India offers a range of thrills: try a bungee jump from a cliff in Uttarakhand, skydive in Haryana, or scuba dive in the cerulean waters of the Andamans. Learn about the country’s many wild and electrifying offerings from 20 daredevils who are charting the course of adventure tourism in India. By Sushmita Srivastav & Rashima Nagpal
RUDRA BHANU SOLANKI
CEO & Founder, SkyHigh India
Rudra Bhanu Solanki dreamed of jumping from a plane and flying like a bird since he was a kid. And this dream came true when he flew to Arizona in 2012 for his first skydive. Although elated by the experience, he was also bothered by the fact that he couldn’t do it more often—back in India. So, the 21-year-old took it upon himself to launch SkyHigh India, the country’s only operational skydiving drop zone affiliated with the United States Parachuting Association (USPA) and recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is currently located at the Narnaul airstrip in Haryana, two hours away from Delhi, and has pulled off more than 1,000 civilian jumps, 790 hours of flying, and over 500 minutes of free fall in just four years of operation. Post the lockdown, the zone has now reopened with all the recommended safety measures in place. “The peak of the pandemic arrived during our off season. With multiple COVID-19 protocols in place, we resumed dives in September. Our equipment, licensing, and SOPs are certified by USPA and match global standards,” says Solanki, who has completed 250 jumps across 10 drop zones around the world so far.
Founder, Abor Country Travels & Expeditions
For Oken Tayeng, life has always been about the thrill of visiting new places and meeting new people. His love for the culture of Arunachal Pradesh, along with the experience of assisting filmmaker Sanjay Kak on the sets of the documentary In The Forest Hangs A Bridge set in the state, gave birth to Abor Country Travels & Expeditions in 2002. “We are set in one of the untouched regions in this side of the world. I always had an urge to showcase the beauty of the state to the world and initiate conservation talks
along the way, and our home-grown adventure travel outfit does exactly that,” says Tayeng. Abor Country not only conducts responsible trekking, off-roading, camping, and personalised trip operations across the Seven Sisters, but also has eco-lodges and campsites, and organises the annual Siang Rush river-rafting festival. For expats travelling to India for the first time, Tayeng recommends a thrilling rafting session in Siang paired with the Nagagigi Trek along the border of.
Director-Business Development, Jumpin Heights
When her father and ex-army officer, Rahul Nigam, founded India’s highest bungee jump platform, Jumpin Heights, on her 19th birthday in 2010, Niharika Nigam made the inaugural jump at the site in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. By the time she bagged a master’s degree in marketing, the brand had already turned three and cemented its name in the Indian market. “I understood the privilege of having such an exciting job waiting for me. I started off by handling our brand image, communications, and collaborations. We’ve recently opened our second bungee jumping zone in Goa.” Nigam feels that adventures make one feel alive and are more immersive than other experiences, but she also asserts the importance of safety protocols. “We follow strict safety etiquette of international standards, and our Jump Masters are trained by experts from New Zealand. We’ve operated over 80,000 jumps in Rishikesh so far,” she reveals.
Kipepeo, a socially responsible tourism venture in Northeast India, is committed to a two-fold objective— put the region on the world adventure map and provide local communities an alternative source of income. Today, it caters to more than 100 client groups and works with 20 communities. But it wasn’t all roses for Piran Elavia, the founder of the venture. “After taking a sabbatical from my corporate job to volunteer for community projects in Sikkim and Assam, I founded Kipepeo in 2010. But the first three years were a series of ups and downs. Offering adventures is a risky business. But my passion and support from the family kept me going. Finally, the business took off in 2014,” recalls Elavia. Kipepeo takes pride in offering unique and offbeat adventures like multi-day caving tours in Meghalaya, trekking trips to the lesser-known Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in Western Sikkim, and journeys along the long-forgotten Silk Route in East Sikkim.
TEJBIR SINGH ANAND
Founder & Managing Director, Holiday Moods Adventures; Vice President, ATOAI
The journey of Holiday Moods Adventures began in 1997 when Tejbir Singh Anand and his wife Arshdeep Anand realised that they wanted to share their passion for adventure and travelling with the world. With only sustainable and personalised experiences on offer for over two decades, the company started as a Himalayan trekking tour operator and gradually opened two activity centres and camping sites (one in the Aravalli Hills and another near Dharamsala in Uttarakhand). Being the Vice President of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), Anand has seen a sea of positive change in adventure tourism—the market is bigger and the information is more accessible now, but there’s also a greater need for implementation of proper guidelines. “There are 15,000-20,000 adventure tour operators in the unorganised sector across the country. As the nodal association in this field, ATOAI has been making efforts to bring them all under a single organised umbrella so that they follow guidelines and only the best of practices.” For an Indian holiday, Anand suggests opting for licensed operators and asking for a copy of their registration in advance.
