– Menuka Gurung, Everest Skydive Team
I saw a lot of professional skydivers jumping, flying, landing; and even more numbers of adventure seekers dying to skydive. Working in the Sales desk of Everest Skydive, talking to skydivers and seeing them day in and out (during the season) is just a part of my job. So, skydiving is definitely not an exotic adventure for me, not something I would raise my brows at! However, I had a secret. As much as I was familiar with the skydiving world, I was at the same time equally alien to it. Because, I had never done it! The Cause? It’s plain and simple – I was acrophobic!
Skydiving was on the top of my “not-to-do” bucket list. I can’t say the idea never came in my mind. Back in 2013, one of our skydiving crew asked me why I hadn’t tried it. I said sheepishly I feared height. Then he said something which blew my mind. He said, “So do I.” Foreseeing my expected reaction, he continued, “That’s why I enjoy it. If there is no fear, there is no adventure.” Well at that time, I was compelled to give a little thought about it. But then I was never courageous enough to dream about it!
To cut the long story short, year 2018 brought something I wouldn’t mind to say a “quantum leap”… when I say it I mean it both literally and figuratively. It all started in Pokhara Skydive event that took place from 20th to 25th November. As we had 100 + jumpers booked for the year, we were quite busy. After the first two days’ back-to-back skydiving operation, on the third day, our team leader Anuj offered us a skydiving chance.
Then and there, without a second thought, I readily accepted! Till this time I can’t figure out how the heck I convinced myself for the jump. Now the time was of anticipation! The ticklish pressure of anxiety, and the butterflies in my tummy- though I went through it all the time, to my surprise, I was unexpectedly calm. I had seen hundreds of skydivers going up and coming down over-and-over day-after-day with brimful smile. Maybe, this has normalized the whole thing. So, the idea of “I am not going to die” might have done the trick.
So, my turn came. Things started to get real! The butterflies in my tummy de-evolved back to caterpillars. I was freaking out on the inside! While gearing up, my tandem master Dr. Ryan Jackson debriefed me, to which, I could hardly pay any attention because there were lot many voices echoing in my mind. My videographer Omar was capturing the moment and I was trying to look as normal as possible which I utterly failed. (I knew it when I saw my video afterwards-my awkward posture and gait looked all so funny. Every time my son wants to make fun of me he reminds me of the video). So, the chopper took off with me, Ryan, Omar and Nadezda.
Once in the air, the whole new level of experiences started to unfurl before me. My Goodness, the views! Of course this is not my first time in air but everything around me felt so ethereal, and so divine. The floating Annapurnas, Machhapuchhre, the hills, the lakes and the ocean of clouds! As I was in my reverie, completely awestruck by the immensity, the infinity; Ryan signaled me for tethering against him. Then, I came back to senses … come on I am here for jumping out of the chopper! So the final moment came. Omar and Nadia were already out hanging at the edge, somewhere above 12/13000ft above! We skidded to the edge of the chopper. I dared to peak over the edge and holy crap … do I really want to do this? Countdown started and then … whooosh!
All I remembered about the first few seconds is the force of the wind gushing by me. And I did everything wrong! My eyes should be open and lips ought to be shut or smiling (at least for beautiful pictures). But my eyes were tightly shut and my mouth widely open. Heck with the Banana Position! I even forgot to spread my arms. It was fanatically trying to adjust my lips as I felt them very dry and being blown away. I felt my skin was literally coming off! Hurtling myself down to the ground at about 180/90 km per hour speed… what I could do? I totally yielded to the force, the power of gravity! Honestly it was scary in the beginning but I couldn’t say what was “It” afterwards! It was like “being me” and “not being me” at the same time!
Once the canopy of the parachute opened, we again rocketed up. Then after everything was serene and silent… the only sound that could be heard was the fluttering of the canopy. Everyone says “the freefall” is the most treasured moment of the whole adventure but for me, the sudden transition from speed to stroll, the juxtaposition was utterly unearthly. The gentle fall started but, my part of adventure was not over yet. Ryan started to talk to me, showed me the lakes and hills which were still way down.
He even gave me a chance to maneuver the parachute. There were still some aerial acrobats and the views were still glorious- the only difference was, this time I was getting closer to my abode – the ground! Then we had a perfect landing in style! After the touchdown, all I could do was babble some words which definitely didn’t do enough justice to what I just felt in the sky.
