As he does every weekend, Saman Shrestha sets up his tent in Hattiban’s pine forest overlooking Kathmandu Valley. He unpacks a long length of webbing rope from his bag on which he will be walking across 50m above the ground between two trees. Around him, there is the sound of cicada and birds.
Shrestha, 31, is a professional climber and athlete, and in 2017 was the winner of the first season of Himalaya Roadies, the Nepali edition of the hit Indian reality series MTV Roadies that pushes adventure seekers to their limits.
But this avid adventurer started small. “I heard about wall climbing for the first time from my brother,” he recalls. “This was at Pasang Lhamu Foundation and you could climb up almost 5 storeys. This piqued my interest.”
Later, with a school friend Shrestha often went there and practice. In 2011, he even competed in a national climbing competition. “It was a hasty preparation, and I had a lot of expectations and fear of the public. But the failure made me want to climb more and better,” he adds.
Shrestha’s journey to becoming a national climber began after that, as he participated in more competitions such as the Climbing World Cup in 2016 and 2017. Around the same time, he also coached children aged 12-16 in climbing and sports at Niten Memorial School in Tokha.
“I started climbing later in life, at 24,” Shrestha adds, “But I realised that kids can do even better if they start early.”
Hattiban forest offers a breathtaking vista of the mountains on a clear day and the city below, he looks to introduce a new form of adventure: Highlining.
“I came upon highlining only five years ago. I had never seen anyone do it before then, not even on the internet and I just got hooked into it,” says Shrestha. “I find it very pure as there is nothing in your mind when you are on a highline.”
Highlining is an extreme adventure sport new to Nepal. Perfect for adrenaline junkies, it is akin to slacklining, which is essentially walking on a tightrope between two anchor points. In urban areas, especially in American colleges and universities, it is called urbanlining and is often done a couple of feet above the ground.
But highlining – widely considered the pinnacle of slacklining – takes this to a much higher elevation. The other difference is that you are carabined for safety from a great fall.
“Highlining comes with more safety,” assures Shrestha. “There is a leash tied in with a harness to you. So even if you fall, it can catch you. It is 99.99% secure, and we have backups, even for the anchor, to take care of the remaining 0.01% risk.”
Nevertheless, the fear of heights comes naturally to many of us. And this is heightened even more if one is walking on thin webbing high above the ground.
But Shrestha is fully attuned to the rush that comes with extreme adventure. He stands on the line, walks steadily, performs a few tricks, and then sits across the webbing. The secret he says is training one’s mind with a lot of patience, practice and experience.
“When you are up there you instinctively think you might die but once you start to trust the process, the anchor, the webbing, your body will get used to it and then it will get easier,” he explains.
He has one more tip: “If you overthink, you cannot walk, let alone stand. So you have to empty your mind. Only then will you be able to freely move your body.”
Nepal’s topography and climate make it a thrilling haven for extreme adventures. Bungee, paragliding, canyoning, rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking are perhaps the more popular ones: now, highlining is added to the list.
And with a countless number of rivers, hills and gorges, Nepal has a high potential of becoming a highlining destination. “Furthermore, it sends out a message that nature and adventure should go together, and it is our responsibility as humans to save nature to enjoy the adventure to the fullest,” adds Shrestha.
But investing in highlining is expensive especially as the sport is still at the early stages in Nepal and importing the necessary gearincurs a significant cost. Shrestha himself brought some second-hand gear from foreigners in Nepal, a few more from abroad and even asked friends outside the country to bring the rest when they were coming home.
Dedicated to a lifetime of adventure, Shrestha says he is not doing this for fame or to set some records. “I’m in it just for an adventure,” he says.
His longest personal record is 100m and the highest is at 2,000m above sea level in Kakani. He hopes to scale the line in Kusma, 550m above the Kaligandaki River one day. “It’s so massive, so big and dark. But maybe in a few years when I have enough experience,” he adds.
For now, Shrestha is planning to set a line on a tall building somewhere in the city for urban highlining. He is also interested in highlining in Bethanchok which is at 3,000m.
He says: “Every time I’m on a line, I try to stay calm and just enjoy it. I try not to overthink. Whether in highlining or life, overthinking can mess up everything.”
Read more: The high life, Nepali Times