Welcome To My World

A thousand thoughts that cross my mind

Some of which in this blog you will find

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Diving from the 'Top of the World!'

Last November, I did the Everest Skydive along with a team of 9 professional divers led by ace skydiver Tom Noonan. This extreme adventure that started in the year 2008, has now been enlisted in the Forbes’ list (placing 3rd) of 11 Most amazing places to skydive around the world and CNN’s 50 ways to be a daredevil (placing 8th).
Everest Skydive 2015 ; Skydive Instructor Dr. Ryan Jackson, Tandem Diver Samriddhi Rai,
all pictures by Paul-Henry de Baere 
So, how did I get there?
I do a lot of things, travelling is one. Last August as I ushered in my 28th birthday in a luxury Chitwan Resort (Barahi Jungle Resort), I was stumped by what I saw. Spread over 12 hectares of lush savannahs, this mind-bogglingly beautiful resort but had four guests, and that’s including me.

The resort’s F&B Manager Tej, explained to me how the April earthquake painfully cut down the number of tourists coming to Nepal. And that is when the idea of creating video blogs cooked up.

“If I could show, through a series of videos how Nepal is doing just fine, in fact, how it is awesome like it always has been. Wouldn’t people want to come here again?” His face lit up, and so did mine. And that is how ‘Sammy Adventures’ was born.

I decided that the first of its series would focus on the country’s most exciting adventure sports. That is when the thought of skydive came across.  

Knockin on luck's door
So, one random afternoon, I simply walked into the office of Explore Himalaya. Met the Director, Suman Pandey whom I had only just met once before, and confidently briefed him about my project. He generously offered me an opportunity at the Pokhara Skydive event happening in mid-November. 

“Oh how kind of him,” I thought. But he changed his mind a week later and called me to ask if I wanted to join the team of Everest Skydive instead. “What did I hear again?” “Everest Skydive Expedition,” he said. “Like, hells yeah!” went my mind but I replied with a nonchalant “why not?” to not to come off too excited. But oh boy, was I excited! I packed my bags and left with the team the next day. Yes, it all happened that fast!

And the Miss Congeniality award goes to... 
The initial plan was that I take a flight to Lukla from Kathmandu with the skydiving team. That is when I would be introduced to all of its 11 members. But having lived in Kathmandu long enough will make you a lot of friends, and some of them will be Helicopter Pilots. And so, I hitched a ride with my pilot friend all the way to Lukla. And although this exciting detour made for some cool Instagram posts only I know how bored to death I was shortly after, waiting desperately for the rest of my team members to arrive. Thanks to the erratic Himalayan weather, the team who was supposed land by nine in the morning, did so only around three in the afternoon.

Co-piloting with Captain Sobit 

Meetin the ‘Dream Team’
The Everest Skydiving Team consisted of seven crewmembers, four clients and one guest tandem diver—me. The crewmembers were handpicked from around the globe who are among the best divers and leaders in their field of expertise, but I wouldn’t know about all of this until the end of the expedition.

The first time I met them, I was just a regular ‘Sam’ to them, and they were all irregularly-sized, gigantic ‘westerners’ to me. 

#nepalbackontopoftheworld was the theme of the Everest Skydive Expedition 2015

The only name I worked hard to remember was of Ryan’s. Ryan Jackson would be my Skydive Instructor in the expedition, and I knew I had to get into his good books if I wanted to come out alive of this experience; hence, the extra effort ;) 

That's Dr. Ryan :)

Getting to know them
And by them I mean my brand new friends, the Himalayas, and all about skydiving. As days passed and we walked closer to our destination, the beauty of Khumbu region kept unfolding, so did the awesomeness of the lives of my new friends. Earnesto Ganzia was a World Record Holder, Derek Thomas was considered a legend in the sky diving world, Paul Henry played stunt double to Hollywood actor Jason Statham and my instructor Ryan was a doctor and a pilot. “Being a doctor, a pilot and a skydiver, how do you manage that?” I asked him with amusement. “Well, I sacrifice a few things like watching the television, to balance my time,” he laughed. If that isn’t a cool life to live, I don’t know what is.

From left: Michael McCann, me, Earnesto Ganzia (Guinees World Record Holder) 

Show time!
By the second day in Namche, as we hung out the old school way in a high altitude pub, I pretty much had it figured that I was among a group of people who were crazy funny. “Just watch them when they get to work, they’re crazy professionals too,” a member had hinted, and that is exactly what happened.

