India: Land of Adventures
From primarily a cultural tourist destination for several decades, India has emerged as one of the most sought-after adventure destinations for discerning international travelers. Perhaps no other single country in the world offers the variety of adventure opportunities which this South Asian nation does. This diversity is absolutely fascinating - from heli-skiing in the high Himalayas to river-rafting in the white waters of the mighty Ganga, Indus or Teesta; from hang-gliding and ballooning over the Indian plains to camel-safaris in the vast Thar desert of Rajasthan; from chasing the elusive tiger on the backs of mighty elephants to trekking in the Himalayan ranges - the choices are endless.
A country so vast, India represents diversity in its forms: people, religions, customs and traditions, clothes, dialects, habits. To the Indians, the country is a harmonious whole which they do not question. To foreign travelers, the diversity is a puzzling complexity which they seek to understand.
The 7,000km long coastline of India also offers an opportunity to adventure lovers on the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Talking about the future of adventure tourism in India, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to set foot on Mount Everest along with Indian mountaineer Tenzing Norkey, was once quoted as saying, "Adventure tourism is growing rapidly in India as access to remote areas is improving all the time. It is not only the scenic beauty that appeals to the adventurous mind but also the people themselves - the enormous variety of cultures and religions, warm hospitality and the skill with which life in a harsh environment is tackled."
India has several advantages in promoting and developing adventure tourism. An important factor in its favour is that it is a year-long activity with no seasonality factor as in other forms of tourism. Even during the worst days of the Gulf War, adventure tours to India were not cancelled. While the high-altitude adventure is possible during summer months, during winter, low-altitute itineraries including skiing can be offered to adventure enthusiasts.
Traditionally, adventure lovers have been coming to India from countries such as the US, Canada, UK, Western Europe, Japan and Australia. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in countries of South East and North Asia for enforcing environmental-friendly activities to ensure that these beautiful regions are not ruined by carelessness of the travelers.
An added attraction of Himalayan tourism is that a visitor can indulge in several adventure activities during his holiday. For instance, visitors to Kashmir could enjoy trekking, travel on horseback, go trout fishing in its many rivers or indulge in a little bit of skiing or water sports in its transparent lakes.
Skiing has become India's prime attraction in Asia. India provides the least expensive skiing anywhere in the world with facilities for beginners as well as for seasoned skiers. These are available in three states - Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. All three states have a variety of gentle slopes for beginners and steep runs of several thousand feet for the more adventurous.
Heli-skiing is another exciting sport for travelers who want to have a lot more fun with this sport. A helicopter takes a group of advanced skiers up on any one of the numerous Himalayan peaks that surround a resort and the skiers can start the descent.
Facilities for snorkelling and scuba diving are available in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and at Bangaram in the Lakshadweep group of islands. Heli-skiing is now available at Manali in Himachal Pradesh. Water-rafting, kayaking and canoeing have become popular all along the Ganga with a number of operators setting up camps at different sites.
Another pleasure-cum-adventure sport is sailing, quite popular in Nainital, Ramgarh and Khadakvasla near Pune. River-rafting is being introduced this year in the Teesta River in northeastern India.
By far trekking in the Himalayas is the most popular adventure activity involving some 50,000 adventure travelers every year. The scale of the Himalayas, spread across six Indian states, and their remoteness make them the ultimate trekking destination in the world. Besides, another thrilling sport, rock climbing, provides the first lessons in high-altitude mountaineering. Facilities for this adventure sport are available throughout the country.
Often referred to as white water rafting, river running is a fairly young sport in India. The awesome might of the snow-fed Himalayan rivers when they descend from their icy heights offers an exciting challenge to river runners not easily found elsewhere in the world. Depending on the experience and the skill of river runners, trips are organised for lovers of this sport. While India offers some of the most difficult rapids, the country's rivers have calmer areas too where even a family can enjoy the fun of river running.
Ballooning is another exciting sport added to India's adventure tourism fare. Every year in November an International Ballooning Festival is organised which attracts participants from all over the world.
Hang-gliding is also catching on fast. It is a unique sport. Men having their own wings and flying like birds over valleys and meadows. Most Indian hang-gliding sites are highly rated and those in the lower reaches of the Himalayas may be considered to be the best. Except during the monsoons, one can enjoy hang-gliding any time during the year.
The vast expanse of Rajasthan's Thar desert, on the other hand, offers an exotic encounter with camel safaris, an unusual outdoor activity even for people with courage and stamina.
Indian's coastal states - Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa - all have their well-developed sea resorts. Goa is perhaps the most popular of them all, attracting charter plane-loads of foreign tourists every week.
Among the popular sports available at these resorts are wind surfing, yachting and deep sea fishing. Besides, Andaman and Lakshdweep islands provide access to hundreds of coral islands - with facilities for snorkelling and scubadiving. These islands attract lovers of sea sports from all parts of the globe.
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