Born in a family of athletes, 34-year-old Vishwaraj Jadeja began dreaming of representing India in the Olympics at the age of five. Cut to the present, and Jadeja is a professional ice-skater who has competed in 220 races for India and bagged 65 national records. He has been training in Netherlands for 12 years, but failing to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics stirred up a need for change. “A friend suggested I go to the Himalayas to find myself. I decided to go ice-skating on Lake Pangong in Ladakh.” The trip turned out to be a revelation. The long-track speed skater believes that India has a lot of untapped potential in the sport. He exemplified this by speed ice-skating for five kilometres on the frozen Lake Tso Moriri—at an altitude of 4,520 metres. “The backdrop of the Himalayas can give the Alps a run for their money. Ladakh is also one of the few places in India where people understand ice skating, thanks to a tradition of ice hockey. The sports authorities are finally asking the right questions, and the search and rescue (SAR) aspect has also improved a lot. We have a clean canvas and growing opportunities for winter sports,” says Jadeja, who won four medals at the Winter World Masters Games Innsbruck 2020 and is now preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Founding Partner, Bohemian Adventures LLP
There was a distinct dearth of female tour operators in the mountains of India. So, Guneet Puri, and her founding partners Anusha Subramanian and Shashi Bahuguna, decided to fill the gap. “Despite being highly qualified and ardent climbers ourselves, we found great impediment in getting employed in the industry. The only course of action left to pursue our passion professionally was to start our own venture. So, we incorporated Bohemian Adventures LLP in 2017,” explains Puri. “We now take women interns on our expeditions to provide them on-ground guiding experience, so that they too may join the burgeoning outdoor workforce.” Their climbing expeditions are organised, led, and guided by women. The focus remains including guests of all ages and genders, and the client to guide ratio is always 3:1. From organising Himalayan treks for people with disabilities to taking senior citizens on mountaineering expeditions, these ladies have done it all. “Everyone must undertake at least one Himalayan trek in India in their lives. Other than that, go diving in the Andamans, surfing in Goa, rafting in the Himalayan white waters, backwater kayaking in Kerala— the options are endless,” shares Puri.
Founder & CEO, 360 Explorers
Living up to its name, 360 Explorers has been on a mission to incorporate all aspects of outdoor adventure since its inception in 2017. “We started off small, with a trek through the Sahyadri range three years ago,” says founder and CEO Anand Bansode. From paragliding to scuba diving, trekking, and expeditions to the Seven Summits, the custom tourism start-up now organises a huge variety of adventures in India and abroad. Furthermore, Bansode, along with his wife and co-founder, Akshaya Bansode, is in talks with international organisations to bring space tourism to India. Their space tourism wing, 360 SpaceA, currently organises private tours of the Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow Oblast. 360 Explorers is also an expert in arranging kids’ adventure expeditions across India. “In 2018, we took eight-year-old Sai Kawde for the Stok-Kangri expedition in Leh, Ladakh. The climber was also recognised by the World Book of Records-London for being the youngest Asian to climb Mount Elbrus in Europe—another expedition conceptualised and led by 360 Explorers.”
Co-Founder, White Magic Adventure Travel
“When I was young, I would always wonder what lay behind mountain peaks,” recalls Avilash Bisht, co-founder, White Magic Adventure Travel. After graduating from a Delhi college in 1997, Bisht went back to his hometown of Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand to begin his career as a mountain guide. He led many expeditions before launching White Magic Adventure Travel along with Pawan Bisht and Sanjeev Ganju in 2010. The mountain guiding venture today delivers a range of meticulously planned, carefully curated, and safely executed adventure trips to various parts of the Himalayas. It is also popular for organising treks to lesser explored peaks in the region, including Stok Kangri, Bandarpunch, Mount Kun, Dzo Jongo, and Bara Bhangal. An ardent climber and trained mountain rescuer himself, Bisht believes in following a strong safety protocol. You can expect UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme)-tested equipment, health devices like pulse oximeters, high-quality camping gear, and freshly prepared meals on the company’s expeditions.
Scuba Diver & Executive Director, ReefWatch Marine Conservation
What started as a holiday activity in the Maldives at the age of 15 metamorphosed into a lifelong passion for Bengaluru-based Nayantara Jain. Scuba diving opened up a world that she didn’t wish to leave. “I took to it much more easily than I thought I would,” says Jain. Soon, she discovered Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands closer home. As trips to these tropical havens became more frequent, she decided to move to her natural habitat and signed up as a diving instructor at Lacadives, a PADI fivestar dive centre run by one of her friends in the Andaman Islands. As the deteriorating condition of underwater life became evident to her, Jain flew to San Diego for a course in marine biodiversity and conservation, and returned as a marine biologist. Now, she is the Executive Director of ReefWatch Marine Conservation, an organisation dedicated to protecting India’s marine life. “Coral reef restoration and monitoring projects are underway in the Andamans, as are rescue operations for marine meta-fauna along the coast in Karnataka,” explains Jain. The organisation welcomes diving enthusiasts for a two-day course that allows them to help collect data for research while also enjoying the underwater realm.
