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Take the leap

Curious about adventure sports but don’t know how to start? Here’s some advice.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2010 16:58 IST
Rishad Saam Mehta

So, you want to be James Bond? Think about it. James Bond is the ultimate adventure sport junkie. His job has him skiing down slopes, jumping out of planes, diving into the seas and leaping off buildings and bridges. This article will tell you how to do all this. While it won’t tell you how to leave a trail of beautiful and heartbroken women in your wake, your consolation is that you’ll be doing all this for the sheer thrill of it and in a safe environment. Old 007 is usually compelled to do the above because someone is trying to kill him.

Most of us are so enthusiastic about adventure holidays that we sometimes pack in too much. Remember that the focus of the trip is to have a holiday. it shouldn’t feel like an endurance camp. It is hardly worth your time, money and hard-earned leave if, on your return, you have to be carried into Dr D’Mello’s Dormitory for the Bodily Drained. Your adventure sport holiday should be planned with enthusiasm and practicality.

Trek Talk
When I did my first trek, years ago, all of us filled our 60-litre backpacks to the brim and set off without a plan. Half an hour into the trek, not only had we lost our way but we were feeling like manual labourers.

Lesson learnt. Hire Rajus and Bahadurs. As in, guides and porters. You not only contribute to the local economy, but your trek becomes infinitely more fun. You enjoy the walk rather than curse your bag.

The Himalayas are full of treks ranging from easy to moderate to technical. Manali, Uttarkashi, Nainital, Almora, Darjeeling and Gangtok are all towns where you can find a number of agencies to outfit your trek. Start easy, get to grips with life in the outdoors – morning jobs in the meadow, showers under waterfalls and food flavoured with wood smoke – and then gradually aim for more demanding treks on your subsequent trips.

Should you go for a trekking holiday abroad (it’s called a walking holiday) then some trails have log huts while others have established campsites with clean toilets and bathing facilities. Here in India, Banjara Camps offer luxury trekking (www.banjaracamps.com).

Water Fun
Rafting is like instant coffee. Jump into the raft, hang on tight, get swirled by rapids and get an instant adrenaline high. You don’t even need to know how to swim. But this only holds for short rafting trips of an hour or two. You get your thrills over a few rapids, lounge on the beach, eat chicken tikka by the campfire and leave. But for some serious white water buzz, you need to do a multi-day expedition which combines negotiating rapids, setting up camps for the night and generally paddling a considerable distance on the river. For this you need to be absolutely conversant with commands, techniques and how to react should the raft flip. And it often does.

If you want to turn the oceans into your playground then you can go snorkelling, for which you need to know how to swim. But to get up close to the wonders that lie in the oceans, to swim with shoals of fish and gaze upon multi-hued corals and spectacularly spangled sea-beings, you have to be certified as a SCUBA diver (see box).

At popular diving locations there are a number of operators where you can show your Diver’s Card and go for a dive with them. My very strong suggestion would be to do your SCUBA diving course at a place where the water has good visibility like the Lakshadweep or Andaman and Nicobar Islands. If your first dive is in dark and murky waters, it could put you off diving and that would be a shame.

The White Stuff
Most of us, so beleaguered by heat and humidity, get ecstatic at the sight of snow and have made almost a sport out of frolicking in it. But snow is also reason enough to take off for an adventure sport holiday. In India there are two ski resorts where you can learn to ski, or you can do so abroad. In New Zealand you can take a helicopter to the top of a glacier and do a guided ice-hike even if you haven’t ever stepped on ice before.

If you really want to enjoy the snow and ice then you’ve got to get accustomed to low temperatures. The correct protective clothing helps, but more than that your mind has to tell your body that it can handle the cold. After that the Arctic Circle in Lapland can become your winter playground. Adventure sport there consists of zipping over frozen lakes and rivers on snowmobiles or skidoos, going on a husky safari and skiing.

You can learn to ski at plenty of ski resorts all over Europe where there are special beginners’ slopes, beginners’ lifts and very patient instructors.

Into Thin Air
Why should I jump out of a perfectly sound plane? That is the question your mind throws at you when you’re poised at the door of a little plane 15,000 feet high, about to jump into the blue yonder.

Why indeed? And why would you jump off a bridge with a huge elastic band tied to your feet or hurl yourself off a cliff holding on to the grab rail of a big kite?

Because, the headiest adrenaline rush is to be found in cheating gravity. Sky diving, bungee jumping and hang gliding are all fun ways to exorcise the fear of heights. It is scary, but beyond the fear, there is exhilaration. Sky diving is the finest of these because tandem skydives are popular and you have all the fun without any training. Some people find a bungee unpleasant due to the yo-yoing aftermath and while you can do a tandem hang glide, satisfaction is to be found if you take a course and go solo.

What I’ve cited here is just a sampling of adventure stuff you can do on an adventure sport-centric holiday. But there are other offshoots – you can go zorbing (rolling down while strapped inside a huge rubber sphere) or you can go blackwater rafting, which is rafting underground rivers. Sandboarding down huge sand dunes is another speed junkie’s thrill. Besides this, there are sky jumps from various buildings around the world and flights in vintage aeroplanes.

But remember: Your comfort level is important. If you think you are going to come out of the activity with your stomach feeling as if you’ve eaten very bad cheese then there is nothing wrong with not doing it. The point is that you should come out of it buzzing as if you’ve had a shower in soda water and glowing as if you’ve sipped sunshine. That is the high of an adventure sport holiday.

Scuba scene

To really discover the joys of the ocean, you need a SCUBA diving certificate, and this can take three to four days because there is theory to learn as well as the actual diving.

Operators in India are Barracuda Diving ( www.barracudadiving.com ), Dive Goa ( www.divegoa.com ), Lacadives at Lakshadweep ( www.lacadives.com ) and Dive India at Havelock, Andaman Islands ( www.diveindia.com ).

Operators at Goa arrange trips to Netrani Island in Karnataka and that is where you should dive for your certification if you can’t get to Lakshadweep or the Andamans. Goa is not recommended. The visibility is not good.

Of course, you can do the diving course abroad but that would be much more expensive. Instead get certified in India and go dive all over the world.

Safety is a religion

That is what the operator you are going with should believe. There can be no compromise. A karabiner buckling when you are falling to earth at 200kph in a sky dive or a faulty SCUBA regulator can be fatal. Never forsake reputation and safety when choosing an operator. For the best skydive experience ever, head to New Zealand and jump with Nzone ( www.nzone.biz ).

When trekking, hire guides from a reputable agency. Guides need to have a keen sense of direction, know their way around the planned trek and should be able to take adequate action in an emergency. You don’t want to go with fly-by-night operators, or else you might wake up one morning and find they’ve vamoosed, leaving behind only your tent and pyjamas.

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