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November 2009
A Winter of Adventure
Smiti Munwani
No sport excites adventure seekers more than those that get their pulses racing, hearts pounding and adrenaline shooting. A lunge from a cliff with feet tied to snowboards and hands flailing… a gravity defying ski jump… Nothing is too dangerous for them.

There's that sudden surge to defy death. And then the plunge. The more the risks, the more the thrills.Welcome to the world of adventure sports! They are compelling, intriguing, exciting, exhausting and fulfilling. And those who indulge in them claim they are as addictive as drugs that hook you for life.

So, if you are an adventure sport enthusiast where do you go to indulge in your favourite pastime? Switzerland, France, Austria, America, Canada? Yes, they are all known for their ski slopes and their adrenaline-pumping sports. They all have excellent facilities for the enthusiast who has money to burn.

But why go so far, especially as the world is scraping through the recession? India offers a host of winter sporting destinations, which not just compare to the best in the world, but are also the most inexpensive globally. Skiing, heli-skiing, ice skating, ice climbing, mountaineering and snow boarding are all happening in India. For the thrill seeker nothing can beat the chill of the winter air while going up a slope in a cable car, by helicopter, or going down a slope at high speed. Or even walking up; because in the end, you are going to experience that rush while coming down.

Kashmir: Heli-Skiing and Snow Boarding
Khilanmarg offers excellent slopes to the winter sports aficionados. Pahalgam and Srinagar are also favourite destinations for the adventure-minded tourist. Gulmarg, which is known as Kashmir's premier upland hill resort at the altitude of 2,730 mts, offers skiing and heli-skiing, ice-skating, ice-hockey and cross country skiing.

Gulmarg is now best known for snow boarding. A new sport, it is akin to skateboarding except that it is done on snow. The rider stands on the board with the left or right foot forward. The feet are attached to the board via high back or plate bindings which are strapped tightly. Snowboarding means making your way from the top of a steep mountain to the bottom. In the process, spectacular jumps and free falls are often undertaken. It is not unusual to have 15 20 metre drops and falls.

Manali: Trekking and White Water Rafting
Manali with the nearby Solang valley and Rohtang Pass are very popular adventure sports destinations in Himachal Pradesh. The three are known for their very cold temperatures and snow-covered slopes in winter. Skiing and heli-skiing on these slopes are very popular here. But it is the white water rafting that brings in the thrill seekers.

Here, river rafting can have an altogether different connotation: the exhilarating excitement of chasing rapids and the thrill of an unridden wave lurking in the gushing waters. As you ride the wave, it first hoists you up and then down the steep descent, raft and all, till you come hurtling down in a haze of a white curtain of water. Apart from winter sports in and around Manali, there is the winter mountain trekking and mountain peak climbing for the more daring. Here every step is a challenge, a gamble. And when you go ahead, the sense of accomplishment is matchless.

Shimla: Skiing and Tobogganing
The summer capital of the British Raj era hosts an annual winter sports festival (in February). The two resorts of Fagu and Kufri close to Shimla are well known for their ski slopes. Their snow-covered slopes are also known for tobogganing — riding downhill on a sled with handrails. Tobogganing involves making your own way from the top of a mountain to the bottom, using only a sled attached to your feet. Riders often have to tackle huge drops and treacherous rocks on their way to the bottom - and without the help of sticks or poles traditionally used by skiers to balance their body weight.

Auli: Slalom Racing
Canoe slalom is an unusual winter sport. But once you are in Auli (in Uttarakhand), it will take your breath away. Slalom is a sport that involves canoeing through the rapids – usually against them. It involves tossing and turning of the canoe that is synonymous with the tossing and turning of the stomach for those who participate in this sport.

Ladakh: Extreme Mountain Biking
Of late, Ladakh in the North is getting extremely popular for extreme mountain biking. Bikers come from far away places for the thrills of this sport: driving over a deliberately chosen tough track strewn with boulders, mud slides, streams and sudden drops. Balance is very critical and most competitors will only have front shocks to reduce weight. Very high fitness levels are required in mountain biking, but more than fitness, it is the reflexes which have to be razor sharp. For who knows what lurks around the mountain bend - a rock which can propel you skyward or a steep drop which could mean something more serious. The challenge is to survive these pitfalls.

Adventure sports in India attract true addicts – those who would not be happy unless they push the limits; those who do what other people only dream of. Instinctive and compulsive, they let nothing come between them and their resolve to seek adventure. The late Sir Edmund Hillary – of the Mt. Everest - tells it like it is, "The Indian mountains are a marvellous experience - dozens of untouched peaks all around waiting to be reached, scores of glaciers to explore. It is the sheer sense of isolation and remoteness that brings adventure seekers like me back here again and again."

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