As soon as we reached Syangboche, I could read their energy turning solemn and focused. Phinjo Lodge that looked like a regular lodge just moments ago was transformed into a work station so fast, I suddenly felt like I was inside the sets of an old sci-fi movie. With oxygen masks dangling, skydiving gears neatly stacked and huge white men walking around talking technical gab—I definitely felt a little out of place.

Then a puja was officiated by a local monk to bless the Everest Skydiving Expedition, the cultural familiarity of which brought me right back into my element.  If all went as planned, the dives were to begin the following day.

A beautiful Nepali tradition to have all high altitude expeditions blessed by a Buddhist Monk. 

Prepping up

A few test dives were done on the first day, which due to a cloudy weather was quickly shut down. The second day, as the clear blue skies beckoned action, I was instructed to gear up for the biggest adventure of my life—my first ever skydive! My heart raced and I moved about in a jumpy pace fueled with childish excitement as I waited for my turn. The locals knew that I was the only Nepali in the team and so started gathering around tossing in their myriad questions. The most common query being, “ Are you not scared?” And the answer everyone got was a clear “no.” Yes, I was thrilled, yes I was excited, but scared—not really.

And then, my turn finally came. 
Ted Atkins of Topout, the oxygen provider for world’s many high altitude expeditions turned on my oxygen cylinder, and gave me a ‘good to go’ thumbs up.
Ryan and I slid inside the chopper and our videographer/photographer Paul Henry De Baere followed. 
I waved goodbye to all those in attendance as our chopper scaled height.

Diving into a dream
As our helicopter flew higher and closer to the Himalayas, I couldn’t believe the sight I was seeing. That is what heaven must look like, I kept saying to myself; and I am pretty sure seeing so closely the snow-capped mountains spread over the Himalayan vastness in all its glory, you would think the same.

It must’ve taken about 10- 15 minutes of flight to reach the point of about 20,000 ft, from where we were to jump. My instructor slowly moved towards the edge of the heli, and within moments, together with Paul Henry, we were out of the vessel.

I was given specific instructions to cross my arms and arch my back, during the first few seconds of the free fall, and so I did. Those first few seconds were also the only rendezvous I had with the emotion of fear during the whole experience. Within about 15-16 seconds of all that enthralling free fall, our chute went up. Ryan’s thorough narration of the mountains around (Everest, Thamaserku, Amadablam, Kongde to name a few) made for the perfect background score to my delightful flight down to the drop zone.


Back to reality
As we hit the ground,  with the safest, smoothest landing ever, a sense of inexplicable joy enveloped. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t budge from the spot for a while, as the reality of it all was still sinking in. 

But crew members and locals who came running, excited to hear about my experience, got me back up on my feet and volleyed in their questions. And so I blurted a few lines none of which I remember today. But I do remember this strong longing to pull back from the moment; even it was just for a while. To step back and take it all in—the majestic views, the dive, the rush, the experience that would soon turn into memories.

Surreal, beautiful, special—are all understatements to what I experienced that day; In fact, the entire Everest Skydive expedition is simply beyond what words can explain. Grateful was the state of mind that stayed dominant long after.

It's funny how life works. Because only a month ago, as I bid a bitter-sweet goodbye to my decade-long career as a journalist, I had said, “I can’t wait to see what adventures life has in store for me now," with absolutely no idea of where I was headed. 

And then life threw at me, skydiving from the “top of the world.” Adventure doesn’t get better than that, now does it?

Get your own skydiving story
Join the Everest Skydiving and Pokhara Skydiving expeditions organised by Explore Himalaya every autumn. More info on www.everest-skydive.com

*My travel vlog SAMMY ADVENTURES will start airing on social media platforms starting February end. Wish me luck! 

All photos by Paul-Henry de Baere

Beautiful people <3

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

SUBEK means happiness

The name SUBEK for me is happiness. And I am sure everybody who knew him would agree. When we’d hear of SUBEK, it brought smiles to us. That was just the kind of a person SUBEK was.

The first meeting
I was introduced to Subek by my boyfriend, a heli-enginneer, Subek then, was a co-pilot. We reportedly met as a group of friends several times after that, but I never really noticed him (and that’s the kind of a person I am. Too involved with my thoughts, my works, my life. Sucks right!)

