Sunrise over Sarangkot
My 2nd weekend in Nepal
I was to meet my two new young volunteer friends at the top of Sarangkot to spend the evening there before paragliding down to the lake in the morning. They had hiked up which took about three and a half hours. I put my life in the lap of the gods and took a taxi at 430. The taxies in Pokhara are tiny and old with very poor (perhaps no) suspension and generally pretty dirty. The drivers are all mad and on a suicide mission, playing chicken with each other and constantly blowing their horns. It was also raining!
I paid my money, in fact I gave a hefty tip just out of pure relief at having arrived up there safely and without having to push the car. But what I didn’t know was that we weren’t in fact at the top. I was then directed by some young local lads to go up some stone steps, where I was joined by who I thought was an elderly gentleman. I later found out that he had young children, and that I had misjudged his age by half. He’d had a tough life as a trekking guide and porter. He said he was on his way home and would show me where to go to find the hotels. My friends were going to text me the name but got confused by the international code, and couldn’t get the message through.
After we had gone up what seemed to be an almost vertical climb for about 10 minutes, I asked if the hotels were much further. He said ”about 40 minutes” which I thought was bad enough at the time, but fortunately at that stage I hadn’t learnt about the underestimation of time which the locals have. So we continued up and up, slower and slower, getting wetter and wetter even though I had my umbrella, with plenty of stops to recover my breath….and hoped that my knees wouldn’t give way and that it wouldn’t get too dark altogether. I had my little headlamp which is a cheap and weak one, but was reasonably effective.
Eventually I asked if I could pay him to carry my backpack to which he readily responded in the affirmative. Whew.
We stopped at his house on the way where he also had a tiny shop and I bought some more water. We headed off again, and as we approached the hotels, he asked at each one if there were two women booked in….to no avail. After trying four hotels, I decided I would just go to the next one that was good (which by now meant hot water and a clean western toilet). So I looked at the next one but it had shared bathrooms, and drop toilets…”no thankyou”, then the next one was full. On we trekked a little further only to find my friends sitting on a hotels verandah about to have dinner and who were no doubt very surprised to hear my squeals of delight. I checked this hotel’s rooms -“definitely no”, but the next was suitable…..a double and single bed in a clean room with a western toilet and hot water! And cost 400 rupees which is about $5. I paid my lovely porter and joined my friends for dinner and a beer, but I was so worn out I only had 1/2 a glass then headed off to a good shower and a great night’s sleep, serenaded by the normal local dogs chorus.
I woke at dawn and headed up some more pathways and steps to see the sun rise up over the beautiful snow capped mountain range and the valley below. Apart from the fact that there were at least another 100 or so other tourists who as a collective made it all very noisy, the experience was glorious. It would have been lovely to see in silence.
I then trekked back down, found a place for a coffee, but took a different path and ended up a long way below my hotel. But I didn’t know it’s name, nor the one my friends were in, so texted them for the name. Eventually I got it and a local man pointed it out ”it’s the one right up there. On the top of the hill”. You guessed it, more and more and more steps again.
So I got back up there, slowly, slowly, had an egg breakfast and coffee, got my gear and yep, headed down again the way I’d just come up, and further, through farmland and even through a couple of houses, following a track to the paragliding site. Hundreds of people paraglide off Sarangkot every week and it’s lovely to see them floating above Pokhara and landing beside the lake.
I had a lovely young English pilot, Jeremy. Within seconds of take-off I knew why they do it as a job, and with such passion. They travel the world working in different countries depending on the season, climate and winds. Many of them even spend most of their holidays in paragliding competitions. But after a minute of awe and delight and freedom, I knew it was not a life for me. I felt really, really motion sick and although I had booked for an hour, the beautiful Jeremy managed to get me down in about 20 minutes. I’m sure I must have broken the record. Fortunately, for both of us, I managed to constrain myself.
So that was my one and only, ever, paragliding experience. I later found out that about half the people got sick that day …”it was a bit bumpy up there today” I overheard another pilot say, and although it didn’t feel at all bumpy to me I don’t think I could really tell what was going on. My mind was elsewhere. But he did say that it was good that I’d said ”yes” when he asked me if I thought I might vomit, as most people say ”no”, then it happens all over both of them whereas he removed my helmet and said ”lean over to the left”. What a job!!
I took an anti-inflammatory with lunch and had an afternoon nap!
The next day saw me mountain-goat-climbing again!!!
By Volunteer Chris Fitzpatrick
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