Rules taken for a ride

Adventure sports tourism in Himachal can be affected by apathy towards safety norms and lack of a regulatory authority
Pratibha Chauhan in Shimla

In rough waters: Every year, several tourists lose their lives during river rafting, especially in the waters of the Beas in the Kullu-Manali area PTI

The land that’s custom built for all kinds of adventure sports,” is how Himachal Tourism beckons visitors from across the globe. The invitation is for experiencing the joy of river rafting in the gurgling waters of the Beas. Or for floating like a bird after taking off from Bir-Billing in Kangra.

Adventure sports, especially paragliding and river rafting, have emerged as crowd pullers in the hill state. However, questions are being raised about the inadequate infrastructure, technical expertise and the regulatory authority to ensure that safety norms are being adhered to.

The most popular adventure sports in Himachal include river rafting, still-water sports, mountain cycling, paragliding, angling, heli-skiing, mountaineering and rock climbing. The two big annual auto-sports events — MTB Hero Mountain Biking and Raid de Himalaya — have attracted the biggest names from across the world and have become an integral part of adventure tourism in the state.

The grim side

The last few days have seen several mishaps that have resulted in the death of pilots in Manali-Solang (Kullu), and Bir-Billing (Kangra) during paragliding. The state government is now keen to regulate adventure sports. Several tourists have lost their lives during river rafting, especially in the waters of the Beas in Kullu-Manali area. Also, areas like Pong Dam in Kangra, Ravi in Chamba, Chandra in Lahaul and Sutlej in Tattapani and Sunni attract water sports lovers at a large scale. However, the safety standards have always been doubtful. Himachal Pradesh river rafting rules were notified in 2005, which specified the procedure for registration, safety measures and areas. But are these adhered to? Are violations being stringently dealt with? The answer is no.

A hit and miss opportunity

Operators do not obtain permission before beginning the operations. They operate in water stretches that fall outside the permissible area of a river. At the same time, rules are seldom specified for all water-sports and aero-sport activities being conducted at several places now.

“We are in the process of framing the aero-sports and water-sports rules on the same lines as designed by the Government of India,” reveals Ram Subhag Singh, additional chief secretary, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Once these are in place, a mechanism will be devised to ensure their strict implementation and adherence to avert mishaps due to negligence or violation of the safety guidelines, he adds.

“There is no denying that we are attracting a large number of tourists. A sizeable chunk also comes down from abroad. In this scenario, accidents and absence of regulatory mechanism could give the state a bad name,” rues a pilot from Manali, who does not wish to be identified. He admits that though there is a high-risk element in adventure sports, application of safety guidelines can minimise chances of disasters.

There is a clear shift from the routine sight-seeing activities in major towns. Visits to amusement parks and zoos do not attract tourists anymore. They look forward to challenging opportunities and lifetime experiences. Since Himachal has all elements of nature to offer — water, mountains and snow — the state can be promoted as an adventure sports destination, only if security and safety norms are defined clearly, and followed strictly.

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