What's muzzling adventure sports in India?
Too much paper work, unfriendly business rules and stray but sensational accidents are becoming a hindrance to the growth of adventure sports like bungee jumping and river rafting in India, say experts in the field.
Richard McCallum, director of adventure sports company Flying Fox, says the firm wants to popularise such sports with international safety measures, but red tape is an impediment.
"The initial glitch we found while opening Flying Fox in India was too much paper work. We have a company in the UK and it took 48 hours to incorporate it. In India it took us eight months to start," Mccallum told IANS.
"We are the first on the scene, but I am sure others will follow. The key is to provide an operationally safe adventure. It has taken us four years to build up that expertise," he added.
In 2009, Flying Fox started its operations from Neemrana Fort Palace, outside Gurgaon in Haryana, and then it set up another one in Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan and Kikar Lodge in Punjab. These include activities like gliding down a series of steel zip wires securely attached by a harness and pulley.
Lack of support was also faced by Rahul Soni when he was setting up Xtremeways, an adventure company that offers quad bike safari and training, jeep safari, paint ball training and play, rappelling, simulated river crossing and offroad events.
"Xtremeways was founded in Canada and government officials worked with us to help find solutions. Canadian embassy people even helped me market Xtremeways to their guests and visitors. I'm proud of what we are doing there. Unfortunately, I'm yet to see a government employee or a public servant in India coming to help," said Soni.
"Indian business rules are not designed to help an adventure startup company like ours, especially in Punjab. Every day is a struggle for us - we cannot insure our quads because India does not have a law to register off-road vehicles and seek insurance. So our vehicles can be stolen and it will be a complete loss for us.
"Travelling with quads poses problems. Cops harass us because paintball markers look like guns to an untrained eye and thus it is a huge challenge to transport them to events. Also, there is low sales volume," Soni said, adding nature too is not favourable as the summer is long.
Other adventure sports that have become popular are snorkeling, scuba diving - particularly in the Andamans - as well as paragliding, a major sport in the Solang valley of Himachal Pradesh. Goa has become a hub of parasailing and banana boat rides.
An extreme adventure sport expedition has come about in the Leh valley of Jammu and Kashmir called "Chadar trek". It involves walking on the frozen Zanskar river. River rafting takes place on the Brahmaputra river in Assam. But both these activities are very expensive at Rs.60,000 for the trek, and Rs.120,000 for the river rafting, deterring many Indian enthusiasts.
Anchit Singh, business development manager of thrillophilia.com, says there are not too many risk-taking folks.
"Extreme adventure sports options are available in the Himalayan region but only a handful of people come. Most of them are foreigners," he said.
"Also, we arrange this only for a small group of people because we have to take a number of permissions to maintain the eco-friendly balance.
"Extreme adventurous sports test your patience and people usually give up the idea of battling out in those extreme conditions," he added.
If that is not enough, parents' apprehensions and fears also stop youngsters.
"I think youngsters are interested. The problem is they do not earn and depend on their guardians for sponsorship. And parents do not encourage children as they consider it too dangerous," Soni said.
A sport like bungee jumping also received a blow after a 25-year-old marine engineer died last year while trying the sport in Bangalore as his harness snapped.
But Mccallum sees a ray of hope. "We've had approximately 20,000 visitors to date at our sites, mostly young Indian professionals. The adventure market is growing, but it has a long way to go."