Niche tourism in India booms as young people explore extreme sports to experience the unusual By Supriya Batra
That pump of adrenaline when one skids off the mountain top on a glider or dives deep under water with fishes swarming all around, that heightened sensation of pressure building up in the body to the blood cours ing through one’s veins at top speed and, then, that winning moment when the daredevil emerges a hero – the heart pounding, the thrill, the rush! That’s how extreme adventure enthusiasts describe adventure sports. Over the last few years, with the advent of niche tourism avenues such as wildlife tourism, golf & polo tourism and adventure tourism, people are no longer limited to driving up to the nearest hill resort to escape the heat.
According to Sanjay Singh, assistant director general of Niche Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, “Both domestic tourists and international travellers, in good numbers, are beginning to explore the various adventure sport options that India has to offer. Reports from the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) show a major increase in the number of travellers who now look out for adventure more than luxury in their travel packages.”
Undoubtedly, adventure tourism finds a growing customer base in an expanding economy like India where people, especially from the upper middle class, have more to spend than ever before. “Young people from various parts of the world are taking interest in a range of adventure sports that our country offers such as rock climbing, para-gliding, rafting, mountaineering, etc.”, adds Singh.
‘Incredible India’ and ‘777 days of the Incredible Indian Himalayas’ are few of the campaigns initiated by the Ministry of Tourism in 2013 to attract more international tourists to India. The campaigns remind the world that 73 per cent of the Himalayan region lies in India. Adventure activities like the ‘Himalayan Run & Trek Event’ were a great success and have helped attract many foreign travellers even in the scorching summer season.
Demand for adventure tourism last year was strongest for destinations in the Asia-Pacific (up six per cent), Africa (up six per cent) and Europe (up five per cent). Indians have begun to embrace adventure travel which grew by 65 per cent worldwide last year. In recent times, India has emerged as one of the world’s most popular adventure travel destinations. It is often referred to as ‘the one-stop adventure shop’ by many travellers. Some of the famous adventure destinations in the country include Bir-Billing for para-gliding, Sach pass for motor biking and Pong Dam for water based sports, Solang in Manali for grass skiing, Auli, Spiti and Lahaul for skiing, Pune for climbing pinnacles, Hampi and Savandurga in Karnataka for sport and multipurpose climbing and many others. Only in India can a person indulge in a camel safari in the deserts of Rajasthan, heli-ski in the Himalayas, raft down the mighty Ganges and trek in the Western Ghats, all in the same month of the year.
A new breed of adventure lovers are mixing traditional adventure activities like trekking and rock-climbing with more trendy and upcoming ones like scuba diving and deep sea walking. They are all set for a vacation that gives them a lifetime’s experience of memories and helps them overcome their fear.
India has the Himalayan range including the Himalayan foothills called the “Shivaliks”. This area has numerous trekking trails, ranging from a day’s walk to a month’s climb with various difficulty levels. These trails have some of the most amazing views in the world and interesting flora and fauna. Also, this area features numerous rivulets and rivers formed from the melting glacial ice. They form challenging rapids on their descent from the mountains and offer river rafting and kayaking opportunities.
Sukrit Gupta, a rock climber, outdoor guide, freelance writer and a traveller says, “I personally find climbing and adventure sport activities therapeutic; most people are here for self fulfillment and for maintaining general fitness and agility.” About the problems faced by the professionals in the industry, he says, “Although, there has been an addition of four newly established mountaineering institutes to the three existing ones, there still is a major lack of education and awareness about the latest techniques and equipment. We face a dearth of trained staff in the institutions who teach these sports. Our adventure sports institutes are promoting outdated techniques and ‘pre-historic’ equipment. Lack of availability of international standard equipment and ecosystem is the main problem which, if solved at the earliest, can become a boon for the industry and boost revenues to a great extent.”
Summers vacations are the right time to soak up a little bit of adventure – a break from getting up early each day to repetitively following the hectic schedule at work or in schools and colleges, never mind the ever-lasting traffic snarlups and daily struggle with bosses and deadlines! Tourism strikes an all-time high around this season of the year. From biking down a mountain side to scaling a vertical rock face or diving into clear blue waters, people nowadays are no longer restricted to religious and sightseeing trips only.
The change in the mindset of domestic tourists may be attributed to an increase in awareness levels and the influence of the western concept of fun that trickles down via the Internet. Along with this, Bollywood movies also play their part in attracting people towards adventurous activities like scuba diving and para-gliding. Paid sponsorships from commercial enterprises such as Woodland and Red Bull are also promoting adventure sports in the country. Take for instance the “Red Bull Quila Surf” event that showcased 70 Indian kite surfers in the country’s first ever kite surfing competition. It was held in the month of May at Tuticorin port in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The concept of adventure travel is not entirely new to India. The geographically diverse country has always attracted a lot of adventure tourists from abroad. They have been lured by the amazing desert safaris in the west and the snorkeling and scuba diving activities in the remote Andaman Islands off the country’s southeastern coast. People find it an exciting way to break the monotony of their daily lives, to pick up new life skills. And for some, it’s just about general fitness.
But for adventure tourism to really grow and prosper, the new government needs to realise the importance of tourism to the country’s economy. It is one of the major sources of foreign currency inflow. If the lacunae in this industry are dealt with carefully with improvement in adventure tourism infrastructure, niche tourism is bound to grow at a greater pace.
Narendra Modi, who was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India last month, has got a long ‘to-do’ list. Problems of the tourism sector is a major one as it has serious ramifications for the country’s economy. Despite having some of the best landscapes in the world, India does not have a culture of adventure sports enthusiasm. Plus, there is an immense shortage of experienced personnel. Specialised activities such as rock climbing, river rafting and para-gliding are all high risk activities which require certified and experienced instructors. There is no active plan to enhance the resource pool for adventure tourism. This shortage is leading to dropping safety standards which, in the longer run, may prove disastrous.
Foreign tourist footfall in India rose to 6.36 million annually in 2012 from 3.9 million in 2005. The numbers are increasing rapidly each year and adventure tourism is today recognised as an important growing segment. But India, with its geographical, biological and historical diversity, should be doing much better.