I Learn to Fly

Beautiful people, beautiful babies!
Beautiful people, beautiful babies!

Arrival in Bangkok, Thailand! Sweet reconnection to the cyber world at long last! My apologies long lost friends, blame my near month long disappearance off the face of the earth on India (I admit to enjoying it). And now: Lights, colors, new exciting savers and spices to overwhelm the senses in this tourist Mecca of consummation: alcohol, sex and scantily clad women galore (we're not in India anymore Toto). Have these six past months really gone by so fast? Have I truly left India behind? Bangkok seems like a neon mirage, induced by some crazy hallucinogenics rather than the reality: nearly 70 long and grueling hours of train, bus and plane to arrive at the long imagined destination that is now concrete reality. It is unbelievable how the time has flown and yet all the moments that I have lived packed into the past months of my life. Oh, India. Country of madness and impossibility. Country that drove me crazy and left me enamored in turn. A country where you can never have quite what you want when you want it and yet where 'everything is possible'. Fascination and frustration all in one big, messy, greasy package: india.

Hitching a ride to Kaza, a much more pleasant alternative to the bus
Hitching a ride to Kaza, a much more pleasant alternative to the bus
Mako: the birds eye view
Mako: the birds eye view
Turbaned up and ready for adventure
Turbaned up and ready for adventure

The past month Remi and I took refuge from the summer heat in the stunning Himalaya mountains of Himachal Pradesh, a beautiful state tucked into the north east niche of India. A heaven on earth for mountain lovers and a haven of calm and serenity in the calamity of a country such as India. So yes, you may have guessed, while disconnected from the outside world I have been quite enjoying myself, thanks. We advanced slowly on the windy mountain roads by bumpy bus rides, with each passing hour delving deeper and deeper into the mountains. The roads snake along the river that lines the bottom of the valley, 14,000 ft snow capped peaks towering above on both sides of the road. I felt us moving farther and farther from civilization with each nerve wracking kilometer (landslides, inundated roads, evil ravines: pick your poison), truly going to one of the most lost corners of the earth, only accessible by the one road we were on. It was this one road that could lead us to our final destination in India, the one place that we had sought since the beginning of our arrival in this vast country. Now, thousands of kilometers later, we have crossed the entire country from south to north, consumed countryside after beautiful countryside, suffered fatigue and diahhrea to arrive here, only a few hours (or 10) from our destination: Ki Gompa. It was thanks to only one picture of this mountain monastery (a favorite of the dalai llamas) that we had set this objective for our trip: find ki Gompa! Our inquiries were futile in the south, where I might as well have asked for directions to Chittenden for the blank stares our questions evoked. The closer we grew and more and more clues led us to the right path, the one road that could lead us to our destination, a road only accessible few months out of the year. But luck and good timing were on our side this time, and we advanced on our way by a road recently cleared of snow and yet to be blocked by flooding streams, breathing in the beauty of this place.

Stupa style in himachal Pradesh, outside of dhankar
Stupa style in himachal Pradesh, outside of dhankar
Stunning Dhankar, city perched on a rock
Stunning Dhankar, city perched on a rock
A stunning sunset from the trek up to Dhankar
A stunning sunset from the trek up to Dhankar

All that would have been all too mundane however if we hadn't decided to realize one other dream along the way: it was time to take flight! The proposition of a paragliding course at an indian price was too much to pass up and for five days, Remi and I ate, breathed and dreamed paragliding. We pitched the tent and woke every morning to walk a few hundred yards to our training ground of Solang Nullah, a ski mountain by winter and an Indian carnival/bordel (remember your French vocab??) by summer. And by bordel I mean a true mess- the place just embodied chaos. Stoic mountains abound and yet Indian tourism just does not seem to share this same reverence. Irreverent it was in all sense, an irony up against the majestic backdrop: horse rides, huge transparent zorbing balls zipping down the slopes, para gliders galore coming in for full speed landing in the midst of a crowd of Indians on vacation, who were geared out in full force ski unitards in spite of the relatively warm weather... Full power, Indian tourism at its finest. And it was in the midst of this scene that I was to learn to fly for the first time. Remi and I did have to be careful, but not for the reasons you might guess (passing a bow and arrow stand was one of our daily obstacles on the way to the slopes and from firsthand experience i can assure you thatan Indian with a bow in hand is a much more frightening concept than the potential casualties of flight).

