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Parahawking in Nepal takes thrill-seekers to new heights

Bungee jumping and parahawking take adrenaline seekers to new heights in Nepal, writes Phillippa Stewart

 

IF TRAVEL IS ABOUT learning, then I've learned in Nepal that competitiveness and an adventurous streak don't mix well. That is how I find myself staring down at a 160-metre drop into the raging Bhote Koshi River - attached to a fraying bungee rope.

"I will count down from three, and then, dive," the jump master says, strapping my feet into a harness.

"If you don't jump, then it becomes harder and harder to do so."

It's amazing that I take any information in at all. While I love a bit of adrenaline here and there, the thought of willingly throwing myself off anything while strapped to nothing but a glorified rubber band has never really appealed. It was only after one of my best friends told me it was a "must do" in Nepal that my boyfriend and I decided to give it a go. I am now reconsidering our friendship.

Shuffling to the edge of a rickety, swinging suspension bridge, my heart is in my mouth. I let out a piercing scream of terror before I even get to the end of the platform. Cheers from my fellow bunch of jumping idiots ring out in response. It's now or never.

"Three, two, one …"

I don't feel anything but fear from this point on. While some bungee jumpers manage to dive elegantly into the abyss, I flail off the platform, arms swinging, shouting something along the lines of, "No, wait!"

While I can't really recommend the experience, those around me seem to love it - even signing up for more jumps. For me, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Emphasis is on the "once".

After you're rescued from dangling upside down on a bungee cord over a rocky riverbed, there is a 25-minute walk up to the adventure centre, The Last Resort. It is a lovely little hike through the forests of rural Nepal, near the Tibetan border - perfect to calm that beating heart.

The Last Resort is on a clifftop near the gorge and offers a variety of adventure sports: canyon swinging, rafting, canyoning, mountain biking and hiking. It offers day trips from Kathmandu and overnight lodgings. But be prepared for winding roads and a four-hour drive each way.

If the adrenaline coursing through your body doesn't make you feel queasy, the roads will get you.

Bungee jumping may not be for me but I hit gold with the next adventure on offer in Pokhara, Nepal's second-largest city and the gateway to one of the world's premier paragliding locations. Next to the Annapurna range, Pokhara has an almost 360-degree view of the mountains and the Phewa Lake below. At the highest point of Sarangkot village, you will see a colourful array of parachute canopies in the sky.

But it's not simply paragliding that we've come to try - we're going parahawking with a bird of prey. I first meet "Kevin", a beautiful Egyptian vulture, on a bumpy car ride up to the launch pad.

Nepal is the home of this new sport developed by bird trainer Scott Mason. Birds used by Mason's Parahawking team are rescue birds that were unable to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. The company is trying to raise awareness - and funds - for endangered vultures across Asia.

According to its website, nearly 99.9 per cent of white-backed vultures, slender-billed vultures and long-billed vultures have been wiped out over the past 15 years - a loss of about 40 million birds - from eating the flesh of cattle fed with the medicine diclofenac, which is deadly for the birds.

My instructor, Jess, explains that because the birds aren't cuddly like pandas, their plight is often overlooked. And as I eye Kevin's talons and pointy beak, I can see why. (I'm quite glad for the falconry glove protecting my hand.)

Strapping myself into what looked like a giant nappy for two, raising the canopy into the wind, I then run off the side of a hill with a woman I've just met, with a vulture circling close by. Finding the thermals, we rise through the sky watching Kevin soar on the currents. Three of the world's largest mountains - Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu - are a perfect backdrop for his flight.

A blow of a whistle from Jess is Kevin's signal to swoop down and grab a piece of buffalo steak out of my clenched hand. He's so graceful and majestic that I am starting to develop a soft spot for our winged companion as I watch him repeatedly land and take off from my arm.

Although parahawking is more expensive than paragliding (about HK$1,480 compared to roughly HK$650), it is definitely one of the highlights of my trip. It's less heart-stopping than bungee jumping but far more heart-warming.

He's no panda, but I do have a new friend on Facebook - Kevin the vulture.

48hours@scmp.com

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