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Take a thrill-pill

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on October 05, 2018

Down under: When she began diving in 2006, Nayantara Jain mostly met international tourists. Today, more Indians travel to dive sites around the world   -  SUMER VERMA

A plain old dip in the sea or a climb up a hill will no longer do for a growing number of Indians eager for the adrenaline rush of kayaking, gliding, surfing and scuba diving

Batchmates Ishita Malaviya and Tushar Pathiyan didn’t want a regular 9-5 job when they graduated from Manipal University. So they opened a surfing centre 11 years ago. At the Shaka Surf Club in Karnataka’s peaceful and scenic Kodi Bengare village, they teach backpackers the art of surfing. And, clearly, this sport is catching on in India.

When Malaviya began surfing in 2007, she says she could count the number of fellow Indians on one hand. Today, there are no fewer than ten surf clubs all along the coastline from Karnataka and Goa to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And surfing is an experience that people seemingly can’t have enough of.

“I was beaten black and blue by the sea, but I didn’t give up. And before I knew it, I was flying over water,” Malaviya says, recalling her first experience as a surfer.

While Indians have been trekking and climbing mountains for decades, in recent years new sports have caught the fancy of adventure seekers — surfing, angling, canoeing and mountain biking. One can go heli-skiing — take a helicopter to the top of a slope and ski down — or boot up for jungle safaris.

According to a Nielson-Ministry of Tourism report in 2015, there were about 980 tour operators providing a wide range of air-, water- and land-based adventure activities. While trekking, camping and safaris are popular activities in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan, there are more takers in the southern states for activities such as ultra-light flying (gliding on a lightweight fixed-wing aircraft), paragliding (a foot-launched glider aircraft), and parasailing (where you wear a parachute and sail in the air, pulled behind a motorboat), the report says.

Coastal thrills

More and more Indians are seeking their thrills on the country’s long coastline and its many whitewater rivers. Scuba diving as a sport has picked up over the years. The 8,000-km coastline boasts several virgin dive sites that are not for commercial use. PADI or Professional Association of Diving Instructors certification courses for amateur divers are available on site in Tamil Nadu, Goa, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and elsewhere. A PADI certification course enables a diver to swim in sites that require more expertise.

Aficionados stress that the diving experiences are diverse — the Goan coast offers views of coral gardens and shipwrecks, while diverse schools of fish can be seen in Andaman. Lakshadweep, closer to the Maldives, has colourful reefs, overhangs and swim-throughs (channels for underwater swimming ). Some clubs offer a “liveaboard” experience, where one can stay on board a ship or a boat for three days or more and dive twice or thrice a day.

Adventure lovers crave such activities as a much-needed break from their busy lives, as also for a heady adrenalin boost. Namratha Bhat, 30, a marketing professional, travels whenever she can. In the last two years, she has completed a trek to Meghalaya’s living root bridges, formed naturally by aerial roots, a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, a safari in Kenya, and two diving trips to Indonesia.

The breaks are a needed vent in her corporate life, she says, adding, that “Diving is like meditation” for her.

Marine conservationist Nayantara Jain is another expert diver. Based out of Lakshadweep and Bengaluru, the 31-year-old former full-time scuba diving instructor takes groups of divers to sites around the world — from the Maldives to the Galapagos and Komodo islands, besides Lakshadweep.

When she began diving in 2006, Jain saw mostly international tourists. But a great many Indians now travel to dive sites both across India and other parts of the world. “I have seen that while there are many first-time divers, there are also many who come back to explore more, and not just to experience a dive but to update their social media accounts,” she laughs.

Trekking is another pastime much in demand. Sonali, a hospitality industry professional, likes to spend her solo holidays on treks. She had a month free after she left her last job for the current one. So Sonali decided to go trekking.

Again, there’s a variety in store for the trekking enthusiast, from the easier ones on the rolling hills of the Garhwal region and Himachal Pradesh to the more difficult trek in the Hemis National Park, in Ladakh, in search of the elusive snow leopard, or up the Kinnaur Kailash, where the seven colours of the rainbow split on to the mountain peaks.

“I did the Annapoorna circuit, and while I’ve been on treks before, this was the best experience of my life,” Sonali says.