To be honest, I was scared as hell at some points and might have missed many good things about it. But to me what happened during the time is not really important. What’s more important is “Am I the same person few minutes before?” I am still to resolve my issues with heights (much lesser than before) but the whole experience is so empowering. I learned that I could push my limits. Most importantly, I just witnessed the immensity and earned humility. Now, the Himalaya is different to me. The Sky. The Clouds. The People. Even the ground I am treading on is different to me. Exactly as Omar said, “the mountain and sky will never be same again!” I just want to add few to his words, “You guys are also never same to me again!”
I am really indebted to Mr. Suman Pandey –President of Everest Skydive, Mr. Anuj Pandey – General Manager of Everest Skydive, Ryan Jackson – Tandem Master, Omar Alhegelan and Nadezda Solovyeva – Videographers, for making this miracle possible! At this moment, I just remember Paulo Coelho’s line “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I wonder now, I might have secretly wanted to do skydive all my life.
(Pokhara Skydive, a premier event organized by Everest Skydive, is an annual event taking place in November – this year from 19th to 24th November. It takes place in Pame Laurukh, 11 km west of Pokhara Lakeside. Started its commercial operation in 2013, the event is increasingly being more popular among Himalayan adventure seekers with more than 200 jumpers already making their exclusive jumps with Pokhara Skydive Team.)
Explore Himalaya Conducted a Day’s First Aid Training to its trekking guides in collaboration with CIWEC Hospital on 12 Sep 2019. The training which took place at the onset of tourist season was attended by 17 guides. The training was conducted by experienced doctors & nurses of CIWEC Hospital, one of the most reputable travel medicine centers in the world. This training was designed to meet the needs of high altitude guides, trip leaders and outdoor staffs working in remote mountain environment. The training covered a broad range of essential skills required during medical emergencies through theoretical and practical demonstration. The training content included courses on Cut & Wound Care, Burns, Fractures & Dislocations, Spinal Injury, Hypothermia, Altitude illnesses and First Aid Tool Kit. The session also included emergency and risk management skills and confidence needed to make informed medical decisions. After the training, a pre-season “Best Practices for Guides” session was also conducted in Explore Himalaya office in which General Manager Anuj Pandey reviewed about past weaknesses and oriented about the ways of addressing the issues to provide flawless and responsible services in the upcoming season. The session was focused on the principles and practices related to guide behavior, guest handling, guide ethics and sustainable practices to be followed by Guides while on the trail. Manager Kedar Khadka and Operation Manager Bharat Raj Puri also addressed the session. Explore Himalaya, as a travelife certified company, regularly does such training to enhance, excel and empower its team for the utmost care, safety and satisfaction of its travellers. The session was followed by lunch in Marcopolo Restaurant.
Cycling around Annapurna, Just do it, Nepal has something for everyone – Heinz Egli
Cycling around Annapurna Nepal is not a new place for Heinz Egli, a Tourism Goodwill Ambassador for Visit Nepal 2020, a master chef, a role model hotelier and a person of global influence! He has been here not once, not twice or not even thrice but a whopping 7th time. So, Nepal does qualify to be his second home, or at least the place where he feels at home. But this time’s visit was extraordinary. He along with his 6 friends didn’t just hike but also biked around Annapurna beyond the Himalayan frontiers – totally immersing in the beauty of the Himalayas! And the most interesting part of the trip was, not only did they ride the bike, but the bikes also rode them quite often!
You might have gauzed the level of adventure involved in the trip by now. His team included Urs Besmer, Fritz Gross, Marco Foehn, Johhny Mathis, Stefan Herzog and Heinz Fischerall – all of them senior Hoteliers and Restaurateurs with more than 30 years’ experience in Hong Kong and China. As mentioned earlier, they were not here for their day in and day out job, but for the Himalayan adventure that would help them to meet mountains and people, build friendship and of course burn few calories!
The one and half week’s adventure started on 19th April – through snaky highway, continued towards the villages nestled on the lap of the Annapurnas, followed Marshyangdi River from the subtropical lowlands to the Manang basin and then crossed the Thorong La Pass (5416m- the highest point of the trip, which is also Heinz’s one of the favorite parts) before descending down to the deepest gorge in the world, the Kali Gandaki. From the lush greenery to the formidable expanse of land sculpted by the raw forces of nature manifested in its eroded cliffs and moraine valleys, from the snaky highways to impenetrable gorges and high passes – so to cut a long story short, the journey was just enough to turn anyone into a mystic, let alone Heinz and his team!
For Heinz, not a single moment or day was the best, but the whole trip! “Every day a new highlight, starting with the charity dinner at GATE School, coming out of the valley and seeing the majestic peaks, reaching the summit, relaxing in Pokhara and ending hours before going to the airport when receiving the Ambassador certificate!”
