I have been trying to decide how best to describe the young Nepalese men who issue this instruction at least twice daily – 365 days a year. They are young, adrenaline junkies and even though they say the activity is 99,9% safe, there is definitely an element of danger. For South Africans out there, imagine the mix of the rugged Camel cigarette macho man (from the adverts of a bygone era), combined with the coolness of a surfer on Durban’s North Beach with finely tuned bodies and salty sea soaked hair – and there will have it. A Nepalese paragliding pilot, walking around with a natural swagger and are coolness personified with their reflective sunglasses, some with sultry designer stubble, others sporting full mountain men beards with dreadlocks – but all carrying themselves with ease and confidence, which is exactly what you need when you are strapped to one of them and they issue this instruction to jump off the edge of a cliff.
Then it’s “wriggle back – wriggle back” and you will then find yourself secure in your harness with your back snuggly against said mans chest. I am sure however that this has nothing to do with the euphoric magical feeling that I felt the minute my feet left terra firma. Never in a thousand years did I expect to feel like this. I was expecting abject terror and maybe a scream or two, I did scream, but it was not from fear, but from pure exhilaration. I was soaring with the eagles. I am sure everyone has dreamt at some time or other of flying and that feeling of freedom is multiplied ten fold when you are actually surfing the thermals.
Three days later I am still on a high thinking about the whole experience. The build up to the eventual jump was a gradual one. Nepalese time is very much akin to African time of hurry up and wait and as we say in South Africa ‘just now’. There is no rush – there is a weigh in, indemnity forms are signed, the pilots are all lounging around and we await the transport to the launch site. The nerves are kicking in and the butterflies are doing somersaults in the stomach. Parachutes are loaded into the back and then unloaded again, we wait – no explanation given. Climb into another vehicle, parachutes loaded again and we are off and the anticipation as the vehicle climbs and climbs and climbs up a narrow mountain road, reaches a peak. The launch site is just an incredibly steep hill which ends at the cliff edge. Pilots are casual, each take a nervous victim and I wonder how many times they have heard “Please look after me I am very scared”. Conversations and banter between them all continue in Nepalese and we make our way cautiously across the step side. My pilot – Ramit says in broken English. “Stand still – look that way – and when I say 1,2,3 … run and jump – then run and jump”
A short conversation en route back down to earth I find he has been doing this for 10 years. After performing what I consider the most perfect landing, I turn to him and say “I would like your job”. Just imagine being able to fly with the eagles everyday and get paid for it. I am already planning where I will jump next.