I have been backpacking by myself for more than a year all around the world and I have plenty of anecdotes to tell. But when I hear the words ‘independent’ and ‘travel’, I immediately think of an amazing adventure I had while traveling in Nepal. Besides all the culture and natural beauty Nepal has to offer, I got to experience a wonderful collaboration between man and nature: Parahawking.
Many of you may have heard of paragliding, the sport of canopy flying while circling in thermals like a bird of prey. Imagine if you could fly like a bird of prey, with a bird of prey! In Pokhara, Nepal, this dream becomes reality. Scott Mason created parahawking, in which he combines his love for flying with his love for helping birds of prey. He has an aviary for birds of prey that have been neglected or abandoned and takes care of them. With the money he makes from the parahawking he supports conservation projects for birds of prey, to make sure these beautiful and useful creatures will be in the skies for many more years to come.
For the parahawking my boyfriend, Brad, and I went to Maya Devi, on the shore of Pewa Lake. There we met our tandem paragliding pilots, Scott and Jamie, and two beautiful Egyptian vultures, Kevin and Bob.
Our morning flight would be with Bob, the younger one of the two vultures. We drove up Sarangkot mountain in a taxi with our pilots, a bird-handler and Bob. At the take-off area we got our instructions for the flight. We were given a leather glove on our left hand and a small bag attached to the front of our harness with buffalo meat in it. We got the exact instructions on how to feed the bird (stretch out your left arm and keep it steady so the bird has a stable place to land) and when to do so (the pilot will blow the whistle when it is possible to feed the bird). All set and ready for take-off!
With 2 great launches we were both flying in the Himalayas and were able to feed Bob at least 10 times each whilst in flight! The sense of freedom in the sky is an amazing feeling: soaring along cliffs, following the bird to better places to fly, circling in the thermals, feeding the bird, seeing the bird take off from your hand again after he has had his snack. This incredible adventure is available to anyone: flying in the sky like a bird, with a bird!
After the first flight with Bob we landed in front of Maya Devi and had lunch right there, next to the landing field. Then it was time for our second flight! I was going for another tandem and on special request Brad was able to go for a solo parahawking flight. We flew with Kevin, the older Egyptian vulture.
The flight was an incredible success despite all the things Brad had to think of during his solo flight, such as getting the meat ready, blowing the whistle, finding the bird in the air and also trying to stay up in the thermal as well as not flying into the mountain or other paragliding pilots.
During the afternoon flight Kevin also landed about 10 times on our outstretched arms for a bite of buffalo meat. I absolutely loved how Kevin stayed on my hand a little while after eating and looked over at me, as if giving me the feathers up. Then Kevin would just casually drop from my hand and in a flash spread his wings to fly off again, to travel further into the majestic Himalayas. So relaxed, so content, so independent…
About the Author: Maaike Molenaar, working in the summer as a tour guide in Germany, traveling in the winter to explore all the other countries.