It wasn’t until last year, that he and I started to become real friends. Soon, we were buddies—jigris of the first order. 

Tom Cat, Jerry Mouse
If you’d be around us you’d probably use the famous Nepali phrase “kasto musa ra biralo jasto jhagada gareko.”

We loved pulling each other’s legs. He’d tease me, I’d tease him back, we both loved hitting each other witty comebacks—and then laugh, endlessly laugh. I don’t remember a moment, a day, where I might have met my Subek, and we didn’t get to laughing. Like, ‘rolling on the floor’ laughing. He loved sharing happiness.

My popular buddy boy
Subek was so full of life. And everytime he’d come around, we would all feel so much more alive. Subek created our little “Barista Gang” and took upon him to call each of us and invite for a coffee hangout whenever possible after-work. He also created his gang of futsal-enthusiasts of pilots and engineers and arranged a game several times a week. 

Apart from these, Subek, had many such groups of friends—of many I don’t know, but I was aware of. His phones (three of them) wouldn’t stop ringing, or ‘pinging’ with text messages, fb emails or notifications.

He was just friends with, perhaps, everyone he’d ever come across in his life. And he’d make them all feel (like he made me feel) so special—one of his own. Subek was there for everyone, he’d gladly help anyone without a second thought—with him around, life felt safer, better, happier.

The Barista Gang 

My budgeting skills at test
Around the beginning of April, Subek and I caught up after work for an evening meal of some Korean food. I was learning about “money management” and I shared of my newfound knowledge with him. He made a wrinkly face and said, “oi yaar, malai paisa save garna sikana yaar.” We both started laughing.

I drew up a budget sheet for him, and told him how he should segregate his savings, his investments and his expenditure. It never worked. And I am glad it didn’t.

For a 25-year-old, Subek always had a lot of money. And he spent it all on others. Only last week, he was ecstatic to tell me how he had earned several lakhs as his flying allowance during the rescue and relief operations and how he wanted to donate it all back to the victims. It was gestures like these that the made that made us all feel a little too small in front of him.

For as long as he lived, Subek always gave. He gave away his money, his time, his skills, his ears to those who wanted to share their gloom, his shoulders for those who wanted to lean on and cry, his sense of humour to jolly up everyone and his special friendship to all he met.

He was like a dream. Simply the best person, the best friend, one can ever imagine having. And he went away, in matter of moments, just like a dream.
Our Captain Subek 

Subek, the hero
Subek loved narrating his adventurous stories of flight. He really did love his job—how rare is that to find. He would praise the magnificent beauty of our pristine country-side, he would give us animated accounts of how he saved people. Precisely on May 18 as we sipped on our coffees at Herman’s, he walked me through a terrifying account of his almost near-death experience at Sindhupalchowk. “We had reached a remote village squeezed in-between two hills,” he said. “And suddenly one of the hills exploded (perhaps due to an aftershock) and then started a vicious landslide. There were only a few kids and one adult guy around. I got them all inside the chopper to have them fly out to a safer place as the landslide was soon coming towards us. I started the engine of the heli, but it wouldn’t start at all. I tried several times and it just wouldn’t start. I held the kids tight and thought this was the end of my life. The landslide got closer to where we were. But just in time the engine went on. We flew out minutes before the landslide hit us.”

He then showed me a big silver pendant he was wearing (blessed by some guru). “This,” he held up the pendant, “is what saved me that day.” He kissed it and put it back.

That pendant was not to save him the second time.

One last time
Subek and I had planned to go buy some basketball shoes on June 1, but we didn’t. We instead chose to chill out in a road-side teashop outside my office. He was riding his Enfield that day—we both took the opportunity and clicked endless pictures with it to post it on our social medias.

An old man named Durga Dai runs the tea shop, and I told Subek of how he had lost his wife a couple of years ago. Subek then went on and ordered more than he or I could eat—samosas, tea, chhoilas…  “Esto thau haru ma sakdo dherai khaidinu parchha ke bujhis. Uniharulai ekdumai help hunchha,” he said.

This morning
This morning, as I read some papers with the news of my Subek’s demise, it felt so unreal. The tears I had managed to finally hold up, came rolling down again.

