Extreme India: Offbeat Adventures

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Before you make a mad dash to New Zealand or the USA for your next adrenaline fix, there’s some serious adventure on offer right here at home if you just look in the right places. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY tell you where to go.

Caving in Meghalaya-Mawsmai Caves DSC01373

If you thought adventure in India was just about trekking and white water rafting, buckle up for these truly offbeat outdoor activities across the country. Push the envelope with this handy list of activities, seasons, how to get there, costs, interesting jargon and who to do it with.

Rapelling down Vihigaon Waterfall IMG_3052

Canyoning or Waterfall Rappelling in Maharashtra
Had enough of staring at waterfalls? Get ready for the thrill of rappelling down them! Maharashtra, with its many waterfalls tumbling down the Western Ghats, is fast emerging as a premier canyoning site. And there’s no better spot than Vihigaon, 13 km from Kasara Ghat near Igatpuri. First explored in 2007-08, the 120 ft dizzying drop has a 30 ft wide rockface, large enough for four ropes to rappel down. A check dam, smaller cascades nearby and a scenic plateau have boosted Vihigaon’s popularity. Bekare at Bhivpuri near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala are other good sites.

Tips: Carry a waterproof backpack with change of clothes and knee guard or protective cap to avoid scraping your knees against cliffs.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune. From Mumbai, Vihigaon is 124 km (2-3 hr drive) on NH-3 or the Nashik highway.

Season: July to October

Cost: Around Rs.1,000/person, includes transport, breakfast, waterfall rappelling & mountaineering basics

Who to do it with: Offbeat Sahyadri Ph +91 9987990300, 9664782503 Email offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com
Nature Knights Ph +91 9821081566 www.natureknights.net

Caving in Meghalaya-Mawsmai Caves DSC01359

Spelunking or Caving in Meghalaya
Put hills of limestone and high precipitation together and you get caves – miles and miles of it! Limestone deposits in Meghalaya’s southern slopes, coupled with high rainfall, humidity and elevations over 1000 m, are ideal conditions for cave formation. With 1350 caves stretching over nearly 400 km, Meghalaya has the deepest, longest and the largest labyrinth of caves in the Indian subcontinent and ranks among the world’s Top 10 caving destinations. Spelunking or caving gives people a chance to see a rarely explored realm of stalagmites, stalactites, candles, cave curtains and cave pearls, formed over thousands of years. For tourists, Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills, is a good introduction. For more serious explorations, head to Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills, riddled with cave passages like Krem Tynghen, Krem Umthloo, Krem Chympe and Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India.

Adventure Jargon: Cave networks that have a river running through, which can be explored by swimming or wading through waist deep water are termed ‘live’.

Tips: Caving is not advisable for those who suffer from claustrophobia or those afraid of tight spaces, heights, darkness, bugs and bats.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Guwahati from where Shillong is a 2.5 hr drive.

Season: November to March

Who to do it with: Kipepeo Ph +91 9930002412 www.kipepeo.in
For more on Meghalaya’s caves, http://megtourism.gov.in/caves.html

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Bouldering in Hampi
The art of freehand climbing boulders without any ropes or harness is called bouldering. Pioneer John Sherman quips that “The only gear really needed to go bouldering is boulders.” Thanks to India’s landscape, the adventure sport is gaining ground. Places around Bengaluru like Ramanagram, Antargange near Kolar, Turhalli Forest and Badami have firmly placed Karnataka on the global bouldering map. But few sites can compete with Hampi for the profusion of boulders, monuments, monkeys and oddballs for a dramatic climb! At first, locals couldn’t fathom the sight of half-naked hippies armed with chalk powder climbing Hampi’s boulders. But Chris Sharma’s movie ‘Pilgrimage’, shot by renowned climbing moviemaker Josh Lowell, brought respectability to the sport. There’s even a Geoquest Bouldering Guidebook on Hampi called Golden Boulders based on the knowledge of two old time Hampi climbers Pil Lockey and Harald Vierroth (Hari). Carry your own chalkbag and climbing shoes, though guesthouses like Baba Café and Begum’s Place rent out crash pads.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Bengaluru

Adventure Jargon: The route a climber must take up a boulder is called a ‘problem’, which is unique to each location.

Did you know: Must-do sites at Hampi include Dali Boulder, Rishyamuk Rock, Ek-Number Boulderfield and Jungli Plateau.

Season: Nov-Dec is ideal. Avoid the rainy season and peak summer.