Our training grounds in the wee hours of the morning
Our training grounds in the wee hours of the morning
Remi in flight
Remi in flight

The technique was surprisingly simple (I shouldn't have been surprise after 4 months in India): latch yourself in and run. A few botched attempts and then things seemed to be going better- I was successfully running down the slope, my glider in tow, bobbing along cheerfully behind me when... Eeeeeyooow! Airborne!!! Help man! I have no idea how to steer this thing! I'm flyiiiing! And so my heart racing, adrenaline flooding my veins, I flew for the first time: over the unitarded Indians, the giant zorbing balls, my instructor below hand motioning frantically at me so that I should properly manipulate these wonderful new wings. The freedom!! The mountains all around, brilliant sunlight and then, wham! Back to earth. Hike back up and start over. Times 20... And it wasn't all smooth sailing; the wind reminded me (repeatedly and violently) who was boss. Bam, dragged along the ground, wham slammed down by a gust of wind, ouch, painful landing in the rocks, ankle twisting, hands rubbed raw, ribs bruised. And yet the trials and tribulations did not end there. Back at our home base another danger lurked in the shadows of our cozy tent. The night was peaceful with the huge starry sky above, a window into another world as we philosophized over the deeper meaning of our rather comical hoppings into flight. Morning time came and my mind was on the challenges to come, mastering the glider, or at least making a convincing attempt. Our tent was baking in the morning sun when, before i had even emerged to stretch my aching, bruised body, an ominous black shadowy creature dashed out from under my pack. Dastardly insect! A scorpion with one direction in its path: the tent. Remi was intrigued, I less so. Channeling Athena, I hesitated not and lifting a pointed rock as a make shift dagger I went in for the kill. Adios scorpion! And we won't see you next time, for which you may now alternatively refer to me as scorpion killer.

Scorpion killer on guard
Scorpion killer on guard

And so after a week of exhilirating, exhausting flight, scorpion killer and Remi moved on with their shiny new flight diplomas in search of the famed ki monastery. Farther and farther the road led us on, every night a new village, almost untouched by the outside world. And then: there it was, rising out of the rocks before us, lost in the midst of mountain peaks that surround it from all sides: ki Gompa. From there, you know the rest: an incredibly masochistic 70 hours to kalkutta with a relaxing (thats a joke) Pitt stop in Delhi for a lovely forecast of 47 degrees Celsius. And here I am, somehow having made it all the way to Bangkok in a new country with some many new adventures awaiting. Somewhere along the 70 hours it took me to leave this country it hit me that I will miss India deeply. Even in leaving, I know that I will return here someday, for it is a country that takes time. In my six months here I will have crossed the country, what i set out to do, and yet I am so far from seeing it all! Its as if each region i visited multiplied itself into five more that i have yet to stumble across, each new place distinct from the last, unique in its traditions, its language and its people. It is a country that has taught me not to ask why, to let go of those questions since what is really important is not necessarily to understand but to live, to live each moment to its fullest and trust that that is enough. India defies analytics and neat explanations, something my scholar self had a hard time accepting. But to accept incomprehensibility, that's part of having faith. And the past six months have certainly taught me to have faith in myself in all sorts of unexpected and kooky and yes sometimes scary situations. To go with the flow and just trust. So its for that, that India will forever remain the country where I learned to fly.

Mountain lakes above Ki Gompa
Mountain lakes above Ki Gompa
The hills are alive with the sound of yak!
The hills are alive with the sound of yak!
Women at work, outside of Kibber
Women at work, outside of Kibber
View of Dhankar from above
View of Dhankar from above
The zen look is but a facade.. Did I mention they serve scorpions kebab style in Bangkok?
The zen look is but a facade.. Did I mention they serve scorpions kebab style in Bangkok?