Children in Pokhara
I apologize if this blog is strange, I'm currently high on Indian drugs...cold medicine that is. It contained some ingredients I've never heard of, and seems to be very heavy duty and working well at least!
So many great things since my last blog. Yesterday was the best day of my life. I woke up before sunrise (still not sleeping much, maybe due to the excitement?) and watched it rise over the mountains and lake. My hotel was directly on the lake and has a completely unimpeded view of Pokhara. I then walked down to lakeside for a free breakfast at Newari Cafe. On my way, some young kids were playing and I stopped to take a picture. Next thing, children kept running out to have their pictures taken too from all over the place.
Local women watching us take off
They were very excited to see themselves and I got some great photos. My free breakfast was simply toast, orange marmalade (Dad-you missed out!), Mango juice, and Nepali tea which is essentially Chai that you can buy here plus buffalo milk. As I began eating, a boy around 9 came up and begged for some bread, so I gave him half my meal and he ate it very quickly. Rather sad.
Yesterday morning only myself and the locals were awake so I got a good feel for their way of life. It seems that the poor children who cannot go to school are in charge of running their parent's shops during the day, eve very young children around 5 years old were alone manning counters. The wealthier families were in the stores changing them into their school uniforms and brushing their hair in the street.
Kevin during the jeep ride- so mellow
It seems to be quite a contrast, there is no free education in Pokhara so I'm not sure if the poorer children ever are taught anything at all.
After a walk around town, I went to Frontiers paragliding. I had signed up for a parahawking tandem flight that morning. Essentially this is paragliding with trained birds of prey that help you steer the paraglider. I was paired with Scott Mason who is from London and the creator of parahawking. (By the way, the only place in the world with parahawking is Pokhara, so it's a very unique experience. Since this is Nepal, the flight was incredibly cheap, it would easily cost 10 times as much to try this in the US. ) I loaded into a jeep with three Brits and an American, and an Egyptian vulture named Kevin.
About to take off
By the way, the American- Brad- has relatives in Jeffors Minnesota and has been skiing at Mount Kato, if that isn't a small world I don't know what is. I sat next to Kevin on the very bumpy and winding road up near Sarangot. We somehow managed to get to the destination without killing any pedestrians or falling off a cliff and they prepared the gliders. Many locals came down to watch us take off and to see Kevin. Just before we went about 30 women in colorful saris made their way down from the hilltop village to watch us, it was surreal.
The view from our takeoff point is incredible. You can see the Pokhara valley, river, lake, and Himalayas very well. They taught me the basics of take off and how to reward Kevin which was my job during the flight.
Giving Kevin a reward
They gave me a large leather glove for my left hand and I would pull food discreetly out of a pouch using my right hand to put the meat in a good position in the glove. When Scott blew his whistle, I stuck my arm straight out and Kevin would fly and land on my hand and eat the food before flying off again. To take off I was strapped with Scott on my back. WE watched the trees and these long strips of cloth tied to a pole to determine when the wind was correct for takeoff. On his singal I began taking long steps while leaning forward. As the air hits the glider I was pulled backwards but kept trying to walk. Then Scott told me to run and I ran as fast as I could stright to the cliff. I kept running until my feet were running on air.
Just after landing with Kevin
Then I pull this "cushion" underneath me and sit down. It felt much like sittting in those chair hammocks if you know what those are.
I was convinced I would be terrified and have difficulties especially running off the cliff. Surprisingly I never felt the slightest twinge of fear the entire flight, maybe because I was focused on feeding Kevin. I felt very safe and secure in the seat even though I was looking down and could see the lake far below me. It was the most amazing experience, but was over very quickly it seemed. As we were about to land near the lake, I realized the one thing I forgot to ask Scott- what to do when we land! I quickly asked and he told me to stand up and we landed without incident. I then joined the other paraglider for lunch and watched others land.
Rajendra carrying my bag
At one point the glider landed on a cow which seemed very perturbed and another glider landed on a person's head, who just laughed and pulled it off. It was a perfect day at that point already but it only got better. By the way, I was given a cd with photos of my take off and landing that I haven't seen yet but am very excited to look at. Scott also was experimenting with using a scope cam inside a tupperware container tied above my head to film the flight. He will send me the video later so I'm very excited to see it!
After the flight, I went to Green Peace to meet Rajendra again. We took a taxi up the hill towards Sarankot which is close to where my flight took off. Thankfully he carried my bag because we then climbed a steep mountain path for over an hour straight to the top.
It was difficult becaue the air was thin and caused my asthma to act up so we took frequent breaks. But the view was worth it. Sarangot is a very traditional village high above Pokhara. We stayed at a guest house for the evening just below the very top of the hill which offers superb views of the Himalayas. After catching our breath at the guest house, we climbed the extra 100 or so feet to the very top of the hill where there is a lookout tower/army base. From there, you had 360 degree unimpeded views of the valley with so many large mountains that are nearby that I felt like I could reach out and touch them. It was so beautiful and perfect that I felt like I was looking at a painting, it didn't seem possible that I was looking at something real.
We watched the sunset then went back down for a traditional Nepali meal of Dal bot, banana lassi, and Nepali tea. Dal bot is a number of small dishes including rice, vegetables in sauce, a pickled spicy sauce, a soupy sauce, and chicken in this case. You mix them all together and it's delicious!
The husband of the hotel owner was excited I was from the US and was very up to date with politics as he knew all about the primary elections in Iowa. We talked for a long time which was great, he was mostly interested in how any American would have been crazy enough to vote for Bush. (Ahem). I then went to bed and woke up early to walk back down to where a taxi was waiting to take me to the airport. Because it was before sunrise, it was pitch black which made it somewhat difficult with my dying flashlight, but overall the trip took 1/4 of the time as the trip up.
Waiting for plane on the airport roof
We took the taxi to the airport but the police would not let us in because it was too early, so we went for breakfast nearby. When it was time, We walked to the airport and I said a sad goodbye to Rajendra. My flight ended up being delayed several hours due to cloudiness so I sat at a table on the rooftop drinking tea with a spectacular view of the Himalayas. Finally the flight boarded and I had a quick flight back to Kathmandu
Upon arrival I took a taxi that was supposed to take me all the way to Burungkhel, an older neighborhood where I would be staying with a Nepali family. The taxi instead dropped me off at Thamel and said it was a short walk to the location.
It wasn't, so I took a rickshaw. The rickshaw driver didn't know the Tuladher Palace where I was told to go, but did know Burungkhel and dropped me off inside it. As I debated who to ask for directions to the Palace where the family was waiting to meet me, a friendly Nepali man came up to greet me. He asked if I was American and I said yes I was from Minnesota, he then said something I didn't catch write away, until I realized he was saying he was Irina's father- the person I was looking for! Turns out the rickshaw unknowingly dropped me off at the exact spot I needed to go. We walked a short distance to their home which is surprisingly large on a third story of an apartment building. Irina's mother was waiting for me with her sister and gladly showed me to my room and offered me Nepali tea and cookies.
She speaks some English and told me about how one of her friends was killed recently in a bus accident. Turns out it was the same accident I saw a picture of in the paper when I was in Pokhara. She went to pay her condolences to the family and walked with me and her friends towards Thamel to send me on my way.
Once I arrived in Thamel I found a pharmacy where I picked up some medicine since I seem to have a bad cold this morning. I then enjoyed dal bot at a nearby restaurant and in a little bit I will be meeting Julie from Manchester England whom I plan to spend time with while seeing Kathmandu for the next several days.