Backpackers have begun to express a need for unique experiences as opposed to the typical touristy itinerary.

When Gods Own country becomes a hub for daredevilry The rise of adventure sports in KeralaKhan and Baker Photography
Features Tourism Friday, July 14, 2017 - 16:53

 

The backwaters, the tea gardens and the lush green surroundings are a few quintessential sights in God’s Own Country - Kerala. Having been termed as one of the ten best holidaying destinations worldwide, tourists from across the country and the globe make it a point to explore the culture and scenic beauty of the state. For years, visitors have enjoyed boat rides on the backwaters of Alleppey and Kumarakom, situated in Kerala’s Kottayam district, as well as sight-seeing around Munnar’s tea plantations. Many people even choose to treat themselves to the traditional Ayurvedic Spa sessions.

However, there seems to be a shift in trend in the recent past. Backpackers have begun to express a need for unique experiences as opposed to the typical touristy itinerary. Today, Kerala is more than the land of backwaters and Ayurveda. Youngsters have indeed elevated the state’s status to the ‘ultimate adventure hub’ for a nature-loving traveller.

From trekking to paragliding; from scuba diving to river rafting, Kerala has it all.

Courtesy: Xtreme Adventures, Payannur, Kerala

A holiday where they can ‘do’ new things

Holidays have become an avenue for people to try their hand at activities only a few would dare to do.

“The scenario has changed drastically, even at Kovalam – one of Thiruvananthapuram's most prominent tourist destinations. This place has tremendous potential to become a favourite spot for watersports lovers. Visitors no longer believe in the typical sight-seeing approach. In fact, they yearn to do the activities that they love doing elsewhere – like Jet Skiing, deep-sea diving etc.,” says Jackson Peter, Managing Director of Bond Safari, a Thiruvananthapuram-based organisation that promotes scuba diving and ocean conservation.

What is most interesting is that adventure sports in Kerala cost less than in other states, or even in other parts of the world. Yet, these enterprises can maintain a high degree of consistency and professionalism.

Courtesy: Gitanjali Diwakar

While paragliding at Vagamon, situated in Kerala’s Idukki district, has caught the eye of many tourists, the most popular activities include trekking and mountain biking.

There are over 10 trekking clubs in Kerala. The charges for the tours towards various hilltops are rather reasonable and include at least two meals a day. Most of these groups include families with children as young as four-years-old.

Madhu Thankappan, a bank employee based in Ernakulam and one of the founders of Hiking Association of India (HAI) is one such person. His wife Chitra, who is also a bank employee, accompanies him on most of his expeditions along with their sons Abhinav and Aditya.

“It is through these trips that we teach our children various life skills. They learn to interact with people from various walks of life, and most of all, they learn to respect the environment,” Madhu explains.

Courtesy: Gitanjali Diwakar

The other side

With cinema being instrumental in popularising some of the lesser known destinations around the state, authorities such as the Kerala State Forest Department have restricted the number of people entering these areas.

Raju, a tour operator based in Ernakulam, says, “There was a time when one could trek across the state borders through certain passages in the hills. But now, it isn’t possible to do so. This is primarily because the explorers are ignorant about the harm caused due to careless disposal of plastic and garbage.”

The issue also persists in the oceans. Jackson Peter and his team of divers take the initiative to clean the seabed in as effective a manner as possible. “When we show our guests the underwater world, we want them to enjoy the experience and not be witness to the plastic wastes being discarded into the ocean,” says Suraj Khan, Jackson Peter’s partner and a professional photographer.

Excessive construction in some of these areas also hampers the growth of such avenues. Shyju Sebastian, the founder of Xtreme Adventures based in Northern Kerala, says that the change in environment and the excessive construction in the surrounding areas has hampered the possibilities of converting the area into a trekking and rafting zone to a certain extent.

Courtesy: Khan and Baker Photography

Initiatives and support from the government

Many initiatives have been introduced by the state government to promote adventure tourism. These include mountain biking contests, paragliding festivals, kayaking festivals etc.

Members of the forest department have also played an important role in promoting eco-friendly tourism. These include camping as well as cottage-accommodation facilities for tourists who wish to be close to nature.

Experts say that a certain level of consistency, with regards to the festivals hosted and supported by the government, the adventure scenario can help Kerala attain greater heights in the tourism space.

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