“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain
While living in Qatar in April of 2010 I traveled to Nepal for a short seven day trip. Unfortunately my wife could not join me, so our friend Taryn made the trek with me. The purpose of this trip was not to prove my manhood by scaling Mount Everest, the highlight would be to visit the Parahawking Project in Pokhara and fly with Bob and Kevin ( 2 Egyptian Vultures). I also wanted to prove that I could travel for seven days on less than $1500, this included my airfare, other transportation methods, food and shelter.
The Parahawking Project
In order to travel from Katmandu to Pokhara it only seemed fitting to book a flight with Buddha Air, if this flight went down somewhere in the Himalayas, then I guess it was meant to be.
The next morning, we met Scott Mason at the Blue Sky Paragliding office in Pokhara. Scott Mason has combined the art of falconry with paragliding, he has named this Parahawking. Parahawking is paragliding with trained birds of prey. By combining ancient falconry methods with the modern techniques of paragliding, birds of prey are trained to fly and interact with paragliders and their tandem passengers and to guide them to thermals.
Scott was awarded by the International Association for Aviation Trainers and Educators with the Enrichment Behaviour Award in 2010 for his efforts with the Parahawking Project. Scott provides passengers with education in bird of prey behavior and conservation. Parahawking supports vulture conservation by donating 1000 rupees from every Parahawking tandem experience to selected vulture conservation projects in Nepal.
I must admit at this time in my life I was not the most fittest man. Because of my love for butter chicken my waist line was bursting. While Scott and I shook hands, I could see him sizing me up. We had a conversation about my weight and the capacity of his paragliding equipment, it turns out that we would be overweight, all of the excitement and adrenaline that had been building up for more than a month left my body in one breathe because I thought that we were not going to fly. Scott made the comment, it’s quite windy today lets go see what happens. We jumped in a small two door car, I squeezed in the back and Scott jumped in the front seat with Bob, Bob is an Egyptian vulture who would be guiding us on our first flight. We drove up a narrow single lane road that winded its way to the top of a nearby peak. Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we could see the whole valley of Pokhara, the view made the whole trip worthwhile. Scott handed Bob to a handler and set up the paragliding chute. I specifically remember Scott telling me after he clipped me into his chute, we will be overweight so run as fast as you can and don’t stop until I tell you. Scott waited for a gust of wind to fill his chute and started yelling run. I ran like Forest Gump, after about ten feet Scott’s feet were off the ground but I was still on the ground and we were fastly approaching the edge of the cliff, I could hear was Scott saying keep running. As I started running down the edge of the cliff we finally started to float through the air. I think that my adrenaline was at an all time high.
Scott and Bob posing for a picture.
Once we were in flight, Scott blew a whistle and Bob appeared beside us. One of the most amazing things about Parahawking is having a bird of prey land on your hand while in flight. Scott and his team are doing amazing things in Nepal and this experience will remain as one of the most amazing things that I have experienced in my lifetime.
In flight with Bob.
Scott and Kevin.
After spending some time in Pokhara we decided to make the trip to Lumbini. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha. I had been given the recommendation that in order to truly see Nepal, you need to take the bus trip from Pokhara to Lumbini. We splurged and spent $12 to book two seats each so that we could sprawl out and sleep. This bus was dubbed the tourist bus but we soon learned that we were the only tourists on this bus. Some people would describe this as the milk run, at every little village we made multiple stops to pick people up. I would stare out the window and see a whole family sending one person on the bus, as I watched them negotiate with the driver about the bus fare I couldn’t help but wonder how long the family had scrimped and saved in order to send their family member on the trek to a better place. Somewhere along our trip Taryn had fallen ill, Taryn had received the gift of experiencing traveler stomach because of last night’s supper. I was torn between experiencing the beautiful scenery and feeling sorry for Taryn and empathy for the families that I had been watching.
Google maps shows that this trip is five hours, on our bus it took eight hours.
Our bus, yes I am wearing a fanny pack.
Nepal was a place of many firsts for me. We arrived at a small village about twenty minutes outside of Lumbini and the bus driver kicked everyone off the bus. We soon learned that this was a major hub for buses travelling from and into India. There were buses everywhere and we had no idea where to go. I found someone who spoke English and asked him what we should do, he said you can walk or you can take that bus. That bus was slowly rolling onto the main road. We ran to the bus with the man, I noticed that people were stuffed into the bus like sardines and hanging off the bus everywhere. The man banged on the back of the bus with his fist and the bus slowed to a slow crawl. He said up and pointed to the top of the bus, he wanted us to climb up top to the luggage rack. We rode to Lumbini on the top of a bus. Another experience that I will not forget.
Riding on top of the bus.
Once we arrived in Lumbini we walked down main street and found a place to sleep. We decided that the Lumbini Village Lodge was a good place because the rooms had ceiling fans. I remember that we were so hot and sweaty that the thought of a ceiling fan was wondrous. Hotels with air conditioning do not exist in Lumbini. One important thing that I forgot was that power outages happen frequently in Lumbini. It turns out that our ceiling fans did not provide any relief. I decided that a cold shower was in order, the water for showers in Nepal is stored in a tank on the roof so the water heats up to the ambient temperature, it turns out that my shower only increased my body temperature. Taryn seeked refuge in her room because of the gift she received from last nights supper. I decided to wander around Lumbini, I found a small village on the outskirts of town and wandered through the streets. I found that people were extremely welcoming and gave away smiles for free. There is nothing more heart-warming than being in a strange place and receiving a smile. There were children everywhere, some would practice there English on me and others would shyly peek around corners.
Once I got back to the hotel I sat in the lobby and chatted with our hotelier, Juniper. He was a kind educated man who was looking after his parents as people from Asia often do. Juniper ran a tight operation with his two sons, I could clearly see that they had a list of chores and strong expectations. During our conversation I mentioned that I would like to do something for the children of the nearby village, Juniper advised me that I should not give the children anything. Juniper suggested that we go the nearby school and pass out school supplies. I gave Juniper $100 and he volunteered to drive into India to pick up supplies for children, this was enough for sixty children to receive a pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener and a notebook. Our plan was to drive to the school the next day to drop off the supplies.
Juniper and I in front of his hotel. The dog in the picture makes a 30km trek once a week with a monk. The monk goes to one of the nearby temples and the dog hangs out with Juniper.
The next day we drove to the school in Juniper’s van. When we arrived at the school I noticed three groups of children, two groups had taken refuge from the heat under a nearby tree and the other group was sitting in a shanty makeshift shelter. My understanding was that we would say hi and drop off the supplies. To my surprise Juniper insisted that I pass the supplies to every child and shake their hand. This process took over an hour but was worth every second. Each and every child said thank you and gave me a large smile.
In some ways the things I experienced in Nepal were selfish and were only to make myself feel good about who I was. As we live this life we need to remember that no matter where people are from, what religion they practice, their history or the color of their skin, that a smile can go straight to the heart. There is nothing more rewarding than kindness…..
During one of our rest stops on our trip I bought these children a coca cola.
Boudhanath Stupa in Katmandu.
Somewhere near Lumbini
Pashupatinath Temple in Katmandu.