“Three, two, one… bungee!” Those were the last words I heard before leaping off the 525-foot-high suspension bridge across the Bhote Kosi River at Tatopani in the Nepal Himalayas. As I hurtled downwards, the river looked like a ribbon of blue.
It’s easy to talk about it now with a show of bravado. It’s the same bravado I displayed while signing up for the second highest bungee jump in the world. “Have you jumped before?” the assistant at The Last Resort had asked. Before I could reply, she added, “There’s no refund if you don’t jump once you’re on the bridge.” Then she mentioned a special deal if I signed up for a canyon swing as well. I love bargains almost as much as I love adventure, and I soon convinced my five companions that it was an opportunity not to be missed. We’d just completed a long and exhilarating trek to the famous Gokyo Lakes in the Everest region and were in the perfect state of mind for another shot of adrenaline.
Three-and-a-half hours out of Kathmandu and only 15 kilometres from Nepal’s border with Tibet, The Last Resort is a great place to recover from a long trek. Besides the bungee and swing, you can pamper yourself with massages and spa treatments, lounge with a beer, or go mountain biking, kayaking, or canyoning.
Although I’d done a bungee jump twice before, there was no denying the competing emotions of anxiety and excitement that battled in my mind. My stomach was churning as we walked on to the suspension bridge to peer at the gorge below. “Don’t look down,” a bungee master instructed, knowing that we were going to do just that. As my friend Abhijay got ready to jump, the 20 other candidates on the bridge offered moral support. An assistant asked each of us to say something for the camera before we leapt into the abyss. Soon it was my turn. I was quickly tethered by my ankles to the bungee cord and snugly buckled into a harness. I felt like a convict as I shuffled to the edge of a platform and stepped on its very brink. No, the bungee masters repeated, they would not push anyone. We had to take the plunge ourselves. Swallowing a huge lump in my throat, I did.
As I plummeted down the 160 m-deep chasm in the Himalayas, I realised that I was crazy. What impulse made me sign up—and pay—for this? Before I could process an answer, I felt a rush of excitement as I was yanked back upwards. The sinking feeling gave way to a rush of exhilaration. There’s your answer, I said to myself, as I dropped down only to be pulled up yet again. After bouncing like a yoyo a few times, I was lowered down on the riverbank. Then came the tough part: the 30-minute hike back to the top.
Now a three-time bungee jumper, I imagined that the canyon swing could not be very hard, even if it is the world’s highest. At the top, I slipped back into a harness and this time I was secured to two 13-mm thick ropes. I tried to camouflage my creeping nervousness by making small talk with a bungee master. How many times do you use these ropes before they are replaced, I asked him. “About 50 and I think you’re the last,” he joked. I wished I hadn’t asked.
The canyon swing involves being attached to a rope anchored to a cable 50 m above the jumping platform, jumping off, and falling straight down until the rope becomes taut. Then you begin to swing like a pendulum. Sounds simple, but as I discovered, the free fall lasts for more than seven seconds, and when you’re hurtling down a gorge, that’s a lifetime. As I fell through the air, a million things flashed through my mind. My body started to turn with the force of gravity and I kicked my legs wildly to stay upright. Once I had reached the end of my rope, I started to oscillate, 240 m one way then 240 m back, at a speed of about 150 km per hour. Nothing can compare to the absolutely death-defying rush of adrenaline that surged through every inch of my being.
Once I lost momentum, a tow rope brought me to the riverbank and after a few minutes of standing still to get my bearings and balance, I began the long trudge up. As I walked up the mountain for the second time that crisp summer morning, I realised that the canyon swing with its scary seven-second vertical free fall was definitely scarier than the bungee jump. Over lunch that afternoon, we got to see videos of our jumps displayed on a big screen. Every now and again I still watch the video, to relive those moments— at least until the next time I’m back for the plunge.
(+9771-4701247; www.thelastresort.com.np; bungee €85/₹6,315; bungee and overnight stay €105/₹6,902; bungee and swing €110/₹7,231.)
Tiny Koh Tao Island is far out in the Gulf of Thailand. Despite its inaccessibility and the need to fold myself into a human pretzel for the 12-hour overnight boat from the port town of Surat Thani, there’s a very good reason I made the journey. About 10 million reasons, in fact.
Koh Tao offers some of the best scuba diving sites in the world and its offshore reefs and shipwrecks (one dating back to World War II) are teeming with fish and other marine life. Although Koh Tao is an all-year diving spot (except in typhoon season), summer is when this jewel of the sea really shines. I first heard of it from four American couchsurfers who had stayed with me in Mumbai, and could not stop gushing about this beautiful island in the sun.
One year later, I made it there. The days began early. Getting up at 5.30 to greet the dawn might seem like a chore in the muggy metropolis, but in the clear air of Koh Tao it was a pleasure to awaken to crashing surfand tropical birds. I’d jump in for a quick swim, while others struck a variety of yoga poses on the beach. Most days, my breakfast was light; fruit and nuts purchased from one of the stalls on the island’s single main road.
