluted and sadly very poverty stricken but it definitely has its adoring charm, its scenic beauty, its calm demeanor and its incredible history. I think we had a perfect balance of city life, rural life and nature life. It will continue to boggle my mind that electricity is so hard to find on a consistent basis. It goes on and off, day or night and you never know when it will happen or how long it will be for. It's just crazy how something you never had to think twice about at home has become such a rare commodity, almost a luxury, here in Nepal.
In the end, it was the people that really won my heart over. They are genuinely and unconditionally nice, welcoming, accommodating, happy and overall, good spirited. Whether it was the managers at our hotels/AirBnB's, our cab drivers, waiters at restaurants or random locals we met on the streets, everyone was just amazing. And to think they are still like this despite their hardships is beyond inspiring. Less is more and they are the perfect examples of that.
Until next time, Namaste Nepal...