Flirting with adrenaline and clouds in Himalayan playground

July 25th, 2008 - 10:56 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
Viraat Khai (Uttarkhand), July 25 (IANS) Spiderman does it, Superman betters it and man bests it if he has a penchant for high-adrenaline games. Imagine slithering down a rope from a mountain bridge or free falling into a turbulent river 100 feet below that masks a deadly web of rocky outcrops. A gruelling eight-hour ride from the national capital takes one 395 km across the Garhwal region in the Himalayas to the Room On the Roof, a hill sports activity camp, nestled in the lush green mountain slopes.

The camp run by the Gurgaon-based adventure tourism firm, Great Indian Outdoors Pvt Limited, is located at 6,232 feet (1,900 metres) above sea level.

The campsite straddles two narrow ledges overlooking three lofty mountains in the upper catchment area of the Yamuna river. Laid out in two levels, Room on the Roof comprises 20 Swiss-style luxury tents, a kitchen, a dining-cum-community hall and a small activity enclosure that fans out into a network of mountain trails and view points.

It is one of the five camps that GIO operates in Uttarakhand.

Room on the Roof like its name is a retreat in the clouds. However, R. Balakrishna and Subham Basu, the two pillars of the Great Indian Outdoor team, prefer to describe it as the “land of the gods” for its sheer beauty.

It is kissed by the swirling clouds and warmed intermittently by the sun during monsoon. Visibility logs a round-the-clock zero. Surrounded by dense coniferous forests and carpeted with wildflowers, the area is home to the Jaunsari tribe, mostly herders dependent on the forest produce.

The drill at Room On the Roof is activity-based, designed to initiate the beginner into the high-adrenaline thrills of mountain sports.

The rookie’s grind at the camp kicks off with the most of basic mountain sports, rappelling. “It is simple,” explains instructor Ravi Rai with a grin.

“The sport involves descending a steep rock face backward without looking down on a rope. It is one of the first things a mountaineer has to learn. Rappelling is essentially a technique, not just physical labour,” Rai told the visiting IANS correspondent.

If rappelling does not take the wind out of the adventurer’s sails, the GIO team guides the campers to the next level. Stage Two is hard work that saps energy. GIO instructors call it “Orienteering”, a high-altitude trek modelled like a treasure hunt to fan the tourist’s level of excitement to a frenzy, which ends with the euphoria of finding the pot of proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow.

The hikers are divided into two teams and given clues to find a hidden trophy, a black box full of chocolates. The trail is tough, spanning roughly a 1,000-feet climb uphill through leech-infested forests, slippery boulders mouldy with moss and wild mushrooms - across meadows of buttercups, violets and tiny pink blossoms that defy name.

The sport, according to the Great Indian Outdoor team, breeds team spirit, better coordination and levels egos.

Stage three comprises the rough and tumble of mountain hiking - a rowdy sport that requires dexterity with the bike, perfect physical balance and a firm grip on the brakes to control speed. Even a seasoned biker can trip on the trail.

“It is all about synergy between reflexes and the body movement, especially while biking downhill,” said 27-year-old amateur rock musician Vivek Bhattacharya from Delhi, who skidded downhill and chipped his front tooth, having missed his control on speed.

But once mastered, biking spells freedom.

For those hooked to the Old Man River - in this case the Yamuna - GIO has a gamut of water activities that include slithering, freefalling, crossing river valleys on ropes and white water rafting. Day picnics by the river liven up the itinerary.

“Slithering is like rappelling. It is only that there is no rock face to support the feet,” Basu instructs his students before they set out to tackle mountain bridges - Hollywood style. Rafting, which is a hit with children and family, is high on GIO agenda throughout the year, barring monsoon when the eddies are deceptive.

A two-day-three-night adventure tour for one costs Rs.5,000 on the Room On The Roof.

“The camp will close 10 days from now and open in the first week of September after the rain subsides,” says Basu, who is also a writer of adventure and inspiration books.

Adventure tourism, says Balakrishna, has been witnessing a phenomenal boom since the last decade. According to industry experts, it is one of the few segments unaffected by the fuel price hike and the squeeze by airlines.

“Outdoor activities are very popular with the family segment that wants to try out something new in their leisure holidays. Managements of multinational companies also use adventure sports to foster better team coordination and inculcate leadership qualities,” Balakrishna told IANS.

Basu attributes its growing popularity to the spurt in adventure programmes on television and a spate of books in the market.

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