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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

5 comments:

  1. I literally got goosebumps while going through your post and pictures. Oh, lucky you! You're doing good, Samriddhi di. Keep up the good work and adventures. Good Luck! :)

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  2. The scenery is so awesome. WOW!!

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  4. Himal Putri... hahahha.... awesome pics... daredevil... wah

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  5. Awesome! Have watched all your vlogs and am thrilled like hell. But, this is surely the best of the lot. Amazing would be the understatement! Please keep making more such adventure/travel vlogs. Best Wishes always to you sis. :)

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