“Really?” I replied. “You know that this is a ski resort in the winter…think about ski-lifts, they take you up a long way.” We were in Manali, North India, in what has become dubbed ‘the Himalayan Playground.’ The park offers travellers a variety of extreme and not so extreme sports, from zorb balling and cross country biking, to horse riding and trampolining. We had chosen to try our hand at Paragliding. “No, no it’ll be fine; it’s not that far, he said it was by the fourth pole.”
And so we set off, Sophie in a pair of green jelly shoes and me in a pair of non-grip, worn out deck shoes. Twenty minutes later, the path disappeared and we had to clamber up an oppressively steep hillside through dense, green, sticky plants. Clinging on for dear life to the stems of the abrasive flora, I slipped and slipped and slipped some more before finally collapsing to my knees to concentrate on breathing.
The air felt thin and my lungs ached; they yearned for oxygen. Sophie remained very quiet behind me in full knowledge that I could lose it at any second… I examined the situation for a good five minutes; I could give up and go back down, or I could suck it up and continue. I don’t like re-tracing my footsteps so I chose the latter, but this time I went for a different tactic: all fours. This proved much more successful; my fingers ripped into the soil as I hoisted myself upwards and thought fondly back to my childhood and the hours spent in the garden pretending to be Mowgli or Tarzan. Sophie and I would tie Werther’s Originals to pieces of string, tie them to trees and then swing from the branches trying to catch them.
As I lost myself in memory it wasn’t long before I found myself at the top… and hyperventilating. Sweat poured down my face, bits of shrubs clung to my hair. I looked like a deranged creature, not the ‘cool extreme sports lover’ look that I was going for. Sophie panted behind me as we ran the final leg up to the two men arranging our parachutes. “We’ve made it!” I gasped wheezing, and promptly fell to the ground.
“Ready?” the youthful guide enquired enthusiastically, while Sophie wiped her sweaty face with her top. Ready? No I bloody well wasn’t, I could hardly breathe and I felt dizzy and disorientated. I needed to rest. “Please can I have a little break first?” I answered politely.
Apparently I could not. The weather conditions weren’t good and we had to jump right away. “Wonderful,” I thought as the guide strapped me in and gave me some swift instructions which I could barely hear my heart was beating so loudly. They were something along the lines of ‘run to the edge of the cliff and under no circumstances jump’ – or was it ‘under no circumstances don’t jump’ …fight natural instincts or not? Just as I was about to clarify the countdown began: three, two, one…
My legs quavered with a mixture of fear, adrenalin and exhaustion and they felt detached as they hurtled the rest of me cliff bound. “To jump, or not to jump? That is the question,” I mused as we got dangerously close to the edge. I couldn’t decide and instead of making a decision my brain just pulsated between, ‘shit, I’m going to die’ and ‘shit, mother’s going to kill me.’ Three metres, two metres… jump, not jump, jump, not jump… Finally I made the executive decision, the decision that works whenever the world gets too much, and as my right leg hit the edge of the precipice, I shut my eyes.
Air whistled past my ears and my legs swayed limply beneath me, I was alive and I was airborne. I opened my eyes. The clouds were just a few feet above us, the valley glistened green below and birds squawked from either side, angry at our invasion of their skies. It was magical. Swirling left and then right, to and fro, we glided slowly over the dark pines and then the glistening river.
And then over some dubious looking zorb ballers and some rusty trampolines for a slightly less magical landing. “Straight legs,” barked the voice behind me (I’d almost forgotten there was someone else with me). I straightened them and clenched my jaw ready for the impact… and shut my eyes again. A small jolt and we were back on the ground and back by the lift. As he detached me from the shute a wide grin spread across my face and as a small thud sounded behind me, I turned and met the same grin etched over Sophie.
Paragliding in the Himalayan Playground, we decided unanimously, was epic. Do it – but take the chair lift! Alice Audley