River rafting in Rishikesh, parasailing in Goa, zip-lining across a waterfall, scuba-diving — reads like the bucket list of an energetic 20-something, right? Wrong.
These are some of the adventure sports making it to the bucket lists of Indian seniors, as they seek to capitalise on retired life, leisure time and growing disposable incomes.
Seniors are now looking at post-retirement as a second innings — and a better one, one free of the responsibilities of family, kids and EMIs.
“Most of them have children who are busy and living far away, so they are dealing with loneliness and the empty nest syndrome by adding life to their years and not the other way round,” says Prakash Borgaonkar, director of NGO HelpAge India. “The idea of a bucket list fits into this approach because it helps them set goals and do things they had always wanted to do — for themselves.”
Dr SP Kinjawadekar, emeritus president of the non-profit All India Senior Citizens Confederation, adds that part of this new approach stems from longer lifespans.
“Thanks to better healthcare and living conditions, seniors at retirement age know they still have 30 years left, rather than 10 or 15. That’s sparked a big change in attitude,” he says.
It helps that the internet puts the reigns in their hands, and that new services are cropping up to cater to their increasingly active lifestyle — like the two-year-old 50+ Voyagers Travel and Adventure Club.
“I set up this company after trying to plan an adventurous tour for my aging parents,” says the Bangalore-based Sangita Bhattacharyya. “All there was on offer were pilgrimages or cookie-cutter leisure holidays, and I knew my parents and their friends wanted to do more with their time.”
50+ Voyagers focuses on active holidays for seniors, offering adventure-packed tours to places like Uzbekistan, Bhutan and Ladakh.
Delhi-based Neha Arora is doing the same for physically challenged seniors, with her year-old company, Planet Abled. “My father is visually impaired and my mother is orthopedically challenged, but we are all fond of travelling,” she says. “In fact, many of my clients are senior citizens. We create an inclusive environment and a platform where they can make new friends, pursue their interests and explore the world. Many disabled seniors are not married, so once they retire they have the money but they don’t have social platforms to engage themselves.”
This is a generation of post-liberalisation seniors, people who were part of the economic boom of the 1990s and saw mindsets and concepts of financial security change during that period, says Abha Chauhan, secretary of the Indian Sociological Society and professor at University of Jammu. “They have planned their retirement, have financial independence. When we talk about this particular slice of educated, urban Indian seniors, their expectations from life are similar, in many ways, with the expectations of their children. That wasn’t the case with earlier generations.”
CASE STUDIES: ON THE MOVE
‘AGE BECOMES IRRELEVANT ON THE ROAD’
Deepak Amembal swapped his bike for a car when he married and became a father of two.
Now, his children are grown and settled abroad, and the retired deputy manager with Air India is back in the saddle.
The 63-year-old from Mumbai decided to celebrate turning 60 with a biking expedition to the Khardung La Pass in Ladakh, one of the highest motorable passes in the world.
But two days before he was supposed to set out, he had a sciatica attack and had to cancel.
“I was determined to fulfill that dream,” he says. “So I took up yoga and got fit.”
In September 2014, Amembal and a friend completed a 72-day biking trip to Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Orissa, Kanyakumari and back to Mumbai.
Given that he is diabetic and has high blood pressure levels, his wife and mother were a bit worried. “But they knew I had the conditions under control,” Amembal says, adding, “the question of being old levels out when you are on the road. And you meet others like you. I met a guy my age who had cycled all the way from Chandigarh to Ladakh. He said being on this side of 60 doesn’t mean you stop living your life.”
Amembal also went whitewater rafting while in Nepal and on a two-week bike trip in the Spiti Valley the following year.
Up next, a world trip with his bike; skydiving; and explore India’s north-eastern cultures.
‘ZIP-LINING ACROSS A WATERFALL WAS INCREDIBLE’
Renu Chadha zip-lined across a waterfall in Sikkim, three months ago.
“I had always wanted to visit the state. But at 62, with spondylosis, I had never imagined I would go swinging across a river in a harness,” says the retired teacher from Delhi. “The best part? I wasn’t even afraid.”
Chadha says it helped that she was among the youngest in her group of 24 travellers, and they were all encouraging her to give it a go.
“I was the only woman in the group to step off the ledge, and the feeling was incredible. I was a sporty person in school and stayed active throughout my life, but between working and raising my son, I had no time for adventure. So this was like reconnecting with something I loved.”
Up next, exploring Bhutan, traversing the north-east, and trying out more adventure sports.