Adventure fests

Adventure activities now have festivals organised around them to attract people from around the world. The sixth edition of the Malabar River Festival (MRF), touted as Asia’s largest kayaking festival, was held in July this year and attracted over 30,000 spectators, besides nearly 100 participants.

“Almost one year into the sport and I was there at MRF, not merely as a fanboy spectator but also a participant in the intermediate category,” says kayak enthusiast Joy Mandhotra. “I went there almost a month before the event as I wished to paddle on the breathtaking monsoon rivers amidst the most exotic landscapes. Gradually, paddlers from many countries started pouring in. The place became a hub of kayakers,” he writes on the festival website.

According to the Ministry of Tourism report, kayaking — paddling on a light and narrow canoe — has gained major ground as a sport in the southern states. The kayak festival, for instance, was organised in the town of Kodencheri, near Kozhikode, because of its topographical conditions. Three rivers flow across this area, points out festival organiser and kayaker Manik Taneja.

“Monsoons are a great time to kayak here, and this year we had a bumper monsoon… The festival attracted an unprecedented number of local spectators, with 25,000-30,000 people coming to witness the finals,” he says.

Hit the road

Rally driving is yet another sport that is gaining a huge following. Raid de Himalayas is one of the more popular rallies in the country, with treacherous roads in the mix. India has some of the highest motorable passes in the world, Khardung La being the highest. The World X Series Rally is taking place in Asia for the first time ever, starting from Delhi on October 11.

More and more people are heading for wildlife sanctuaries, too. Blessed with 166 national parks and over 500 sanctuaries, wildlife safaris in India have evolved from the average dak bungalow stays of the past, though not always for the better. The new mantra is glamping — or glamorous camping — where some luxury items (a well-appointed tent, for instance) help smooth the roughing out in the great outdoors. Safari organisers are also increasingly opting for sustainable tourism, as travellers are more conscious of the dangers tourism poses to the environment. Tour operator Pugdundee safaris works with Madhya Pradesh’s prominent national parks Pench and Kanha and incorporates sustainable practices such as opting for steel over plastic water bottles, and moving towards completely banning single-use plastics from their eco-lodges.

Damaging moves

There is some concern over the rapid and unchecked growth of adventure tourism in India. In Uttarakhand, the mushrooming of adventure tourism operations compelled the high court to ban all such activities in the state in a June 18 judgement. In response to a PIL filed by a Rishikesh resident, the court declared that adventure sports could not be allowed to continue in the state without regulations and policy. Riverside camps have also been banned to stem river pollution. Paragliding activities, popular in the state, have been suspended till safety measures are put in place. A revised policy now makes it mandatory for operators to have basic qualifications to conduct rafting trips.

Need for speed: A 2015 Ministry of Tourism report states that kayaking as a sport has gained a significant following in the southern states

 

Taneja also points out that the government has no official policy on kayaking. “Since it is such a niche sport, there are many who have to brave police interference, including arrests, which, according to me, is such a waste of time,” he says.

The nature lovers stress that tourism is also a good way to get people invested in conservation efforts. “During scuba diving, you start building a connection with the world underneath. No matter how many photos you’ve seen, anyone’s first experience of the underworld is magical,” Jain says.

Clearly, the sky — or the sea — is the limit when it comes to adventure sports. Bhat has done her share of bungee jumping — being flung off a cliff or a high structure at the end of a fastened elastic cord — and climbed Mount Rinjani, an active volcano in Indonesia.

Now she plans to go free diving. Hold your breath — it is diving without equipment.

Hot spots

Kayaking

Chalapuzha, Kali, Brahmaputra, Andaman and Nicobar islands

Surfing

Mantra Surf Club, Mangaluru; Bay of Life Surf School and Stand Up Paddle, Chennai; Mumu surf lessons, Mahabalipuram; Aloha, Agonda; Surf Wala, Arambol; Soul and Surf club, Varkala & Thiruvananthapuram; Shaka Surf Club, Manipal

Glamping

Jawai Leopard Camp, The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Rajasthan

Scuba Diving

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep; Grand Island, Goa; Netrani Island, Karnataka; Kovalam, Kerala

Rally

Raid de Himalaya, Uttarakhand and Himachal; The Vintage Car Rally — New Delhi to Sohna; The Great Arc Rally — Kochi to Mussoorie; Desert Storm Car Rally — Rann of Kutchh; Indian National Rally Championship

Published on October 05, 2018

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