Surfing, diving, paragliding, zip lining to white water rafting, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY profile the top adventure hotspots in the country
Until recently, if you said you were going to Goa for white water rafting and Rameshwaram for kite surfing people would think you were joking. Not any more. India’s fast changing adventure scene holds many surprises with diverse activities that go beyond terra firma…
Paragliding in Kamshet & Bir-Billing
For the longest time, people were content with the thrill of parasailing or being tugged into the air by a parachute harnessed to a jeep or a boat. But ever since mountaineers figured it’s easier to fly off a mountain than descend on foot, things have never been the same again! Kamshet in Maharashtra is the best place to learn the ropes. Its mild altitude, dynamic wind, moderate weather, profusion of flying institutes and proximity to Mumbai and Pune, make it ideal for beginners. All year round access means you clock more air miles here. Basic and advanced courses like EP (Elementary Pilot) and CP (Club Pilot) are offered, but for more serious stuff like XC (Cross Country) flying, head to Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh. The 2400 m high meadow at Billing, 14 km north of Bir, is the launch site with the landing site and tourist accommodations in Chowgan. Manoj Roy, founder and president of Paragliding Association of India, explains that the sport is catching on at Panchgani, Sikkim, Vagamon and Varkala (Kerala), Yelagiri (Tamil Nadu) and Goa. Beaches with hillocks like Anjuna and Baga have soft laminar winds blowing continuously from the sea that let you fly the whole day. An annual paragliding tournament is conducted in Bir in Oct with the PG Fest to be held in the North East in Dec-Jan.
Getting there: Kamshet is 110 km from Mumbai and 45 km from Pune. Bir is 65 km from Dharamsala.
When to go: October to May (avoid rainy season and peak snowfall period in the Himalayas between Dec-Feb)
Cost: Around Rs.18,000 for 3-4 day course, includes stay, food, travel to the hill and equipment
Indus Paragliding, Karla
Ph +91 7798111000, 9869083838
Run by Team India pilot Sanjay Pendurkar, the only Indian to take part in Himalayan Odyssey 2010.
Nirvana Adventures, Kamshet
Ph +91 93237 08809
Temple Pilots, Kamshet
Ph +91 9970053359, 9920120243
Hi Fly, Bir
Ph +91 9805208052
Run by Debu Choudhury from Manali, the only Indian pilot to be in the Top 50 of
Paragliding World Cup Association and India No.1 several times
Paragliding Guru, Bir
Run by Gurpreet Dhindsa, BHPA certified paragliding instructor
For more info, visit pgaoi.org, appifly.org and paraglidingforum.in
Snorkelling & Scuba diving in the Andamans & Pondicherry
Nearly 1000 km from the Indian mainland, ringed by pristine forests, beaches and coral reefs, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands have the best diving and snorkelling prospects in the country. North Bay, a 10 min boat ride from the capital Port Blair, is a good curtain raiser. The 280 sq km Wandoor Marine National Park, a 40 min drive away, is a cluster of 15 islands like Jolly Buoy and Red Skin with decent diving opportunities. However, the best dive sites are found in Ritchie’s Archipelago accessible from Havelock Island, an hour’s boat ride from Port Blair. After introductory sessions at Hathi Tapu or Elephant Beach divers head to remote dive locations like Barracuda City, Dugong Dungeon, Turtle Bay and Barren Island, India’s only active volcano. Numerous dive shops offer a range of PADI courses – from basic one day jaunts to more specialized programs. For some action closer home, Temple Adventures at Pondicherry is a good bet. Named after an artificial reef built 5km offshore resembling the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple, they offer basic training at their facility followed by open-sea dives – 50m at Temple Reef (20 min by boat) or the Wall, an inter continental drop (15km offshore, 45 min by boat).
Getting there: Pondicherry is 160 km south of Chennai. Port Blair, the capital of Andamans is 1000 km off India’s east coast. Regular flights operate from Chennai and Kolkata (2 hrs) besides passenger ships from Vizag, Chennai and Kolkata (56-66 hrs). Frequent ferries connect Port Blair to Havelock (4 hrs) though the Makruzz cruiser covers the 45 nautical miles in 90 min.
When to go: The best months for diving are September-November and February-April, with clear waters and good visibility.
Cost: Rs.6,800/person for a 1-day introductory Discover Scuba Diving program
Andaman Bubbles, Havelock
Ph 03192 282140, 9531892216
Temple Adventures, Pondicherry
Ph +91 9940219449, 9003122231 www.templeadventures.com
Surfing in South India
Despite a 7,000 km coastline, India has just woken up to the prospects of surfing. Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram (aka Ashram Surf Retreat) at Mulki, run by Krishna devotees, offers surfing lessons besides yoga, mantra meditation and healthy veg fare served as prasad. With no smoking/alcohol allowed, it’s the perfect place to detox and learn to ride the waves! Ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. Ganpatipule near Ratnagiri is home to Maharashtra’s only surf school run by Ocean Adventures while Kallialay Surf Club at Mamallapuram south of Chennai provides surfing lessons with wakeboards and equipment on hire. For hardcore kite surfing head further south to the temple town of Rameshwaram. The steady wind speed, sparse rains and deep blue sea make it ideal for a certification course with wave-style riding, freestyle or jumps at Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove.
