“You’re flying with the man himself, then?” a British pilot asks me while I wait for Lakpa to get our glider ready. We are in Sarankot, the famous paragliding hotspot up on the hill above Pokhara. There’s nothing but a small shack selling water and soft drinks, to mark the gliders’ place of takeoff. Sarankot was completely closed for paragliding just this morning due to unfavorable weather conditions. Although it’s still cloudy, the winds are said to be good now, and we can fly.
“Yes, I’m going with Lakpa Tseri,” I reply with poorly concealed pride.
“You’re very lucky. It will be fantastic even without the mountain views.”
I smile, “I am very lucky, and very honored to fly with The Man.” Regardless of what I may or may not see, I’ll still be a little closer to the Himalaya than anywhere else I’ve been in months, even years, and that’s good enough, for now…
In a few minutes I am invited to put my harness on. What will carry me through the air is a backpack-like structure, several thin ropes reminiscent of a musical instrument’s strings and the ‘instrument’ itself – the wing. It rests peacefully on the ground waiting for Lakpa to clip me in. When ready, The Man instructs me to look straight ahead and just run right off that hill. It sounds wonderful to me. Is it strange that I sincerely mean it? Lakpa quickly finishes the preparations and wastes no time in giving me the go. Embarrassingly enough, the first couple of times I endeavor to ‘go’, huffing and puffing, I can’t manage to run forward as I am being pulled backwards and sideways by the temperamental ‘instrument’. Eventually, I focus on the horizon, reset, and before I know it, find myself soaring. Lakpa and I fly back and forth in the cool wind with nothing but space all around. Living on solid ground your entire life, it’s impossible to imagine what having that much space would feel like – amazing! I instantly relax into my front-row seat to watch the clouds moving in, a few other gliders maneuvering gracefully between them.
“I believe, I can see why you love this so much, Lakpa,” I comment a few minutes in, adding that it must be an out-of-this world experience to soar like this amongst the great mountains. The extreme exposure, the absence of gravitational reassurance together with the quick changes of the winds create a uniquely dynamic environment where, if unable to embrace it completely, one might panic and end up in serious trouble. Leaning into it, on the contrary, can be very liberating and soothing. Here Lakpa and I talk a little, take a few pictures and marvel at the scenery. Several more rounds into the flight we begin to turn and descend towards the lake.
“Do you want to do something exciting?” Lakpa asks suddenly. I assume he refers to some kind of a paragliding trick.
When was I ever not up for that? “Make it as exciting as you can!” And oh, does he deliver!
Positioning the glider above the lake, Lakpa allows it to swing like a pendulum, plunging down in a sharp spiral. I love this feeling of diving into nothing, this good kind of falling.
“I can tell you are a climber, and a fighter, and all those things,” Lakpa laughs while stabilizing the wing and starting the real descent now.
“How can you tell?”
“You’re happy instead of afraid.”
“Fear always clouds the view, and there are enough clouds as is, Lakpa. Besides, why would I be afraid to fly with you?”
“Yes, that’s why I fly alone every day before I do any commercial flights. This way I can fully enjoy the beauty,” he muses, instantly re-focusing on the task at hand as we approach the landing spot by the water. The Man tells me to simply keep my legs up while he does the rest of the work. Without active participation by yours truly, our landing is much softer and smoother than I’d expected. While we are packing and waiting for others, I feel sorry that I won’t be able to join Lakpa for a cross-country flight from Mardi Himal to Pokhara (3/4-day trek followed by 1/1.5hr flight back) because I had made other plans for the next few weeks before we were introduced to each other. However, I can see myself getting addicted to paragliding and wanting to learn to fly myself, so it is, perhaps, for the best that I don’t take any more steps in that direction just yet.
Back at his paragliding shop in Lakeside I thank Lakpa with all my heart for the best two days I’ve had in a long, long time: for taking me kayaking, trekking, biking and flying and thus guiding me through the first few all-important steps on my way back home.
I will try to interview Lhapka Tseri Sherpa about his Summit-to-Sea and other adventures. The interview will be published here later as a separate post.