Perspectives from the Himalaya

Paragliding: Placing Things in Perspective

He was dragged out of bed after multiple callings had failed to stir him. When he finally showed himself, his face was black, like an eternal night.

He trudged out – strewing, spitting, littering a trail of grumpdust. Pulled by a determined invisible hand to anchor him into the local jeep, his heavy footsteps brought a cloud of dust around his ankles and onto the floor of the crowded vehicle. Annoyance bled out from his pores and the curses from his frowned forehead and the silent shape of his growl were felt unapologetically in the equally cranky jeep. The crisp morning, seemingly dampened, was not to be downcast with the stark presence of the snow caps.

The journey up to Sarangkot brought fault and fear to the surface. There was an utterance that spoke of ‘early graves’ and ‘humans are not meant to fly, leave it to the birds.

As we walked up the hill, his vexation was taken over by a fluttering of colour rising over its peak.

His eyes lit up. A sense of curiosity and awe crept in.

Broad strokes of colour appeared and disappeared into the blue canvas.

As we climbed higher, the arresting sight translated into rainbows of paragliders heeding the call of the wind. There was a curvature of saffron ascending just as we reached the side-lines of the take-off spot, then an unfurling scarlet like a giant fluttering scarf swiped across our gaze, and waiting impatiently behind it, a restrained bow of baby blue intermingled with lilac. Our hillscape was flooded with a vibrant field of bobbing elliptical nylons, harnesses, helmets, lines and risers, brakes, and parachutes. The wind was calling out and canopies, one after another in blossoming arcs would lift off and spread its wide-spanned wings before the edge of the hill dropped.

Little A had waited long enough to arrive at this point and could not contain his excitement. He lets his pilot know that he wants to be the first to take off. His pilot, Scary Uncle, recognised for his scary manoeuvres, lets out a grin, straps him up, and whistles the birthday tune. His dandelion-coloured paraglider rises to the roar of the zephyr. The pilot feels it, waits, rides it and lifts off in seconds – letting the song of wind hold its soft cradle and taking flight towards the golden ball of fire. Little A had decided that his angpow from Aunt E was going to be used for flying with the falcons, eagles and griffons, and there he was an arc suspended in the air with a kettle of Himalayan predators.

Meanwhile, Big A’s grumpdust had been replaced with wonderdust on that memorable hill. His face came alive in that morning sunshine. He had been chatting with his pilot, a young Tibetan-featured man who had soothed away fragments of his angst. Together they worked with the wing at the back, tugging the lines and risers, perfectly aligned towards the wind and when the wing was perfectly centred above them, they took a few strides and flew directly into the wind, leaving far behind his tormented fears.

Up there, the worldview of things is discerned better and injects perspective with context, texture and language.

Up there, name nor place holds no weight. One wanders from one thread to another, connecting the elements. One wanders through them in thought, becomes lost, and stops.

Up there, the seer recognises that is his, discovering the much he has not had, and will never have.

The story of Earth’s past, present, and future reveals existences like an intricate tapestry barred in nude form. We see human civilisation etch, carve, slice, cleave, truncate, amputate and scar into the earth marking its dominance; changing and modifying pieces of evolution from the universe’s outcome of the cosmic play. There are vertical and horizontal pieces – shifting, inverting, substituting, dismantling and reconstructing. Just as we watch a colony of ants build their incredible cities in the burrows, at 1800 metres above sea level we witness the act of home sapiens, at length, laboriously working and reworking the details of the tapestry within their microcosm. We are no different from the ants when we look beyond our little bubble. The worldview from above is a prod and a nudge of how the bigger scheme of things has its mighty plans whilst it lets us weave our little knots here and there on the surface, stitching rigid grids against the sinuous mountainscape, transmogrifying greenscapes into brownscapes.

Returning from the skies, we know that in that long and short journey ahead of us, we start summoning up memories one by one. Our itch will have become less itchy, our troubles less troubling, our battles shrunk.

Memories will be reshaped and reformed.

Horizons stretched, widened.

The eyes see a girl strolling with a snow leopard on the sidewalks. The ears detect the crunch of the gelato. The nose smells the screech of the biker’s tyres. The tongue tastes the bittersweet stories of the bard on its apex.

And when it was time to say goodbye, Big A announced, let’s do it again!

Flying with Advance Paragliding, Pokhara.