Adventure sports in Uttarakhand Tourism

On March 26 when social entrepreneur Mr. Pankaj Wadhwa took to the dias in the morning for an audio/video presentation before 150 people he was in his flip-flop, shorts and t-shirt and he did not feel a bit out of place.

"We are all here to talk business... about adventure tourism and sustainability... but I am dressed in casuals and it still feels wonderful, " said Wadhwa, founder of Himjoli, standing inside a makeshift tent on the banks of the Ganges.

Wadhwa, who runs a network of beekeepers, weavers, farmers and promotes rural tourism in Uttrakhand, was talking to tour operators from across India, at the 11th convention of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI).

The event was held in Rishikesh - the extreme sports hub in North India with whitewater rafting, kayaking, trekking and bungee jumping being the main attractions to domestic and inbound tourists.

The 2-day conference was attended by delegates from across India from the states of Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajashtan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

Connect, create, catalyze and conserve

The theme of this year's convention was aim to improve the operating standards of the industry. The organisers also wanted discuss to devise ways to revive tourism in the Uttarakhand region after the devastating landslide in June 2013.

And what better way to give delegates a feel of the adventure available in the Himalayas than provide a hands-on experience on some extreme sports.

There were zipline sessions on offer before going in for discussion on regularization of whitewater rafting charges and the need for industry approved safety standards. These were followed by guide-assisted rafting sessions down the Ganges to tackle class 2 grade rapids.

The main aim of the convention is to get the message out to the world that Uttarakhand is an absolutely safe destination for adventure sports and tourism, said Mr. Vishwas Makhija, Honorary Secretary, ATOAI, in the opening address.

Only 15 per cent of the state was affected by the natural disaster but it's impact was detrimental to the functioning of the industry. Now, it is on an upswing. According to industry estimates, there are about two million adventure tourists in India and inbound tourism is increasing by 5-7 per cent every year, he said.

"The organizers want all key stake-holders of the 90 million USD industry including tour operators, travel firm, media and environmental conservation groups to be amidst nature and discuss issues, " Mr Makhija added.

Mr. Akshay Kumar, president ATOAI, raised several critical issues before the representatives of the Uttarakhand tourism department and the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

Among the key matters brought before the Uttarakhand government was to waive off climbing fee for the peaks in it's jurisdiction to increase footfall on the mountains. The ATOAI's argument was that the state of Uttarakhand was losing heavily on revenue earned from mountain tourism and trekkers were going to other countries instead.

The state government had five years ago began charging climbing fees in addition to the fee that expeditions and climbers had to pay to India's apex mountaineering body the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) for permissions.

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