It was very nearly going to be the theme of my column last week: Safety standards of adventure sports operators in India.
And then, it happened. A Mumbai tourist died last week in a tandem paragliding crash in Solang, in Himachal Pradesh. The tourist had decided to take a joyride and boarded a paraglider for a tandem flight with a pilot. While a case has been filed against the pilot, even inviting a debate in the Himachal assembly, it’s left to be seen if any stringent action has been taken against the errant parties in this case.
This isn’t a case in isolation. Do a random search on Google for ‘India’, ‘adventure, ‘sports’ and ‘accident’ and you will be shocked at the list that shows up. Every adventure sport — from rappelling to paragliding, indoor bungee jumping to parasailing — has been in the news for the wrong reasons.
One recalls a scene while on one of Goa’s crowded beaches a few years back. There were queues lining up to attempt parasailing. It made for a scary adventure. In a bad way, that is. The trainer looked like a college undergraduate, the quality and standards of the gear — the life jacket et al — wasn’t reassuring by any stretch of imagination. We weren’t going anywhere near it. Worse, there was no lifeguard or ambulance in sight, lest something went horribly wrong. In the few minutes that ensued, we watched enthusiasts throw caution to the wind as they paid a bomb for a paltry two-minute flight in the skies, and back to earth. Our heart was in our mouth as we watched this ‘adventure sport’.
This, sadly, is the case with how many of India’s adventure sports operators function. We’ve been lucky to have had a pleasant adventure during our outdoor activities — be it a river rafting expedition in the Ganges or many rappelling adventures in the Western Ghats. Both offered immense sense of security and reassurance, thanks to qualified instructors, state-of-the-art equipment and mock drills beforehand. But what about the rest? It’s a telling concern that needs to be addressed as more and more Indians (including families with young children) opt for adventure sports vacations. If India wishes to (and it should) project itself as an adventure sports destination thanks to its envious, diverse topography, this cannot be pushed under the carpet. Start with the basics. Hire lifeguards along shorelines, qualified instructors should get their licenses after strict theoretical and practical exams, and constant, surprise checks on gear and other equipment must be compulsory. All Indian states that promote adventure sport should make this part of their tourism policy. Tourists who’ve signed up for such trips must take extra care to check on the credentials of such groups. We need to begin at some point. Loss of life is too high a price to pay for adventure.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day