Subek always wanted to be a hero. And he was one—a hero of our lives, a hero who ruled our hearts, and a hero who single-handedly saved hundreds of lives through his rescue flights and thousands others with his loving, caring and oh-so-kind nature.

And he died a hero; while on a relief mission.

I don’t know why, but I feel, that he is happy to have lived and died such a heroic life. And that, when us friends had huddled up and hysterically cried, he was right there beside us asking us to cheer up (and even making fun of our swollen crying faces.) And that, when we all saw his body that he had already left for the first time, he was in the room passing a remark on how his shoes were intact (he was always so fond of his shoes, he always wore them new and clean).

Dear Subek,
One of my most treasured friends, the closest one to my heart, I miss you so much. And I regret not ever telling you this in person, but I love you so much. Thankyou for all that you’ve done and been to me. The times I have spent with you were one of the best times of my life. Be my angel now, Subek, show me the right way in life, teach me to be more like you.

I know you’ll always be around. I just know it. Stay happy, spread your joy to all those ‘on the other side.’ We shall all join you one day, some day. And we shall have our Barista gathering there.

Your Uncle Sam loves you. We all love you. 

P.S. “Khub hero bhais.”

Of what would be, our last viber conversation. He always knew how to make me laugh.  
He loved his bike. And I am glad he got to ride it one last time. So, glad he came to meet me one last time too. 

Being silly with Subek <3

Subek loved sports. Futsal and Basketball were his favorites. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Miss Tourism Queen Asia- The Journey That Was

Finding My Sunshine

Written - may 19, 5:03pm 

View from my window seat in the plane

I am stuck in a plane...yes inside an airplane for the past three hours now. I have to catch a connecting flight to kathmandu from Guangzhou that leaves at 7 pm. And I am here at Shanghai airport, inside a plane listening to Taylor swift on loop and trying my best to avoid worrying.

'Worrying never solved any problems so why do it? ' said Buddha. He be a wise guy like that and I love abiding by his sayings. 

And as it is my Chinese co-passengers talking to each other in Chinese, flies right above my head anyway. But hey wait, the pilot just announced that due to bad weather people wishing to cancel this flight may do so. Slightly entering the panic zone now. Panic because I don't have my organiser's contacts nor is there internet around.

(They ask us to walk out to the lobby and wait for the flight)

Funnily though, I am happier to be outside here than inside the plane really. Of course I am gonna miss my flight to home because its already  6:15 now. At this point of time reaching Guangzhou or not, I am screwed either ways. 

But thank god I am out here because the overtly friendly gentleman sitting beside me was ....well....acting a little too friendly for my liking. And I would have agreed to return his friendly advancements  if he just wasn't so dumb to understand that I am not CHINESE, although I admit, I may look like one :/

And it's amazing how he can continue to make conversations with me in Chinese for hours ...despite of my relentless 'no speak Chinese. I no Chinese. Only English please' . Don't even get me started about the god awful breath he brought along in his 'delightful?' convos. Lol 

But hey, the man got my writing juices flowing, because I started pretend-writing on my ipad just to shut him up on the first place. Also listening to swifty again, after so long, made me realise how I miss writing my own songs too. So you see, everything happens for a reason, and the reason is always good. This would be my blog update after the longest time and I guess i have the bad-breathe dude to thank for it ;)

That said, let me tell you what happened at my finale last night. Miss China won. China had invested so much to fly in contestants from 37 countries, keeping them in a 5 star hotel and putting up a great show, with massive audience and a gigantic stage--  crowning their own delegate for the title seemed legit, I think. 
Miss China the winner of MTQA

And complaining about how the results of beauty contests are pre planned is such a boring cliche. So I will just leave it at that. The only thing that matters to me right now and the one thing that I know from my heart is that Nepal did good. Really good. Gave it her heart and soul and had a jolly good time all along. 

And guess with what title was Nepal adorned this time? They crowned Miss Nepal with yet another international title, the glorious crown of ....wait.....hear the drumrolls......PRESS PRINCESS!!! In all honesty, when us girls were first informed about the contest's subsidiary titles ... I had cracked up saying 'jeez what funny titles they have- miss charm , miss press princess??? Puhleez' and we all let out a hearty laughter. 

