This game can send you hiking 313 ft up a hill to the 2,000-year-old Bedse caves near Pune; zip-lining over lush green forests in Vadodra; or through the intricate Agrasen ki Baoli step well in the heart of Delhi.
That’s one of the reasons geocaching has been catching on. It sends you off on a GPS-enabled treasure hunt, much like the viral smartphone game Pokemon Go, but at the end of the trail is an actual ‘treasure chest’.
Inside is a log, so you can record your discovery, and trinkets such as keychains, toys or souvenirs. The rule is you take one, and leave something behind in exchange.
The format was created in 2000 by computer consultant David Ulmer, as a way of testing the accuracy of GPS or Global Positioning Systems. Ulmer would leave something desirable — like a book or a slingshot — in a forest in Oregon, USA, where he was based, and urged people via a community page to go out and find it.
Jeremy Irish, a web developer in Seattle, then set up a dedicated website for geocaching enthusiasts, geocaching.com, and with his colleagues Elias Alvord and Bryan Roth, established the parent company Groundspeak Inc. They now have caches in over 200 countries. You play for free, and pay for a premium membership only if you want a higher difficulty level — hunts that involve scuba-diving, for instance.
“As the website and mobile app become easier to use, more people are tapping in as a low-cost way to connect with friends, get fit and explore,” says Bryan Roth, vice president and co-founder of Geocaching HQ.
In India, as geocaching has caught on over the past decade, it has spawned a local club and even a corporate training module. Its fans, meanwhile, range from a 67-year-old retiree to father-son duos and families that make a picnic of the hunt, to adventure junkies like Kush Patel, 26, who has hiked and zip-lined in his hunt for caches.
“The whole idea of hunting for hidden caches in old ruins feels like a scene right out of an Indiana Jones movie,” says Yogeshwar Kanu, 40, an architect who has uncovered 20 caches across India and Greece and has placed around seven (you become eligible to place a cache after you uncover 20). “Although I have lived in Delhi all my life, I had never explored heritage spots like the ruins in Hauz Khas village or the Agrasen ki Baoli till they popped up on the Geocaching app.”
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A family affair
Kanu’s passion for geocaching has helped him and his family stumble upon some breathtaking tourist spots. “I recently went on vacation to Santorini in Greece with my wife and 8-month-old daughter and we decided to check out the geocaching spots in the vicinity. We ended up at a viewpoint which was not mentioned on any travel brochure and made the hunt absolutely worth the effort,” says the architect from Delhi.
For Mumbai software engineer Aparna Bhatia, 40, her foray into the world of geocaching was all about doing something ‘out-of-the-box’ for her son’s 11th birthday, three years ago. “I had read about geocaching and my son loves outdoor activities. So I decided to celebrate his birthday by finding a cache at the Mahim Nature Park,” she says. After an exciting walk, they found the cache lodged in the bark of a huge tree. “We did not take anything from the container, but left a few coins behind for the next finder. Not only was it a fun activity but was a great bonding session with my son as well,” adds Bhatia.
He calls himself a biker, wanderer and geocacher. Pune’s Anil Agawne, 67, says age has never been able to tame the ‘adventurer’ in him. “Geocaching was something I read about five years ago. I would go on my solo biking journeys to hills, lakes, cliffs and ghats around Maharashtra and decided to start geocaching as the purpose of these travels. The joy of hunting for caches, testing my endurance levels and meeting new people en route were some of the things that made me love the activity,” he says. He has found 25 caches and planted an equal number in the country and has even been approached by foreign tourists as an informal ‘geocache guide’. “I get requests by people who plan to go geocaching in remote areas of Maharashtra, sometimes for caches I have placed. I happily oblige and guide them to those spots because it gave me a reason to go travelling again,” he says. Agawne has placed caches in the grand canyon of the Sahyadris near Dapoli, near gushing waterfalls of Amboli and at desolate quarries in Pune.
The geocaching junkie
A businessman bitten by the travel bug, Kush Patel, 26, from Anand in Gujarat, goes geocaching at least once a month. He has hiked, trekked as well and zip-lined on his quests, uncovering 40 geocaches in two years. “My first attempt involved a 300-km trip to a remote island near the Madhuban reservoir in Silvassa,” he says. “Thane Richard, a US citizen who had placed the cache, had warned against rough terrain and wildlife. It actually took me three tries to find the cache and although I was unsuccessful, it definitely got me hooked on to the thrill of geocaching.” Patel has successfully found and hidden caches in the rocky hills near Pune and Lavasa, gardens of Bengaluru, at heritage spots in Udaipur and across Gujarat.
For all those who can’t wait to get on to a cache trail but do not know where to begin, there’s the Great Hyderabad Adventure Club (GHAC). “We are a group of adventure enthusiasts who love trying different outdoor activities. We started organising geocaching trips in and around Hyderabad in 2010,” says GHAC founder Diyanat Ali, 40, who also runs an outdoor training company. “The thrill of overcoming challenges and making a discovery is double-fold when you do it in a group. We have held at least 25 to 30 such events over the last six years.”
On the same model, Pune-based Focus Adventure India organises team-building exercises for corporates. “We have tie-ups with companies where we recreate a geocaching trail by placing caches at exotic locales. Although this has nothing to do with the official geocaching website, the concept is the same, and employees use their skills and team work to bond over the tech-driven treasure hunt game,” says Rakesh Balachandran, 34, business manager at Focus Adventure.