It was in October 2015 that my good friend Babu and I sat down in Pokhara - a town West of Kathmandu to discuss joining hands to offer an epic adventure of trekking on Mardi Himal route and taking off from 3500 meters or higher if the weather allowed. It is an epic adventure that is innovative which provides another unique experience for our esteemed customers.
I was approached by some keen Nepalese youths with a thirst for unique adventures some 18 months ago and again in early November 2018 while I was leading another tailor-made Ghorepani to Jhinu danda trek. It took some organizing amidst some obstacles such as being in between two major Hindu festivals, a world accuracy paragliding championship taking place at a similar time. Everything was finally sorted out after several days of frantic phone calls.
Mardi Himal trekking route has been used as a high altitude training flights for new pilots, but a commercial tandem flight for a group was probably the first time; at least for Nepalese clients for sure. There were six who were interested, but due to time constraint, two of them had to return to their hometowns to get back to their businesses. I met all six of them at Pitam Deurali on the 11th morning, having flown to Pokhara from Kathmandu the previous day.
The two who had to return bid farewell to the five of us who were going on this epic journey. We had planned to trek for three days to high camp instead of two to give them time to acclimatize well; most importantly the weather forecast was that it was going to be cloudy for the first three days and clear on the 15th of November.
Trek to Forest camp 2465 meters.
We trekked to amidst lush forest on the first day we got together - the team had arrived at Australian camp two days prior and had hiked to Pitam Deurali the previous day. There were a lot more Nepalese trekkers than those from overseas. We soon learned that the holiday period between Dashain and Tihar is very busy with the newly adventurous Nepalese. It was good that I had booked all the lodges in advance as some trekkers had to continue to the next place when all the rooms at Forest camp were overbooked. We took a relaxed pace with a stop for a light lunch in the middle of the forest before reaching our destination for the night.
Trek to Badal Danda 3185 meters.
We had a relaxing breakfast before starting our trek as we only had about a 4-hour hike on this day. The trekking trail was already busy with trekkers who had started earlier and wanted to get to High camp to get a bed to avoid having to sleep in the dining room. The hike was through a forest, listening to the numerous birds singing on the trees and while flying. We stopped at Low camp for lunch and to charge our power banks along with our electronic devices. There is no direct power above low camp, and the weather forecast was to be cloudy for another two more days.
We took a very long lunch, and the four friends were busy joking, having lots of laughs. We reached Badal danda around 4.30 pm. There were only three other trekkers and their guide at the lodge I had booked. We learned that morning it was clear only until seven a.m before the clouds covered the mountain views.
Trek to High Camp 3566 meters.
I could see that the views were going to be clear for sometime in the morning at 4.30am. It was a starry night with the Annapurna range clearly visible even that early. I got out of bed before 6 am to take photos; this is a magical time for photographs of the mountains and the sunrise. We left for High camp after breakfast with a couple of stops, as this day's hike was only two hours long.
We took a long break at the new lodge on the upper part of Badal Danda to enjoy a lovely cup of fresh coffee as we were not in any rush. I managed to touch base with my paragliding counterpart. I learned that there was going to be 12 solo pilots for their high altitude flight along with five tandem pilots for us; a total of 17 and I had met a couple of other overseas pilots on the way.
There was a lot of movement from trekkers returning towards Pokhara after going up to the "View Point" by getting up at 3 am for the sunrise and others who like us were going to high camp. We arrived at High Camp, ordered our dal bhat lunch - all five of we agreed that it was the best meal to date.
It was foggy, windy and cold at high camp. We spent the rest of the afternoon wrapped in blankets, talking joking, playing games in our room. We went to bed excited for the epic adventure that we were going to partake in the following morning.
Paragliding from Mardi Himal High camp to Pokhara.
Once again, I got up at 4.30am and was pleased to see that the clouds had gone much lower than the previous days and the mountains were clear with glittering stars all around. We got out of the room to admire the gorgeous views and to take photos. We only had time to wash up and have a cup of coffee when the pilots started hiking into the high camp from 7.15 am. We had to pack up our backpacks and get ready for taking off as the clouds had started rising.
We soon learned that the pilots had left Pokhara at 4 pm, started hiking for 7 hours before stopping at 2 am when they reached Badal Danda. They started walking again at 5 am to get to High camp. There was a flurry of activities of the pilots spreading their gliders, other trekkers gathering around to watch - it was fascinating for everyone.
Soon the solo pilots started taking off while the tandem passengers were being harnessed up. It was so colorful and exhilarating to watch others take off. My pilot and I stood on a slope that was 70 - 75 degrees. We were amongst the last to take off. The clouds were rising quite fast with a steady wind. We took two steps and were off in the air due to the wind and the angle of the slope. It was a little uncomfortable with my empty backpack in my front but Mohan Rai, my pilot, was kind enough to take it from me and put it on his back.
It was such a freeing sensation to be gliding from 3566 meters with the views of Mount Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Gangapurna, and Machapuchare in the background, lush, thick forests below. We were flying higher than the two helicopters, gliding through clouds. We could see the trails the trekkers had to take and the villages they had to pass. It was such an incredible experience taking part in this epic adventure especially knowing it was at the first commercial tandem flight by Nepalese if not the very first one ever. Most of the tandem passengers had a flight of 35 minutes; my flight was 28 minutes as I am heavier and the velocity increases with weight. I had a slightly rough landing but it worth every moment from the trekking part to the flight.
We had to land at a place called Hyangja which is about a 45-minute drive back to Pokhara because of the Pokhara to Jomsom flight route.
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