Getting there: Mulki is 30 km north of Mangalore, Ganpatipule is 300 km south of Mumbai, Mamallapuram is 56 km south of Chennai and Rameshwaram is well connected by rail and road – 3 hr drive from Chennai and Madurai airport.
When to go: Good all year round, with Summer South Winds blowing between Apr–Sep and Winter North Winds between Oct–Mar
Kallialay Surf Club, Mamallapuram
Ph +91 9442992874, 9787306376
Ocean Adventures, Ganpatipule
Ph +91-99755 53617
Cost: Rs.2,500 (4 hrs) or Rs.5,000 (3 days)
Quest Expeditions, Rameshwaram
Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409
Cost: Rs.15,000-30,000 for private or shared lessons of 6-10 hours over 1-2 days. Stay in beach huts for Rs.1,250/person, including meals and transfers to kite spots.
White water rafting across India
Splashes of cold water, an untamed river and rapids with colourful names, what can be better than the thrills of white water rafting? Criss-crossed by rivers tumbling down mountainous tracts from the Western Ghats to the Himalayas, India is a rafter’s paradise, with each river posing different challenges to the adventure seeker. In Karnataka, grapple with Adi’s Beard or Stanley’s Squeeze on the Kali river at Dandeli or tackle Wicked Witch and Milky Churn on the tumultuous Barapole river in Coorg. At Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white water rafting site, a 14 km section on the Kundalika River boasts a dozen Class II-III rapids like Good Morning Buddha, Johnny Walker, Rajdhani Express and Boom Shankar. India’s latest rafting hub Goa offers a 10 km stretch on the Mhadei from July to September featuring Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Y-Fronts. Tilari River Gorge 10 km from Dodamarg on the Goa-Maharashtra border is open between October and May. South India rafting pioneer John Pollard describes Tilari as ‘the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas’. However, nothing beats the rush of rafting in snow-fed Himalayan rivers. In Ladakh, raft down the Indus near Leh or take on the challenging 14-day Zanskar river expedition (July till September). In Spiti tackle a 25 km stretch from Rangrik (4km from Kaza) to Sichling. In Arunachal, raft on the Subansari or Siang from Tuting to Pasighat. Uttarakhand’s mighty rivers offer Class IV’s with expeditions on the Tons, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. Rishikesh, India’s most popular rafting run has a 36 km rollercoaster ride from Kaudiyala via Marine Drive, Brahmpuri and Shivpuri to Lakshman Jhula as you go giddy with Three Blind Mice and Sweet Sixteen.
When to go: October-May is the usual rafting season in most places though dam-fed rivers are accessible all year round.
Ph 011-26460244/46 Email email@example.com
Ph 011-29212641, 29212760, 41636101 http://www.aquaterra.in
Coorg White Water Rafting
Ph 08276-2346289 http://www.coorgwhitewaterrafting.com
Wild River Adventure, Kolad
Ph +91-9819297760 www.koladrafting.com
Mercury Himalayan Explorations, Kolad
Ph +91-9272882874 http://www.kundalikarafting.in
Ziplining in North India
Ziplining in India promises aerial adventures over battle-scarred ramparts of medieval forts as you feel the heady rush of history and adrenaline. Flying Fox, India’s zipline pioneers, started South Asia’s first zipline at Neemrana in 2007. Story goes when Flying Fox founder Jono Walter met Neemrana Hotel’s Aman Nath, he remarked “I want to fly you over your fort like a vulture.” Aman retorted, “No, no. I don’t want to fly like a vulture, I want to fly like a god!” And so will you, as you zipline five sections over the 15th century fort and the Aravali countryside. From the 330m Qila Slammer launched from an old lookout to the 400m Where Eagles Dare or the Bond-themed Pussy Galore and Goodbye Mr Bond, ending at Big B, named as a tribute to Amitabh Bachhan who zipped from that very spot into the Fort-Palace in ‘Major Saheb’. At Jodhpur, launch from ridges and battlements of the historic Mehrangarh Fort accessed through secret tunnels as you tackle Chokelao Challenge, Ranisar Rollercoaster and Magnificent Marwar, a 300m flight over two lakes landing on the tip of a fortified tower. In Punjab, Flying Fox Kikar at an old hunting lodge is the longest zip-line tour in South Asia and the first forest-based zip-line adventure in India. Upstream of Rishikesh at Shivpuri, zipline from the Snow Leopard Adventure camp over forests in the Himalayan foothills and raging rapids 230 ft below as you span 400 m stretches of High Times and White Water Flyer.
Getting there: Neemrana and Kikar are 2 hr drives from Delhi and Chandigarh respectively, while Shivpuri is a 15 min drive upstream of Rishikesh. Jodhpur Airport is well connected by flights from Delhi and Jaipur.
When to go: All year round
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the October-November 2015 issue of India Now magazine.