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ADVENTURE TOURISM IN INDIA – AN OVERVIEW

- by Akshay Kumar

 

If Switzerland in the Alps is called the playground of Europe, then the mighty Himalayas is undoubtedly the Adventure playground of the world. Adventure, simply put, is anything out of the ordinary, anything off the beaten track… In the context of nature it could also be defined as venturing into the great outdoors and wilderness. According to pioneers in Adventure tourism “In undertaking adventure activities, man realises and overcomes his deepest and innate fears and weaknesses. It is a humbling but satisfying experience.”

Adventure tourism generally is referred to in the context of activities like trekking, climbing, white water sports, wilderness camping and safaris on camel back, in jeeps or in cycles. A country’s topography and geological conditions, govern the choice and popularity of the activity. A good example to quote would be Nepal. A tiny country but because of its beautiful location in the midst of the Himalayas has made it a paradise for adventure sports like climbing and trekking.

India, in that context is a “One Stop Adventure Shop”. Only in India can a person indulge in a camel safari in hot deserts of Rajasthan, Heli-Ski in the Himalayas, Raft down the mighty Ganges and trek in the Garhwal Himalayas, all in the same month. Few people are aware that more than 60% of the Great Himalayan range lies in India, with the remainder shared between Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. India boasts of some of the highest peaks in the world, Kanchenjunga, Nanda Devi and Nun Kun, not to speak of perhaps the highest unclimbed and as yet uncharted peaks in Arunachal Pradesh and the Eastern Karakoram ranges. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) lays down guidelines and grants permissions for mountaineering and climbing expeditions in the Indian Himalayas. There are many professional tour operators who will take up all arrangements for the expeditions from getting permits, booking peaks and providing camp logistics.

Himalayan rivers like Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus provide un-limited white water stretches to be ‘run’ both for the beginners as well as for the extreme professional. Rafting was introduced in India in 1975 with the Indo-German expedition down the Indus in Ladakh. They set a world record in High Altitude rafting. In 1990, two leading rafters of India, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Maira, led the first rafting descent down the mighty Brahmaputra, which is considered to by some to be the “Last Great Adventure in Asia”. This expedition created a record in long distance rafting, covering more than 600 Kms. of treacherous grade 4 and 5 high volume white water. They then carried on for another 1100 Kms down till the Bangladesh border thus completing the entire stretch of the river in India from the Tibet border to the Bangladesh Border.  Rafting in India is an organised and professional sport. Many companies in India are rated at par if not better than their Western counterparts. Today river rafting is spread all over the Himalayan Regions of India with trips available throughout the year in more than 20 rivers. Most of the white water industry forms a part of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), which ensures compliance of a safe, professional and eco friendly code of conduct.
 
Trekking in India is comparable to and often surpasses the best in the world. Trekking in the Indian Himalayas offer incredible variety with shorts walks in low altitude alpine meadows to 20 day hikes over some of the highest passes in the world. The varied topography adds to this beauty. The high altitude plateau of Ladakh, the alpine meadows of Himachal, Kashmir and Sikkim, the rugged and rocky terrain of Garhwal all add up to provide an un-imaginable variety for the trekker to choose from. Adventure companies small and big alike have mushroomed all over the Himalayan belt offering a variety of treks and services to choose from. Today one can confidently choose a trip from the internet and find professional operators to look after all travel arrangements from hotel, transport, flights and camping arrangements. Most of the good trekking outfits are members of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI. More information about the association is available on www.atoai.org.

Jeep safaris across the Himalayas often follow the traditional trade routes between India and Tibet. Driving over this spectacular terrain and crossing over the highest motorable passes in the world, never ceases to amaze. Self drive and chauffer driven tours across the high altitude deserts of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh provide for an enchanting and spiritual experience far superior than even the legendary Karakoram Highway in Pakistan and Tibet. These routes have been recognised and appreciated by international rally drivers and off road enthusiasts alike. In 2000 Isuzu Motors organised the world famous Isuzu Challenge Off Road expedition in India. The organisers imported 18 Isuzu 4 WD  jeeps and picks ups specially for the rally and were given special permits visit the Pangong Tso Lake and the Hanle Monastery along the Indo Tibetan border.

Skiing for both beginners and the professionals is plentiful on the slopes of Manali, Gulmarg and Auli. The natural and virgin ski slopes offer the best of Alpine, Mountain and Helicopter Skiing. Skiing as such requires extensive infrastructure in terms of lifts, cable cars and lodges. Lack of funds has made the process of development very slow. However mountain skiing trips are conducted on an expedition basis on mountains like Trisul and Kedar Dome. Even Helicopter Skiing is fast gaining in popularity near Manali.

India therefore offers the keen adventurer with a fascinating range of areas and activities to choose from. In this increasingly environment conscious world, adventure sports and eco tours will be the boom of the 21st century

Statistics:
There are mainly two segments for adventure tourism. Inbound and Domestic. Flow of foreign tourists coming to India for Adventure Activities (Inbound) was till recently the bread and butter of the industry. 85% of all adventure tourism in India came from this one source. Over the past decade this segment has seen drastic setbacks due to natural and political calamities. Events like the Babri Masjid issue, the Gujarat Plague, the Kargil War, the riots in Gujarat and now the Iraq war. The only means of survival for the industry was to Indianise the product and that is what many see today. Rafting camps on the Ganga, fishing and jungle camps in South India, trekking trips in the Himalayas, Outdoor PDP modules for corporate training, school camping trips and many other adventure holiday options have cashed in on the huge resources and market available in the Indian metros.

Even though the limited inbound market pays much more, but the Indian domestic market is stable and do not get affected by local disturbances. Today most camps in the Indian Himalayas offer clean and comfortable accommodation in prices ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs 1000 per person per night. Activity camps and resorts offering activities like river rafting, game viewing and fishing as part of a package could charge anywhere between Rs. 1,000 per person – Rs 1,500 per person per night. Most domestic tourists limit themselves to the weekends and to camps close to their respective cities.

About the Author:
The above article has been authored by Akshay Kumar. Son of legendary mountaineer of Everest and Kanchenjunga fame, Akshay at 34 already has more than 20 years of experience in adventure sports. In his early teens he was competing at the National Level in skiing. By the time he was 18 Akshay had already received advanced training in white water sports in Canada. Since then Akshay has led numerous first descents of rivers like Brahmaputra, Sindh, Lidder, Narmada and Upper Teesta.

Besides leading unique treks into the Siachen Glacier and the Nanda Devi Inner Sanctuary, Akshay has also earned a reputation by leading the famous Isuzu Challenge rally in 2001. Today Akshay is the president of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters and heads the adventure travel operations for Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ltd., a subsidiary of Mercury Travels (Oberoi Hotels)

 
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