If you want to relive what Heinz and his team experienced, you can go through https://1drv.ms/f/s!AkLUjDw1n6gNguN4sWWmaP48fu6mOg for some of the greatest adventure pictures you can ever find. For now, let’s have a peek on the day to day account of their trip prepared by Heinz himself.
Day 1, 17th April 2019: Arrival in Kathmandu
The tour representative picked us up at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, and escorted us to the Hotel Marshyangdi in Kathmandu.
Day 2, 18th April 2019: Kathmandu
On our first day we all went to the GATE Hotel School where we were welcomed by Khem Lakai, the CEO of the school. Each one of us prepared a course for a gala dinner which was served to celebrities and friends from Nepal.
Day 3, 19th April 2019: Kathmandu to Jagat 1,300m
Early in the morning, we drove 170km westwards to the starting point of our trekking and biking in Jagat. Here we were joined by Laxman Sunar, the biking guide. The road was curvy and passed through the hills that connected us to countryside villages and farming lands. The drive moved along and crossed several main rivers flowing from the glacial mountains to the north; including the Trishuli River, a popular rafting point. At Dumre, we turned north towards Marshyangdi River to reach Besi Sahar.
The drive followed Marshyangdi River towards Syange (with a high waterfall), and we drove on to Jagat (a previous toll place on the ancient salt-trade way to Tibet).
Day 4, 20th April 2019: Trek from Jagat to Dharapani 1,860m
Moving along the east bank of Marshyangdi River, the track ascended slowly, before the valley opened into a large highland at Tal (1511m), the first village of Manang district. After crossing the broad flat gorge and the barley and potato fields, the trail climbs sharply on a stone stairway high above the stream. There were some sudden ups and downs on this section passing through jungles of blue pine to Dharapani (1,946m).
Day 5, 21st April 2019: Trek from Dharapani to Chame 2,670m
From Dharapani, the track passes a school, ascends, and again descends gently to Bagarchhap. Bagarchhap is a small village with distinctive Tibetan houses and peaceful vibes of Buddhist culture. The trail ascends to the mule track through pine and fir forests and then follows the stream for some time amongst the higher oak and maple trees. We passed through dispersed small villages before arriving in Chame (2,670m).
Day 6, 22nd April 2019: Trek from Chame to Pisang 3,200m
We followed the trails of Marshyangdi to Brathang from where we got a spectacular close-up view of Annapurna II (7,937m). Afterwards, we continued the trek via the forest with the amazing Paungda Danda rock face escalating more than 5,000 feet from the stream.
Passing a suspension bridge, we ascended for some time and then walked and rode downhill to the valley floor. Finally, we walk and biked across dry grazing land dwelling at Dhukur Pokhari. After moving for around half an hour from Dhukur Pokhari, we reached Pisang (3,190m). There we had great views of the Annapurna range and Pisang Peak (6,091m) seen from the village of Pisang.
Day 7, 23rd April 2019: Trek from Pisang to Manang 3,540m Upper trail
We followed on a difficult road onto the dry Nyesyang region that started from Upper Pisang and offered some of the best landscapes. Ghyaru is a captivating cluster-village with attractively built stone houses enclosed by meadows of wheat, barley, buckwheat, potatoes, and beans.
Then, along high cross with great landscape, up and down the valley, to Ngawal–an exciting village with Gompa and age-old juniper trees. The trail then slowly descends to Mungji from where we head to reach the renowned Thakali village of Manang. Here we enjoyed the best view of Annapurna range.
Day 8, 24th April 2019: Acclimatization Day: Hike to Chhunker viewpoint
Today it was acclimatizing/rest day. We hiked to Chhunker viewpoint where we got to relish the view of the pristine Gangapurna Lake with a backdrop of the Annapurna Range, Tilicho Peak (7,134m), Pisang Peak (6,091m), Chulo Peak (6,584m), Thorong Peak (5416m), and so on.Then we retraced back to our lodge for lunch, a typical Thakali meal. After some card games in the afternoon, we return back to the lodge for the overnight stay.
Day 9, 25th April 2019: Trek from Manang to Yak Kharka 4,018m
From Manang, we ascended alongside Thorung Khola in the main Annapurna Circuit trekking and biking trail. The trail ascends steeply to the village of Tenki, which was the last permanent settlement, around Thorung La. We headed a little further and then slowly outlined the meadows to Yak Kharka (3,900m).