A TREK OF A LIFETIME, A HIKE DOWN THE GRAND CANYON
R Krishnan decided to celebrate his 66th birthday with the ‘trek of a lifetime’.
The tax consultant from Mumbai says he has always loved to trek, but spent most of his adult life as a workaholic who took virtually no leave. “This was my way of celebrating the fact that I now set my own hours, and could finally make my dreams come true,” he says.
So, in August, Krishnan trekked to the Hampta Pass in Himachal Pradesh
“I had heard of the famous ‘Chadar trek’ on the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh and planned to do that,” Krishnan says. “I trained for days, took swimming classes, jogged regularly and got a thorough medical check done. But the tour got called off when there was unrest in Kashmir.”
Determined to have his trek of a lifetime nonetheless, Krishnan headed to the Hampta pass at 14,500 ft in Himachal Pradesh.
“I was the oldest person in the group of 23 people; all the others were between 22 and 34. This fact encouraged me more,” he says. “I always feel young in the company of young people and they treated me as one of their own.”
The group trekked for five days through pine forests, meadows filled with wild flowers, and across a mountain river in full spate. “I caught a dreadful cold. But reaching the pass and seeing the world from that altitude made it all worthwhile,” Krishnan says.
Up next: A hike down the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River; a wildlife safari in South Africa; and walking tours in Ireland.
RIVER-RAFTING IN A WHEELCHAIR, AT 71
Chandra Rama Rao, 71, a retired CA from Delhi, went river-rafting in Rishikesh two months ago, something that had always been on her bucket list.
It wasn’t easy, given that she has been wheelchair-bound since the age of 11.
“Two people had to carry me down the steps and into the boat, but the rafting company was very accommodating. And it was completely worth it. The ride was exhilarating,” she says. “I love exploring new places and doing new things. I went bird- and wildlife-watching in Kenya in September.”
Rao is single and lives with her sister. “I used to love to read stories of adventurers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and dreamed of travelling and doing adventurous things. But working as a CA, I never had the time, or the money. And I was tentative about travelling by train in a wheelchair.”
All that changed when she retired and could finally afford flights.
She has been swimming since she was 12, as part of her physiotherapy, so water plays a big part in her adventures.
Up next: Rao is planning a scuba-diving trip to the Andamans and wants to go bird-watching at Chilika Lake in Odisha and in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.
Sagari Devayya, a 64-year-old homemaker from Bengaluru, went parasailing in Goa three months ago.
“I’m an adventurous person at heart, but my most adventurous activity for a while has been playing badminton,” she says. “I’ve been a homemaker for 15 years, but I never stopped looking for adventure.”
When Devayya’s husband died a few years ago, she began travelling with groups her own age, as a way of getting herself out of the house. On one such trip to Goa, she went parasailing and “it felt like the start of a second innings”.
“I am physically fit and I refuse to feel old,” she says. “After getting a taste of adventure in Goa, I want to get back to some kind of work, and travel again. Society has changed so much, and there are so many organisations to help seniors like us to live our lives to the fullest. My parents, when they were my age, didn’t have these opportunities. I plan to make the most of them.”
Up next: Paragliding and a return to Sagari’s first love, painting.
‘SWIMMING WITH A DOLPHIN WAS A DREAM COME TRUE’
RP Sharma, 75, a retired chief engineer from Meerut, UP, swam with a dolphin in Dubai in November.
A father of three grown kids, he is free of liabilities, financially independent and he live life as he wishes, he says. During a vacation to Dubai as a part of a senior citizen programme with 22 others, he did something none of the other members of his team did. He swam with a dolphin.
“I have been a good swimmer all my life and wanted to do something like this since childhood,” he says. “We went to a dolphinarium and I saw that I could ride on the back of a dolphin! I love those creatures; they look so friendly and seem like they’re smiling. I wasn’t scared at all as I can swim very well and was high on adrenaline. The trainers communicated with the dolphin and allowed her to get used to me a bit. Then I rode on her back and that ride was a lifetime experience for me.”
‘AGE TO ME IS A STATE OF MIND’
Sudarshan Sharda, 78, a retired lieutenant colonel from Noida recently went zip-lining in Sikkim.
“Age, to me, is a state of mind,” he says. “The zip-lining proved this. I was the oldest in my group and was the first one to try it.”
It looked a bit scary, he admits, laughing, ‘but I was with the Army and I’m still fit’. “As I was busy with career and family, I didn’t have the opportunity to try something like this before. I love such activities and hope I can try many more in the future,” he adds.