We flew from San Francisco to Kathmandu and spent a couple of days there to acclimate before we flew to Pokhara to experience a life changing experience, parahawking. Pokhara is a destination for paragliders and there are many companies that offer a paragliding experience.
Scott Mason, a British national offers a unique experience, paragliding with a trained bird of prey. Scott, an avid paraglider, started Blue Sky Paragliding in part to bring awareness to the plight of the Nepalese vulture. Vultures are dying in the millions due to eating dead cows that have been treated with an anti-inflammatory drug, Diclofenac. The vultures are close to extinction. A portion of the proceeds from the parahawking go toward vulture conservation. All of the birds that Scott uses are rescued and are part of an ongoing raptor rescue program.
Scott only offers 4 flights a day, 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon so it is imperative that you book early. The day of the flight was beautiful, crystalline skies with perfect views of the Annapurna Range. We met Scott at lakeside in Pokhara. From there we drove with Scott and Kevin, the Egyptian Vulture that was going with us to the take off point. Kevin sat in the front seat unhooded as his head and beak are too large for a traditional falconry hood. It was somewhat unnerving to have this large raptor stare at you the entire drive to the take off point.
Once there we climbed up a short rise, donned our equipment and were given a short briefing on what to expect. As the chute is pulled up you feel a pushing against you and it is difficult to stay on your feet. At the same time you are supposed to run. It is imperative that you maintain your footing otherwise you have to start all over again. And believe me, once you start running and the adrenaline starts flowing you want to continue. I luckily, kept my feet, starting running and then wow all of a sudden was airborne at about 4000 ft. Kevin was released shortly before us and we followed him into the updrafts, sometimes up to 5000 ft.
I had a pouch of raw buffalo meat at my waist and a falconry glove on my left hand. I put a small piece of meat in my right hand and covered that with my left. The birds have excellent eyesight and we did not want him to swoop down to feed before we were ready. As Scott saw Kevin approach he would blow his whistle twice. That was my signal to uncover the meat, extend my arm and wait for Kevin to feed. The first time that Kevin landed and ate from my outstretched arm was amazing! This incredible bird just inches away, with the spectacular vistas of Nepal all around us.
We continued feeding Kevin for about another 30 minutes, until he started to tire. Then it was time for landing. The graceful way is the keep your feet and when Scott lightly touches down run until the chute totally drops. The ungraceful way is to land on your butt. I took the ungraceful way! After the flight we met Scott’s wife, Anita, who is also a parahawker and their 3 year old son, who had his first parahawking flight a short time ago. A truly exhilarating experience. Pokhara is situated in the foothills of Mt Macchupucher and is a starting point for many trekking and rafting destinations. It is a serene area close to Phewa Lake on which you can take short cruises. There are also waterfalls and several underground caves to visit.