Saturday, 28 February 2009


For the 1st time in such a long time I was up early for a reason! My sister and I were going to Chitwan National Park.

The journey to the Temple Tiger Jungle Resort was long and weary or I had completely lost my ability to travel in a bus. Travelling in the luxury of a Greenline bus passed me by and after 90 minutes we stopped for a short break. My fat arse needed a massage and my lungs were hungry for the sweet taste of tar only a cigarette can bring. I really am travel unfit!!
Back in the bus for another hour or so saw us arrive at the “change the bus location place”. A wait of 40 minutes was observed and then it was into a minibus for the drive out of the mountains and into the plains of the Teri and the town of Narayangarh. What stuck me most was how much like India it was. Noisy, dusty, wide roads with multiple travel directions all wrapped up in a bundle of confusion. From there it was an hours jeep ride, the jeep we had was in all fairness the biggest piece of vehicular shit I have ever been in. None of the doors would shut properly, the window couldn’t be wound down, there was more rust than metal and don’t even get me started on how bad the tracking and brakes were!!!
After an eternity of not breathing out we arrived at the river bank and glided across the wide Narayani River to be met on the other side by the welcoming resort staff. A quick slurp of juice and one tikka later it was onboard a really good jeep for the 4km ride through the jungle to the resort.

The resort is set on the bank of a small river with viewing platforms looking out across it. The accommodations are 20 or so good sized raised huts with a small terrace and reed thatching on top of the roof. A well screened dining room was next to a large open roundhouse complete with a good sized raised fire pit, great chairs and thankfully a well stocked bar with impressively cold beer. After dumping the bags in the room we went and stood on the viewing platform. To the left were elephants grazing on the tall and fresh grass and to the right was a rhino, a rare one horned Indian rhino at that, in the river grazing on the river grasses.

A little while later it was time to go on an elephant and ride off into the jungle in search of wildlife. Having never ridden on an elephant before it took a while to get used to its movements. Sitting on a small wooden platform (thankfully cushioned) behind the driver the diagonally rocking movement was somewhat unusual. Entering the Sal forest (Sal being the local name for the dominant tree species) we became quite and watchful. By now, the slow rhythmic footfalls of the elephant and my rocking motion had become one. After a few minutes we came across some spotted deer that startled by the elephant ran across the path and into the undergrowth. Then a couple of wild pigs were seen followed by the very rare and reclusive Chitwan jungle chicken!!! So, deer, pigs and chickens: I was kind of hoping for more!!!
Leaving the forest behind (which accounts for 70% of the park’s 950 square kilometres) we entered into an area of grassland.

Large swaths of the tall elephant grass had been burned deliberately to fertilize the soil and to keep the grass land free of trees. Shortly we came across a small group of rhinos, keeping quiet we slowly moved closer till we were only 30 foot away. The 5 rhinos stopped their grazing and looked up. Having a wild and free rhino look straight at you is an experience. Having 3 rhinos do it is something else. The camera clicked away and after a while the rhinos lost interest and went back to their foraging. We continued on as the sun slowly edged towards the horizon. Heading back to the lodge we came across another rhino feeding, it paid us no attention at all.

Back at temple Tiger, sitting by the fire (without a sound of a generator nearby), drinking a cold beer was a perfect way to end the day.

The following morning it was up early, coffee and a fag and then off for a dawn elephant ride. It was still quite dark when we came across a rhino and as I didn’t want to use the camera flash I choose to just watch it instead. Moving out into the grassland with the weak sun struggling to push back the mist we came across a few more rhinos, several deer but sadly no tigers.

Later on in the morning we went for a jeep ride. Apart from trees and the occasional monkey we didn’t see much at all. Arriving at the end of the ride at the river bank we waited whilst the boatmen punted the canoe upstream to meet us. Climbing in we set of down stream. On a nearby sandbar we saw several Gharials warming themselves with their long and narrow snouts raised off the ground. The pace of the river ebbed and flowed as the depth rose and fell whilst the water made its way to the Indian Ocean.

In the afternoon we went for a jungle walk, for protection we were all given a long wooden stick!!!


