“I’m learning to fly but I haven’t got wings and coming down is the hardest thing!”
Well, that’s not strictly true…landing is easy…but landing softly on your feet and where you want to is another matter entirely.
It all started at around 6pm on Tuesday the 18th standing outside Adam Hill’s Frontiers Paragliding shop in the lakeside area of Pokhara having a pre course briefing.
The next day everyone was at the shop at 9am, which meant we were all on time and according to Adam that was a 1st. The next thing to do was fit heads and arses to helmets and harnesses. When all that was sorted out it was time to clamber onto the jeep for a quick blast across town to the training site, passing the Himalayan golf course on the way. The jeep parked on a small sliver of land 100 metres or so above the river Seti. From there it was a 5 minute walk down a dirt track to a small flattish piece of grass covered land where we would be spending the day.
Without getting too technical a paraglider is a big kite you hang under. The wing needs to be inflated via a series of interconnected ram air scoops which is achieved by air passing over the wing, inflating it and creating a low pressure on the top of the wing surface thus providing lift. When you are on the ground this means running forwards at speed. So yes, I spent the day running down the slope!!! Getting the wing into the air was in reality quite easy, keeping it in the air and under control was tricky. Keeping it in the air and under control whilst running down hill was trickier still. It turns out that the ditch was a nice place to lie in after tumbling through the low lying and prickly shrubbery when it all went “Pete tong”
On the Thursday morning we all went for a tandem flight from Sarangkot. Unlike my previous tandem flight this one was more educational. The instructor showed me what a wing was capable of doing and still being able to fly, which was nice and somewhat reassuring. In the afternoon we were back at the training site, this time round the corner at a slightly steeper slope. Because the slope was steeper it meant the wing came up quicker, so you had to react quicker and you still needed to be running downhill (which was steeper) all the time looking up at the wing and responding to what it was doing. Braking left and running right, braking right and running left, braking with both hands to stop the wing flying past you and dragging you along the ground…lucky for me I can roll quite well!
The 3rd day was the day when the reality of what we were doing came up and bit us all on the arse. It was time to go to the “training hill”. The launch site was 150 metres vertically up the side of a steep and imposing hill overlooking a wide flat landscape of freshly harvested paddy fields. The walk up the steep and narrow path was to be honest knackering. Help was on hand to carry the paraglider in the form of 9 and 10 year old boys. Who says child labour is a bad thing!!!
Standing on the slope with a paraglider laid out behind me ready for take off filled me with some apprehension. Looking down the hill and at the paddy fields below wasn’t the best thing to do. Having my inner voice screaming at me for being such a bloody idiot wasn’t much help in calming my already on edge nerves. However, looking only at Adam and not what was behind him made it possible. On the count of three Adam spoke the words “towards me Drew” and as I ran towards him the wing lifted up, I ran past Adam leaning forwards with my arms behind me like some kind of 3rd rate overweight unemployed superhero and approached the point of no return…and as my feet left the ground, something happened, something magnificent; a certain kind of bliss washed over me and within 2 seconds I was calm and my inner self was smiling. All I had to do now was crash…sorry I mean land…Argh!!!!!!
Question: what’s the difference between a paddy field and a normal field like you have in England?
Answer: about every 10 metres or so there is a little foot high mud wall or embankment which is there to keep the water in when the rice is growing.
Can you guess what happened? Yep that‘s right! I came into land just before a paddy wall and as the speed of the still buoyant glider needed to be ran off I did so…only my trailing leg got caught on the back of the wall………it was the 1st time I landed and then immediately went into a “judo roll”, it certainly won’t be the last!!!!
As the day progressed so did the students. Each glide down took around 2 or 3 minutes. This was enough time to practise “S turns” or 180’s and landing approaches. Once on the ground we all could practise the packing up of the glider or for 20 rupees have 2 young children do it for you. I think you can guess which option I went with most of the time! When that was all done it was time to walk back up the steep mountain track and do it all over again. The following day we returned to the same place and carried on with getting better with are take offs and landings.