Who to do it with: GETHNAA (General Thimmaiah National Academy of Adventure)
Ph +91 80 22211246 Email info@gethnaa.com http://gethnaa.org

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram C55A9962

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram
Kiteboarding is a surface water sport that combines aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding and gymnastics into one extreme sport. The power of the wind is harnessed with a large controllable power kite which propels the surfer across the water on a kiteboard. Southern Tamil Nadu off India’s east coast provides the perfect conditions of steady wind speed, scanty rains and a large stretch of deep blue sea. Learn the ropes with Charmaine, India’s only female kitesurfer and Govinda, who trained under the legendary Ines Correa at a Redbull Kitesurfing event in 2013. Do a certification course with an IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) instructor and learn wave-style riding, freestyle or jumps at Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. Snorkelling, Kayaking and Stand up Paddleboard are also offered.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Chennai and Madurai, a 3 hr drive away. Or take an overnight bus or train to Rameshwaram, with Rs.400 auto fare to the location.

Adventure Jargon: Popping in and out of water intermittently due to light or gusty wind, poor flying skills or twisted lines is called Tea-bagging. And a serious accident while kiteboarding is known as a Kitemare!

Season: Summer South Winds (Apr–Sep), Winter North Winds (Oct–Mar)

Cost: Private or shared lessons of 6-10 hours between Rs.15,000-30,000 (1-2 days). Stay in rustic beach huts for Rs.1,250 per person per night, inclusive of meals and transfers to kite spots.

Who to do it with: Quest Expeditions Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409
Email booking@quest-asia.com http://www.thekitesurfingholiday.com

Skiing in Gulmarg - snowboarder

Skiing in Gulmarg
CNN ranks Gulmarg as the 7th best ski destination in Asia. And there’s good reason for it. At 13,780 ft, Kongdoori on the shoulder of Mount Affarwat is the highest skiing point in the Himalayas. The world’s highest ski lift whisks adventure seekers to the upper slopes from where they ski or snowboard down freshly powdered slopes. The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM), a snowball’s throw away from Khyber Resort, has certified instructors, quality skiing equipment and snow gear for those interested in learning. Stay in modest but clean, shared rooms of IISM or base yourself at the plush Khyber, perhaps Gulmarg’s only ‘ski-in, ski-out’ resort.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Srinagar, from where Gulmarg is a 45 min drive away.

Adventure Jargon: Pisté (derived from French pistare or trample) is a marked ski run or path down a mountain for skiing, snowboarding or other mountain sports.

Season: December to March

Cost: Around Rs.40,000/person (minimum group of 8), includes stay, food, training and equipment

Who to do it with: Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ph +91 11 4356 5425 www.mheadventures.com

Rickshaw Run-Road Rajah on Muzhappilangad Beach IMG_0073

Take on the Rickshaw Run
Rickshaw Run, a 3500km race across the subcontinent organized by the irreverent tour company The Adventurists is described as a ‘pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower’. Teams of three take part in custom-built autorickshaws often espousing a social cause with no fixed route. There’s a start line and a finish line; everything in between is up to you. Try Cochin to Jaisalmer in Jan 2016, Jaisalmer to Shillong in April 2016 or Shillong to Cochin in August 2016. Despite the flippant tone, the website warns ‘Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of taking part are high. These are not holidays. These are adventures. You really are putting both your health and life at risk. That’s the whole point.’

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Kochi, Jodhpur and Guwahati.

Season: All year round

Did you know: The Adventurists organize other outrageous activities include Mongol Rally, Ice Run and Adventure 9 – crossing the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean in a ngalawa (dugout canoe), powered by a bed sheet!

Cost: Entry fee of £1595 for the trio, which includes a rickshaw with all paperwork, 2-days of test drive, launch and finish line parties, a blog and free travel insurance worth £210.

Who to do it with: The Adventurists www.theadventurists.com

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Sportfishing in the Andamans
Though the Andamans is synonymous with deep sea diving and snorkelling, there’s more marine adventure to be found. For a taste of saltwater sportfishing, hit the high seas in the Andamans for Giant Trevally, Barracuda, Barramundi, Yellow Fin Tuna, King Mackerel, Wahoo and Sail Fish. Fishing is as per catch and release and operators run day trips for first timers or 7-day all-inclusive adventures that include acco and transfers covering Ritchie’s Archipelago and the South Andaman Islands. Day trips to Invisible Banks and Barren Island are also organized.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Port Blair. Havelock Island and most of the reefs and fishing haunts are in Ritchie’s Archipelago, a boat ride away.

Season: November to April is the peak season, until the onset of monsoon.

Cost: On request

Who to do it with: Gamefishing India Ph +91-3192-241610, 9900568091, 9434280117
Email gamefishingindia@gmail.com www.gamefishingindia.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as part of the Adventure cover story in the October 2015 issue of JetWings magazine.

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