So you see when I was called out to receive the title, my gal pals were giving me these giggling glances and I really couldn't stop smiling the whole way when receiving it .... Giggle is what I wanted to do really. But hey an award is an award and this one's for you Nepal. Although I would've wanted to go for the big crown....ah well.

So, my first reaction when they called out my name? - ' Did I hear that right?'. Then my uber positive personality rushed in to my rescue, convincing me that I couldn't have been given a better suiting award than that. If you think of it, I started working as a journalist since the age of 17 and participated in pageants ever since 18, and interestingly have been very active in both till date. So really, I am the ultimate press princess ... One who is both behind and infront of the world of press :)

Love that flowy gown by my super talented pal Subu aka Subexya Bhadel :) 

It is times like these that i so enjoy the universe's sense of humour, really! And I can't be thankful enough for all the joys it brings along in my life from time and again. 

Reality though, Press Princess title stands for the contestant who manages to be a darling of the Chinese media coverage. And the fact that I earned maximum press attention among all the contestants makes me happy too. Donning the sash with my country's name across my chest oh-so-proudly... I had the time of my life here. 
As I now sit flipping through the pictures of my 10 days in the contest, I realise how badly I'm gonna be missing everything. And how lucky I am to be given an opportunity to be a part of something like this, twice in a row. As the driver drove me to the airport I couldn't help but regret how I couldn't bid a proper goodbye to some of the  good friends I made there; how i will probably never meet these girls with whom i shared one of the most amazing phases of my life. 

When with a Korean, pose like a Korean!
This morning as I left my hotel room with my Korean room mate dozing off in her bed, I got all teary eyed. Didn't have the heart to wake her up as all of us - the victims of final night partying that we were, had gone to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. And there I was leaving for my flight as early as 7 am. So I left her a note - THANKYOU for being a great room mate...I will miss you (smiley face). And I left. 
In a state of gratefulness, I can't skip mentioning the amazing love and support from everybody back home. THANKYOU so much everyone. To be supported like the way you did was my only real strength. True, how Nepal may not have huge sponsors to back up national contestants or have so much money to purchase title crowns ... but we have genuine love here. And that is a special gift to have. A priceless gift. 

Oops... HOME!?! thinking of home reminds me,  how tensed my family and friends must be right now , as I have been out of contact for exactly 32 hours now. They have no idea where I am, and I have no means of communicating with them either. 

Falling in love with Chinese babies ...so easy <3

But if they know me well, they know that wherever I am, I am safe, calm, happy and smiling. Notice that smile in every single picture of mine? It is so hard to wipe off that smile -honest. And for this life that I have been gifted with that I work to make amazing for me and everybody around me, everyday... Smiling is the only option that's up for grabs anyway :)

One of my favourite gals in the contest- Miss Mongolia

That said, I am back on the plane to Guangzhou. It's 8:45 pm now. If my connecting flight is also delayed, it'd work out great or me. If not? Well, I trust myself enough to find my ray of sunshine there too. I trust myself to reach home safely somehow and manage to successfully post this post.

Only .... The bad breath guy is back on my side, worse... he has started to let out big, durgandhit yawns this time, and I have no clue in hell as to how to deal with that.

And as much as I'm tempted to say 'I shall keep you all in the loop'. Believe me you wouldnt want to be in it. Its a miracle enough that im not nauseating already..... not just yet at least.  Yikes!!!

A big THANKYOU from the heart to all the supportive designers whose amazing designs I got to wear everyday at the contest. Special thanks to Subexya Bhadel who guided me in the contest's wardrobe selections like a true sister <3 love you Subu :)

Dress by Tenzin Tseten Bhutia 
Dress by AIRA 
Dress by Subexya Bhadel
Dress by Bishwo Gautam
But since the organisers had us wear sponsored clothes most of the time, I really couldnt parade much in my Nepali designer labels :( however a big, big thankyou to designers Mamta Gurung, Antee Gurung, Nuzhat Qazi and Swornim Rai for their unfailing support and love. Really guys, thankyou so much :')  

Finale night dinner with the ladies 
The pivoting factor of the MTQA contest was the promotion of the hosting city Xitang in China. If you ask me, very Venice like, really. Loved and enjoyed every moment while it lasted :)

Update: The cancelled flight came as a boon in disguise. Got an entire day to explore the city of Guangzhou and do a little shopping along the way. Touched down KTM Tuesday night :)