For trekkers, nothing can parallel the thrill of hitting the trail, but that doesn't mean that they walk in unprepared. As any good trekker knows, his survival depends on his preparation and in ensuring that he has the right equipment, enough food and proper navigation tools. Unfortunately for Indian trekkers, maps are hard to come by. Which is why there is already a clan of trekkers who stick by self-made maps when walking on uncharted trails.
Partha S Banerjee, who's been trekking in the Indian Himalayas for 15 odd years started making his own maps nine years ago. In fact, he even compiled them into a book that trekkers can purchase.
Others who make their own maps have taken them online. Having become a reliable medium for adventure groups to plan their activities, the Internet is also fast emerging as a compendium of user-generated maps. Trekkers use the medium to collaborate, thus ensuring that maps are always updated.
Hiker Ajay Reddy started the website Trip Naksha a year ago when he wanted information on trek locales around Hyderabad and couldn't find a website that offered trekking maps.
"I made use of the application programming interface (API) that Google maps offers, and used their base maps to sketch my own trails. No sooner had I uploaded a few of my own maps than contributions from trekkers started to flow in," he says. The site has now become a forum for trekkers to share experiences, maps and photographs.
But tracing your route on a map isn't easy, even with GPS devices at your disposal, and a lot of effort goes into it. When trekking in the Sahyadris, hiker Abhijit Avalaskar uses his eTrex Venture GPS receiver to record his coordinates periodically. On connecting to the computer, the device automatically transfers the position points, which Avalaskar then draws on a map demarcating the locations of wells, streams and forts. "I add colours to notify a change in topography or terrain so that trekkers have a fair clue of what to expect," he says.
Some detailed maps are made using satellite images. MapsofIndia.com has a team of cartographers who use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software applications to chart maps, and build on them using graphic designing software. These maps are not to scale. Explaining this, Subir Roy of MapsofIndia says, "To publish maps that are to scale, you need permissions from Survey of India and the Ministry of Defence as there are a lot of restricted zones that you cannot encroach upon." However, the website offers maps made by their inhouse team that specifically depict position sites like forts and hills that are of interest to trekkers. You can order these online.
An important concern for trekkers is that trail maps become obsolete very quickly. The geography of a place is continually altering, and new routes bring new challenges. According to adventure enthusiast Ivon Gill, who manages the Himadventures.com portal, it just isn't possible to describe the exact topography of a trail.
"In the Himalayas, landslides and snowfall commonly block old roads and give rise to new ones, not all of which can be kept track of. What one must ideally do is carry a GPS system after studying the nature of the climb on a map before setting out," he says.
And always remember the rules of the mountains: Have at least four people in a group, walk together, and leave a schedule behind with someone who can take action if they don't hear back from you in a specified time. Be prepared so that you can have fun.
How to prepare
Trip Naksha has a collection of trails marked on Google Maps, which are free. You can get Partha Banerjee's maps at www.milestoneguides.com Mapsofindia.com sells trekking maps designed by their own cartographers. Himadventures has hand-drawn maps. Contact them at 9915160121. To make your own maps: You can sketch the trail on Google Maps and embed it on your webpage. GPS devices come with software applications which help you prepare rough drafts of routes.