Having dived in Bali first, I was excited to see what Koh Tao would offer. There are dozens of dive schools on the island and a lot of research led me to Will, a New Zealander and divemaster, who lives on Koh Tao with his yoga instructor girlfriend. My initial dives with Will were refreshers to get used to breathing from a tank, safety instructions, communication, and so on. With that out of the way, it was time to head out to do some real diving. Although five metres doesn’t sound like much for a first dive, its overwhelming to see the brilliant coral formations towering above you as schools of brightly coloured fish dart among the rocks on the sea floor.
There’s something incredibly peaceful and soul-centring about scuba diving—you are not touching any land, completely suspended in the half-light and gloom of the water, the sun a cold circle above you. Going deeper, down to 20 metres, the water begins to cool rapidly against your skin and you become acutely aware of your (rather insignificant) place in the world. The ocean is a huge inverted bowl in front of you and the temptation to let go and dive deeper has to be actively fought. Once the bug bites, there’s no going back. I dived at least four times a day every alternate day.
You’d imagine that with all this underwater activity, everyone who visits would be too tired out to do anything the rest of the time but that’s dead wrong. Come nightfall, I traded my shorts and sandals for more mosquito-proof clothing and walked down the beach to one of the dozen or so parties where backpackers go to get a drink. Fire poi, seafood dinners, bonfires, music, and dancing all night are the norm. Until it was time to stagger back to my hotel and awake again, to greet that glorious summer sun.
Fast boats to Koh Tao are available from Surat Thani (3 hours away), Koh Samui (1 hour away) and Chumphon (1.5 hours away).
In India, Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort is a dramatic backdrop for a zip-lining tour. But what if the tour got another shot of adrenaline, and involved a trek through a wildlife sanctuary, as well as adventure activities like river rafting?
In Thailand, several operators offer “canopy tours” through the country’s evergreen forests located a couple of hours outside Chiang Mai.
Cables are yoked to treetops, and the journeys between the platforms involve rappelling, river rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, and walking across Burma bridges.
Some of the tours—that can last over three hours—are interspersed with walking safaris through the Chompoo Wildlife Sanctuary and the Khao Kheow Open Safari, where visitors can see elephants and tigers.
A tour conducted by popular operator Flight of the Gibbon, is spread across three kilometres and 24 platforms, one of which is over 984 feet long. The tours are also available on Koh Samui Island.
To see a list of some of the prominent zip line operators in Thailand, visit www.ziplinerider.com/Thailand_Ziplines.html.
After nine hours of dancing on the street, pub hopping, and eating in Saigon on New Year’s eve, my friends and I somehow made it to our flight to Phú Quôc. A tiny, tear-shaped island in the south of Vietnam, Phú Quôc turned out to be just the idyllic escape we needed to work off a night of excesses. A relatively undiscovered destination, Phú Quôc promised azure coastlines, virgin beaches, lush hiking trails, fishing trips, and diving adventures. As it turned out, it far surpassed our wildest expectations. Our only disappointment was that we didn’t stay on longer.
Topping our list of must-dos in Phú Quôc was an island excursion that would take us further south into remote waters, amidst untouched little islets, secluded bays, rocky coves, and floating fishing villages. We booked a trip with some scepticism about whether it would be one of those overcrowded, hop-on hop-off type of tours rather than the intimate ex- perience it claimed to be. When our guide fetched us at 8.30 the next morning, we were pleasantly surprised to be in the company of only 15 other travellers. A scenic, 45-minute drive down the coast brought us to An Thoi, the largest dock in Phú Quôc.
We climbed to the boat’s rooftop, the perfect vantage point to soak in panoramic views of the ocean. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a little floating hut in the middle of nowhere, where our skipper snapped up the first fresh catch for the day. He balanced himself on one of the several narrow walkways that criss-crossed each other to form a grid laced with fishing nets. He brought up snapper, squid, and sea urchin for our lunch. A little while later, we were all given our own fishing lines, taught to fix bait, and given instructions on the proper way to fish, along with a lesson on patience. Every time someone caught something, everyone on the boat cheered. By lunch, we’d made a few friends, so vibrant conversations accompanied our Vietnamese meal of fried fish, omelettes, vegetable soup, chicken, noodles, rice, and fresh fruit.
The boat drifted lazily until we reached a deserted rocky island. This was our first snorkelling site. It was warm and crystal clear. Even from the surface you could see the faint outline of coral below. We spent the next hour swimming around, chasing tiny striped fish as they navigated a multicoloured maze of coral. It was my first time snorkelling, and the realisation that there are so many beautiful life forms underwater made the experience that much more surreal. It was a perfect afternoon and I didn’t want to leave, but our next stop turned out to be an even better snorkelling spot. It was a larger bay with a wide stretch of coral waiting to be discovered. There was not much sea life here but there was coral in every imaginable shape, size, and pattern.
We ended our day at Sao Beach, one of Phú Quôc’s gems. A pristine, white sand beach hidden behind densely forested hills, Sao beach’s turquoise shoreline beckoned us to disengage from everything. There isn’t much to do here, but that is the point: to truly unwind in its tranquil surroundings, nap, read a book, walk, swim, and have a drink. As the setting sun cast a warm glow over this piece of paradise, we were grateful for what an unbelievably amazing day it had been. Our new year already had one memorable experience we’d look back on and wish to relive again.
Phú Quôc is a large tropical island, just off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. It is a 55-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Also in this series:
Summer Fun: 16 Adventures in India To Beat The Heat
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