Oh…and some advice
Rhino charge: run away zig zag fashion???
Tiger: back away slowly???
Bear: play dead???

So, perfectly safe then!

Due to all of the fallen leaves littering the forest floor the noise we were making made us sound like a herd of overweight elephants. So only a few monkeys stayed around to check us out. The nearest I got to seeing a Tiger was a fresh paw print in the muddy bank of a small stream. You know what? That was enough for me!

Come the evening I was sitting by the fire with a glass of golden nectar in my hand…life was good

The next morning it was time to leave and go back to Pokhara.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

hey jude

Meeting my sister at the airport was really nice but only because she was bringing a couple of bottles of decent wine for me. Brotherly love…you just can’t beat it!

A few days later I thought I should be sociable, stop flying and spend some time with her…so off to the world peace pagoda it was.

Once off the boat we hit the trail and within 10 minutes she came to the conclusion that she was even more unfit than her beer loving chain smoking brother. When the excuses stopped we slowly made our way up the steps. Sadly the clouds were obscuring the mountain views. Having already walked back to dam side on a previous occasion I suggested walking in the other direction along the ridge towards the end of the lake.

The little dirt track joined up with a rarely used jeep track and we meandered lazily along the ridge. After a few kms we had a choice to make. Uphill or downhill? Walking downhill (come on did you really think it would be uphill!) along a newly created jeep track we came across a small troop of monkeys. Now I knew what the leopards were eating!

Leaving the track behind, we walked along stone paved paths and then went cross country over the paddy fields. Some of the paddy walls were a little too high for my sister’s stumpy legs to get up. So as she went looking for an easier route up I voiced my encouragement…honestly!!!
After a few hours of clambering fun we were down at the lake’s edge. Skirting along the boggy shore line until we came across firmer ground, then heading towards the other side. At one point, a small jump across shallow water was required. After me, my sister jumped “the chasm” and as her foot landed into soft mud she stared to lean (or hopefully fall) backwards. Just as I was sensing the opportunity for a “hilarious photograph” my right hand reached out and grabbed hold of her. I have still yet to forgive said hand!

Once seated at Maya Devi with a cold beer an hour later my sister proclaimed that she was quite happy as she had now “officially bimbled!”
At that moment she had no idea what was going to happen a few days later…

…a few days later I was sitting at take off nervously smoking a cigarette…

Mum don’t read this bit!

{The reason for my slightly non relaxed state was because the flying conditions were far outside my very small comfort zone. The conditions were what you would expect at the end of March, some 6 weeks away. Strong turbulence, big gusts of wind etc etc. For someone with only 17 hours flight time and flying a lite weight wing it was not much fun! Plus hearing people far more experienced than me talk about how many collapses they were having on each flight wasn’t helping. Seeing someone crash into a tree just after take off made my mind up. Fuck flying today…I’m walking down}

Okay Mum, you can start reading again

…when my sister sat next to me. Half an hour later we had started the 45 minute walk down the mountain. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, birds were singing and the stroll down was gentle and easy. About halfway down I suggested a little deviation from our current route and Jude agreed.
Moving off the easy to follow stone paved track we descended into the forest on a steep leaf covered narrow dirt path. Soon the path disappeared and I led my sister, by now slightly pissed off, through the trees. On a few occasions she had to use her backside to get down some of the steeper inclines. As we made our way along we ended up on a piece of land with a river on either side gouged deep into the bedrock of the mountain. By luck we came across a path which then unluckily led to a big bit of nothing. A landslide had removed the path and with it our way down.

By now my sister was a little bit more pissed off, slightly sweatier with a hint of grumpiness on the horizon.

Being the amazingly thoughtful kid brother that I am I told her to sit down and chill out whilst I went to find a way down. About 10 minutes later I was on the bed of the river after climbing down a 25m rock face formed from the solidified muddy landslide. Sweet, I thought to myself, it’s all easy from now on. Then I remembered about my sister…bugger!!!!
As there was no way she could climb down the way I did I clambered up the stream to find someplace easier. When I say “someplace easier” I meant for me…for her it was “you’re joking right!” When I said that “if she wanted too she could go back the way she came, rejoin the easy path down and I would meet her later at Maya Devi” I was surprised she didn’t slap me. Maybe she was getting worn out after all!