Day 10, 26th April 2019: Trek from Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi 4,450m
It was a difficult trek to Thorang Phedi. After walking and riding further, we passed a suspension bridge and reached Ledar village. We climbed furthermore the pass via immense cliffs before reaching Thorang Phedi. On this trip, we were are able to witness one of the finest views of peaks like Gundang (5,312m), Syagang (6,026m), Thorung (6,144m), and Khatungkang (6,484). The word “Phedi” in Nepali denotes the foot of a mountain.
Day 11, 27th April 2019: Trek from Thorong Phedi to Thorong-La Pass 5,416m to Muktinath 3,800m
We had an even tougher ride today than that of yesterday. The bikers had to push our bikes on a steep trail till we passed Thorung-La Pass (5,416m), which is the highest mountain pass in Nepal. The panorama of the Himalayas looked stunning from the top of Thorong-La Pass. We then descended to the holy temple of Muktinath, the God of Salvation. This is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Holy water flows from the 108 carved taps surrounding the temple.
Day 12, 28th April 2019: Biking trip from Muktinath to Jomsom 2,710m via Lupra valley
An early morning visit to Muktinath Temple where we also could bathe under the 108 water sprouts, which is supposed to wash our sins away. After spending some time at the temple, we continued our bike ride and headed towards Marpha.
We had a relatively easy journey. Riding on rocky trails, we passed many walls and chhortens before we entered Lupra Valley. Chasing the stunning view of the Himalayas, we rode through Kali Gandaki Valley to reach the Apple Capital of Nepal: Jomsom. Jomsom is famous for its apple orchards and the apple by-products. Overnight we stayed at Om’s Home in Jomsom, which certainly was one of the most luxurious Hotels in the area.
Day 13, 29th April 2019: Jomsom to Pokhara by flight
Early in the morning, we boarded a flight back to Pokhara enjoying the scenic landscape. We decided to stay one night at the Pavilion Himalayas, which must be one of the most beautiful Hotels in the country, if not in the whole of Asia. The town of Pokhara offers splendid views of Annapurna (8,091m), Machhapuchhre (6,993m), Dhaulagiri (8,167m), and Manaslu (8,156m). Before checking in to the Hotel we visited the FAB Hotel School which trains children of underprivileged background. This was a very impressive and memorable visit.
Day 14, 30th April 2019 Full day in Pokhara
On our last day we enjoyed the Lakeside Village of Pokhara for shopping and relaxing. Overnight we stayed at the beautiful Temple Tree Hotel. I was able to invite my student, Yam for dinner at the world class Roadhouse Pizzeria.
Day 15, 1st May 2019: Flying from Pokhara to Kathmandu for 25 minutes and final Departure from Kathmandu
Relishing the astonishing panorama of Annapurna range, Lamjung Himal, Manaslu range, Ganesh Himal range, and Langtang Himal, we flew back to the capital. After a 25-minute flight, we reached Kathmandu and headed to Thamel. Here we met Suman Ji who showed us the way to a Palace nearby where I was awarded Tourism Ambassador Visit Nepal 2020. This was indeed a big honour for me and a great surprise too. After visiting Suman Pandey’s new restaurant, we were dropped off at Tribhuvan International Airport for our final departure.
Medical Camp in Nuwakot A group of 15 doctors and nurses from a medical association of America conducted 5 days’ Medical Camp in the villages of Nuwakot and Kathmandu. The team that was led by Donna Louise Tully included Cecilia Margarita Parajon, Cathlene Marie Heideman, Jeff Eager, Pooja Darshan Patel, Daya Dhansukh Bhakta, Kristen Biancone, Megan Wattenhofer, Love Volkova, Connie Ngo, Daisy Palma Villarreal, Logan Felton, Amanda Hutton-Parrott and Bryan Carton. The Camp that took place from 27th to 31st May was held in 4 places – Nuwakot Health Post and Gerkhutar in Nuwakot, and Baniyatar and Pharping in Kathmandu. The Medical Camp was organized as a part of a Medical Camp series being conducted regularly in the remote places of Nepal to provide free health services. This Camp is the second one in 2019. The Camp provided general health check-up, dental care, pharmacy services and awareness sessions on preventive care to a total of 820 locals. The most common problems found among the locals were arthritis, back pain, dental and eye problems, chest pain, lack of appetite and high blood pressure.
