Bitten by the adventure bug, an increasing number of well-heeled Indians are gliding through the air strung on parachutes, fighting river rapids on flimsy rafts, diving deep into the seas or plunging dizzying heights connected to nothing but an elastic cord.
Reports of rafting accidents from Rishikesh or even the recent video of a 39-year-old getting critically injured in Poland that was circulated widely did raise serious concerns about safety measures, but adventure junkies say the danger is built in.
As industry insiders stress on the levels of caution they take to ensure no accidents happen, sports enthusiasts say it is the excitement, thrill and sometimes even the fear associated with these activities that make them attractive.
Like Pune-based project manager Subhabrata Chattopadhyay, who has drawn up a bucket list of adventure activities.
“These sports take you out of your comfort zone and are great stress busters. Though these activities are done in the supervision of experts, still there is a certain amount of risk involved and I quite enjoy the thrill,” 31-year-old Chattopadhyay told PTI.
He has already checked paragliding, parasailing, waterfall rappelling, kayaking and bungee jumping off his list.
“Next up are scuba diving and sky diving,” he added.
Chattopadhyay is among the thousands who are making India a booming adventure sports destination.
Adventure activities in India grew by 178 percent from 2015 to 2018, according to a 2018 survey by online travel portal Thrillophilia.
The survey found that activities like parasailing, paragliding, trekking, hot air ballooning, heli-skiing, river rafting, scuba diving and snorkeling are gaining traction in the country.
However, all of this thrill, much like in the Poland accident, may take a fatal turn in the absence of required security measures and well-trained instructors. For instance, there have been several reports of boats capsizing while river rafting in Rishikesh, a must-visit for many adventure enthusiasts.
In March this year, 55-year-old Lata Chand Dhanik from Gurgaon died after her boat carrying eight more people overturned. While the others were rescued, Dhanik fell unconscious, and was eventually declared brought dead at the hospital.
Industry players said safety is paramount and they spare no costs.
Their clients are in safe hands, assured Ganesh Gurjar, manager at the Rishikesh-based Red Chilli adventure.
All clients are briefed on dos and don’ts for 20 minutes and also trained in paddling in case of the raft overturning or someone falling.
“Our guards are CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) certified, and ambulances are also available on call,” Gurjar added.
Accidents, he said, often happen because of undisclosed information on the customers’ part.
“Often people would turn up in an inebriated state, or would not reveal that they suffer from heart or respiratory issues. In some situations, withholding such information can be dangerous,” he said.
Rishikesh’s popularity as a river rafting location can be attributed to its 10-month-long rafting season that starts in mid-September and continues till June.
Gurjar’s company offers four rafting routes — starting from Brahmapuri (9km), Shivpuri (16 km), Marine Drive (26 km), and Kaudiyala (35 km), which cost between Rs 800 and Rs 2,500.
Bungee jumping is another hot favourite.
After offering an “international experience in terms of safety standards” at Rishikesh for nine years, Jumpin Heights is opening a new bungee jumping segment in north Goa later this month.
The project, supported by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), will involve a 55-metre-high bungee jump from cliffs over Mayem Lake.
The activity will set an individual back by Rs 3,550.
To keep accidental risks at bay, people above 40 years of age will not be allowed to undertake the jump. “Osteoporosis is common (with people above 40) and they are often not aware they may be suffering from it,” Rahul Nigam, director and founder of Jumpin Heights, told PTI.
Other provisions include Red Cross certified staff in first aid, a permanent doctor on call, and regularly checked equipment. “We retire the cords well before their standard term of life. We also put out a list of medical conditions which, if the jumper suffers from, we do not permit him/her to go ahead,” Nigam said.
The final call, after all the security checks are done, lies with the company’s experienced jump masters trained in New Zealand (the birthplace of bungee jumping). “They have the final discretion,” he added.
Despite the adrenaline rush he craves for, Delhi-based Waled Aadnan refuses to compromise on safety.
The 28-year-old risk analyst, who has done a bungee jump from Macau Tower, one of the highest in the world at 233 metres, said it was imperative for companies organising such activities to take safety measures but also important for individuals to do their own research.
Aadnan, also a regular high altitude trekker, stressed on the need for regular health check-ups to ensure high altitude acclimatisation.
“Safety includes both being physically and mentally prepared for a trek yourself, as well as choosing the right combination of locations, seasons and companions to trek with,” he said.
Hot air ballooning is another activity that is gaining popularity in India, albeit gradually.
Abhishek Agarwal of Tiger Balloon Safaris, which has been organising hot air balloon rides in Goa for four years, said the sport was yet to become mainstream because of exorbitant prices.
A ride that lasts an hour and a half costs anything between Rs 11,000 – 15,000, depending on the size of the balloon.
Licensed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, it is in the company’s mandate to employ only licensed pilots.
“To ensure optimum safety levels, we brief riders about dos and don’ts while in air, and during hard landings. The nuts and bolts in the balloon are also checked before every ride. Risks are not taken in case the weather turns unsuitable,” Agarwal said.
Clearly, the sky is the limit for adventure junkies, and entrepreneurs.