Physical Activity

Falling for Nepal


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“Well-come” read the signs at Nepali restaurants, hotels and other attractions. It’s pronounced with equal accents on both syllables, and with a slight pause in between. It’s said less as a greeting, and more as a syncopated response where a Westerner would precede it with “you’re.” It’s hard not to hear it as two words and feel enticed by it.  “Thank you,” I say. “Well come!” they reply.

Well Come sign

Flying to Kathmandu, all I could think of were Bob Seger’s and Cat Stevens’ eponymous songs.  “I think I’m going to Katmandu, that’s really, really where I’m going to,” sings Bob, talking about getting away from the USA. Cat Stevens goes seriously poetic: “Katmandu, I’ll soon be seein’ you, And your strange bewilderin’ time, Will hold me down.” I’m not sure if Kathmandu has held me down, held me up, or just loosened me up. All I know is that I found myself taking a leap – literally – that I never thought I’d make.

I'm that speck in mid-air, against the background of trees.
I’m the speck in midair against the background of trees. Credit: Marie Nordström

I’ve had a healthy respect for heights since I was a child, which I believe is at least partly self-fulfilling.

My mother’s maiden name is Fall, and it’s my middle name. I’ve been gravitationally-challenge — some might even say uncoordinated — all my life. I once even drove off a 50-foot cliff. I managed my issue fairly well until last year when adult-onset acrophobia jumped at me as I was atop the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona:

I became so paranoid about falling that, even with all my yoga training, I couldn’t do a proper headstand on Mount Nemrut in Turkey.

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You’d think I had never attempted this before.

In spite of my active phobia, when I came to Nepal I followed a friend’s lead and went bungee jumping. The jump featured a 160m drop, first jump from a bungee, then a second on a canyon swing (pictured). The bungee gives a two-second free fall. The swing, if you get a running start, can be up to six seconds.

I felt the fear as I reached the edge, looked over, and then jumped — or, as I later learned, was pushed. The guy at the top was a little like the high priest in Apocalypto who would count to three and then push you towards the table where you would have your heart ripped out.

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Photo Credit: Mel Gibson

I jumped/was pushed and found it exhilarating. The confidence I had in the safety of it, combined with the fact that no one had been killed that day, made it an enjoyable experience.

Some weeks later, after spending a rough few days getting schooled in whitewater kayaking, I headed up to Annapurna Base Camp.  A week of trekking up several thousand meters brought me here:

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Just past the hotel, you can walk the glacial ridgeline and see the incomprehensible scale of the receded glacier visible in this photo. Credit: Marie Nordström

The spot where I’m sitting is where my knees gave out and wouldn’t carry me further. The cliff just in front of me dropped a few thousand feet.  At some point during my time here, I differentiated rational fear from irrational fear.

Ironically, even at these heights, I may be more grounded than I’ve ever been before. Once they carried me off and my knees recovered, I meandered back down the valley.