Day 1 and 2 (27th and 28th May): Nuwakot Health Post, Nuwakot
The first two days of the Camp was set in a small health post of Nuwakot. The first day’s camp started after 1 o’ clock as the team had travelled from Kathmandu the same day and reached the health post at about midday. Altogether 150 locals received different types of medical check-up services on this day. The second day’s camp started from 9 am till 4:30 pm and treated 230 locals.
Day 3 (29th May): Gerkhutar Club, Nuwakot
Today’s Camp started at 10 am. The team continuously served the locals till 3 am. The total number of beneficiaries on the 3rd day was 140. After the day’s service, the team concluded the 3 days’ Camp in Nuwakot and returned to Kathmandu.
Day 4 (30th May): Kids School, Baniyatar, Kathmandu
The 4th day of the Camp was set up at Kids School, a pre-school in the north of Kathmandu. The Camp was run from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, and treated 200 people of which the majority was pre-school kids. The students also had talk sessions on general health practices.
Day 5 (31st May): Shree Khokana Jana Secondary School, Pharping, Kathmandu
The last day’s Camp was in a public school in Pharping, a small town in the vicinity of Kathmandu city. The Camp started at 9.00 am and continued for next 6 hours. Altogether 100 locals got benefited from the Camp. With the day’s event, the 5 days’ Medical Camp was concluded successfully.
The Medical Team:
Everest Skydive has reached new heights this year with a record breaking stand up parachute landing by Paul-Henry de Baere at 20,160ft MSL (6145m) at the West Col of Baruntse. The record setting skydive that occurred at 7:36AM GMT+5:45 on 19th May 2019 was made using a Performance Designs Navigator 240 main parachute with a wingloading 0.8 and into an 10kt headwind. Paul-Henry de Baere, who is the Media Director of Everest Skydive beat Everest Skydive’s all-time highest altitude landing record of 17,192ft MSL (5240m) set by Everest Skydive teammates Wendy Elizabeth Smith and Tom Noonan in 2009. The World Record jump was made from “The Dragon”, a Eurocopter B3 helicopter piloted by Deepak Jung Rana, Executive Director for Summit Helicopters and Captain Deepak Pun, with supplementary support provided by Simrik Air with Captain Siddhartha Gurung and Tsering Bothe. Everest Skydive’s Operations Director Tom Noonan managed the expedition’s oxygen support from Baruntse Base Camp at 17,857ft MSL (5443m) and Yorick Vion managed the drop zone set-up. The team of Explore Himalaya was responsible for the arrangement of the entire logistics and operation.
Explore Himalaya organized a felicitation program to honour Paul-Henry de Baere and Everest Skydive Team at Marcopolo Restaurant, Chhaya Center on 21st May. During the program, Paul-Henry de Baere, Tom Noonan and of Yorick Vion were honored with garland and Khada by Bibhuti Chand Thakur – General Secretary PATA Nepal Chapter, Abdullah Tuncer Kececi – General Manager Turkish Airlines Nepal, Ramesh Kharel – Ex Nepal Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Rajan Pokhrel – Deputy Editor Himalayan Times and Abhinav JBR – Chairman of Turbo Motors Pvt. Ltd respectively. Mountaineers Maya Gurung and Pujan Acharya who climbed tallest mountains on all seven continents, international mountain journalist Billi Bierling, Miss Tourism Samriddhi Rai were also present in the program. A video of the record breaking landing was also premiered in the program. The program was moderated by Suman Pandey, the President of Explore Himalaya.
Our Words of Gratitude:
We have always been a proud partner of Everest Skydive since 2008. However, at this moment, we are brimming with joy as well to be a part of this ambitious expedition. What could be more beautiful than complementing our 12 years’ togetherness with Everest Skydive in such a delightful note! Operating an event of such stature in the Himalayan terrain is of course a serious challenge. However, we made it possible! But needless to say, it’s a team effort and the benevolence of the Mountains. Our deep reverence to the Mountains for patronizing us! In the meantime, we would also like to have an honorable mention to Everest Skydive’s Operations Director Tom Noonan, the man behind the back of the whole project. Thanks Tom and the entire Everest Skydive team for instilling us with passion and dream throughout! Thanks Yorick Vion for your great effort in drop zone set-up & welcome to the Team! We couldn’t help ourselves thanking Summit Helicopters Nepal and Simrik Helicopters also for your valuable support. Together we made it happen- you all are a treat to work with! Once again Félicitations PH- you are an inspiration! Keep living your dream!
I have had a very good time. We will definitely use the services of Explore Himalaya again.
We work with the motto "Tourism for Development". Explore Himalaya Community Service Project was conceived to empower underprivileged segments of Nepal.