Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nepal, Winter 2009, Part 4

As transcendent an experience as my first flight was, I flubbed my first landing in a most inelegant way.

Throughout the course, we flew under instructions communicated to us via small radios clipped to our harnesses.

On the final glide of my first flight, I veered too far right despite repeated instructions from my instructor to head left. Looking back, I think it was because I had fixated my gaze on a couple of horses in front of me diagonally on my left. Thinking that I would crash into them, I maintained my course when on hindsight, my instructor probably meant for me to head left, which would eventually put me farther left of the horses.

The end result was I landed in a less than ideal patch of rice paddies. Well, more like ankle deep in mud rather. Oh, and I startled a *huge* water buffalo resting in a muddy rice paddy on the way down. That was quite a sight, according to my fellow students watching from the hilltop. I had just a few seconds to appreciate the sight of the buffalo lurching to its feet and lumbering away from the intimidating red and black glider that was hurtling towards it. Too bad I couldn’t take any pictures of that. Too busy landing.

Despite that initial flubbed landing, the rest of the paragliding course proceeded smoothly enough. We never returned to Kahun Danda after that day, and the rest of our flights were from atop a high ridge called Torrepani, near the main take-off sites for experienced pilots at Sarangkot.

Here are some pictures of the view from the take-off point.

This is one of Fishtail Mountain (Macchapucchre), the iconic peak associated with the Pokhara Valley.

This is one of the Pokhara Lakeside, close to the LZ, a rice paddy field far down the ridge. A flight from Torrepani takes approximately 25 minutes to glide down to the LZ. Longer if the pilot engages in soaring flight.

This is a pic of the us at the LZ heading back to the jeep after an afternoon flight.

A pic of the take-off point from the LZ.

In total, I logged 13 flights during the course, over 6 flying days, for the total of about 3 hours of airtime. After learning how to get into the air safely on the first day of flying at Kahun Danda, the rest of the course was spent doing 2 flights a day from Torrepani, with each flight focusing on a specific set of exercises. We did turns, pitch control, roll control, rear-riser steering, big ears … all the exercises beginner pilots perform to get their licence. Everything proceeded smoothly.

There was a bit of a scare one day though, when one of the students experienced a spontaneous asymmetric collapse of her wing; part of one side of her wing deflated and lost pressure. Naturally, this is a BAD THING to happen. But fortunately, student wings are very forgiving and the wing spontaneously re-inflated after a few seconds, with no change in course. That certainly gave everyone something to think about on the final day though, when we ourselves deliberately simulated an asymmetric wing collapse by pulling hard on the front riser. As safe as the procedure is to attempt on a student wing, one student’s opinion that “I was shitting my pants when I was doing it” wasn’t exactly exclusive to him. It did make for a great confidence building exercise though.

All in all, paragliding in Nepal was everything I had expected of it and more. Nepal really is paragliding heaven. It wasn’t just the perfect conditions and the beautiful scenery or the fact that it was in Nepal, one of the world’s great adventure destinations. What made the trip so enjoyable were also the great people I met on the trip: the students, the instructors, other travelers, and the other more experienced pilots. The world’s best pilots come to Nepal to fly every season, and sitting in Maya Devi Village, the place where pilots chill out between and after flights, one is often treated to amazing acro displays by skilled pilots. Sometimes even with birds of prey. Despite originally starting out with the intention of just attending a student course to learn how to fly, it was inspiring to see so many good pilots honing their skills in the mountains of Nepal.

It was a good trip indeed.

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