And so began the descent…

Walking backwards down the crumbling mud fused aggregate that was the ground with my sister above me, guiding her foot placements and acting as a brake / airbag when she slipped took a while. Eventually we made the bottom, well actually it was the bottom of the top and before us lay a further 200m or so until it got easy.

It was fun! I was really enjoying it!! My sister on the other hand was having a nightmare afternoon. The hot sun, the lack of lots of water to drink, the fear of falling, the fear of rocks giving out underneath her etc etc. Honestly, some people just don’t seem to like bimberling!!! An hour later we were at the bottom. All we had to do now was climb down the waterfall!!!!!

Later at Maya Devi, with a cold beer in our hands I turned to my sister and said “Now you can tell people you have officially bimbled”

She was too tired to swear back!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

following birds into bubbles

Or as some people call it: thermalling!

Now, this is truly a dark art, which if you try and teach yourself all you will get is WAY TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND!!!!! (This is only a good thing if you are coming into land!)

So, I once again allowed Adam’s wallet leech access and I started to haemorrhage money. Money which was very well spent I do have to add!

The instructor on the 3 day thermalling course was a Swiss guy called Sebastian. Now I am very new to the sport and so I don’t know anyone’s reputation. However I had seen Sebastian conduct a few SIV courses and the people doing them were suitable impressed. Add to that a few choice sayings like “he’s the granddaddy of acro” or “what he doesn’t know ain’t worth learning” impressed me (which is quite hard to do).

On the 1st day, me, mike (an English guy who had stopped paragliding some 9 years prior) and a polish guy called mark went up in the jeep to torepani.

Q: what is a thermal?
A: it is a column of warm air rising of the ground and into the air. As the warm air rises, surrounding it is another column of cold sinking air. So when you enter a thermal you down, and then up. Once you exit a thermal you go down again. The idea is to stay within the column of warm air that is lifting the paraglider up. Easy really! Oh…did I mention that the thermals are completely invisible!

This is where Sebastian comes in. (I was flying with a vario which is a little magic box that beeps. A high pitch beep for up and a low pitch beep for down. The faster the beeps the quicker the lift or sink. This helps you know what the hell is going on). As you fly along you come across a thermal and the wing gets pulled in the direction of the lift. You wait…count one, two, three and then turn into the thermal. All thermals want to kick you out, so it’s a balancing act of body shifting, pitch and brake to stay in. Having some one on the radio telling you when to turn and how much brake to use is more than helpful. I was actually learning!!!

After the 1st flight it was back in the jeep to Torepani…or so I thought. Passing the frontiers launch site at Sarangkot the jeep stopped and every one got out! Bloody hell we were taking off from here…gulp!!!! The takeoff itself was good but travelling over the trees and houses to get to the ridge made me wonder and then ask myself the question “what was my paraglider’s sink rate?” Once over the ridge (phew) it was time to go thermalling…

After the 1st day, mark had to go back to work in Ireland, so it was just me and mike for the rest of the course. (Unlucky mark!)

On the last flight of the last day it all came together! Entering the house thermal we all climbed up till we were around 500m above take off, high above the Sarangkot ridge. Then we headed along the ridge to Torepani, gaining height from the thermals we met along the way. Looking down I did a quick mental calculation…damn I was nearly a mile above the valley floor…sitting beneath what is basically a big kite attached to it by bits of string…and I didn’t have a reserve!!!

When we were back on the ground both me and mike had a smile on our face that lasted for hours


It’s now been 12 flights since the course finished. Since then I have made it to 500m above take off all by myself. However what I am still slowly getting used to is flying with lots of other paragliders. It’s not like you can just stop in mid air to avoid someone! (The Russian pilots don’t help matters)

On my 9th flight I landed at the Maya Devi landing site for the 1st time. My concentration level was set to maximum and I landed softly and safely. Once on the ground my legs were shaking…but a cold beer calmed them down!!!!

Mum and Dad you can relax: I now fly with a reserve