CEO & Managing Director, Countryside Adventure Holidays
All it took Milind Bhide to establish Countryside Adventure Holidays was a fortuitous family trip to the hills followed by a mountaineering expedition to Mount Kanchenjunga. “I have travelled around the globe and ticked off many adventures in several countries, but I find peace in the Himalayas,” says Bhide, who started the company in 1993. Growing on Bhide’s endless love for the outdoors, the company established itself as one of the leading providers of adventure packages in India. From customised itineraries to ‘kidventures’, to small-group climbing expeditions, Countryside Adventure Holidays offers unique and bespoke luxury adventures in India—like a trek through the rainforest of Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh, a road trip through remote areas of Ladakh, a cycling trail across Kinnaur and Spiti Valley, and a thrilling safari through Kaziranga National Park in Assam. “My favourite memory is of trekking through Kalindi Khal, a high pass in the Garhwal Himalayas connecting the holy shrines of Gangotri and Badrinath. I definitley recommend it to guests visiting India,” shares Bhide.
Founder, Snow Leopard Adventures
The first Indian to ski to the North Pole and the South Pole within a year, Padma Shri awardee Ajeet Bajaj has always been an adventurer. He was barely a teenager when he began climbing mountain peaks in India. So, when he finished college in 1986, a career in adventure tourism was a nobrainer. With a strong sense of sustainability and a dedication to craft thrilling outdoor experiences for the world, Bajaj launched his own adventure travel company in 1990. “I was lucky enough to travel all over the world, climb mountains, raft across rivers, and ski. It gave me a fair idea of risk management and best global practices. Adventure tourism in India at that time was still in its nascent stage—people associated adventure with death-defying stunts,” explains Bajaj. Named after his first snow leopard sighting, Snow Leopard Adventures offers a range of activities, from trans-Himalayan safaris to kayaking tours in Kerala. Apart from educating adventure tourists about safety, Bajaj thinks the need of the hour is to develop cultural sensitivity and combat overtourism.
MANDIP SINGH SOIN
Founder & Managing Director, Ibex Expeditions
Back in the 1970s, Mandip Singh Soin, a young history graduate, decided to take a leap of faith by transforming his passion for the outdoors into a career. Ibex Expeditions was born in 1979. A camel expedition from the north of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan to the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat; rafting on the River Zanskar in Ladakh; trekking in the valleys of Kashmir; biking from Delhi to Kathmandu—the company began offering experiences that few had heard of. Today, it has become the go-to firm for discerning inbound travellers who seek adventures rooted in Indian culture. Being a conscientious businessman, Soin has incorporated the ethos of responsible travel into his organisation. He also founded the Ecotourism Society of India in 2008 (it was recently renamed Responsible Tourism Society of India). Having pursued adventures all his life—in all seven continents—he continues to seek the simple joy at the end of a trek. “I’m lucky I can share that experience with people and make a living out of it,” says Soin.
Co-Founder, Camping Co.
Camping Co. is a three-year-old venture by co-founders and partners Heena Manav and Harsh Sharma. A first-of-its-kind offering in India, it specialises in overlanding trips. “We came to launch Uber in Guwahati and fell in love with the countryside during our travels across Northeast India. But we also noticed a lack of infrastructure— minimal accommodation options and activities,” says Manav. So, they combined the two to give travellers the option of having a makeshift house on the move. In short, you can pack your stuff and hit the road to anywhere, or nowhere, by hiring pick-up trucks that double as rooftop tents. They come with a safety gear fit for camping in the wilderness. The company also offers a camping site of its own, and has a network of over 100 other camping sites across Northeast India and Bhutan.
ANITA DESHPANDE & AVI MALIK
Founders, Temple Pilots
One of the first paragliding schools in India was founded by Anita Deshpande and Avi Malik. Malik began teaching paragliding in India soon after he retired from his job of a fighter pilot. Maharashtrabased Deshpande signed up for one of his classes in the Sahyadris. That’s when their love story also took flight. Twenty years on, they’re running Temple Pilots, famous as Asia’s only five-star-rated APPI (Association of Paragliding Pilots and Instructors) school. The company is fuelled by their combined passion for adventure and Deshpande’s business streak. They chose Kamshet in Maharashtra, where clear skies are almost a daily sight, as their headquarters to train locals in the sport. “Avi is spiritual, and I’m a nature lover. Flying, for us, is an act of reverence, one that asks you to respect the flow of nature and the freedom that comes with it,” says Deshpande. One can start with their introductory three-day course that requires nothing but a desire to fly.
ABHISHEK DAGA & CHITRA GURNANI DAGA
An aggregator of tour operators in India, Thrillophilia was founded by the husband-wife duo of Abhishek Daga and Chitra Gurnani Daga. What started out as an adventurous pilot project in 2011 soon became the go-to platform for ‘buying adventures’, especially among millennials. It empowered local service providers with online visibility and opened a world of experiences for those touring India. From exploring hidden waterfalls in the Western Ghats to glacial expeditions, Thrillophilia has expanded its offerings from a single city (Bengaluru) to 15 Asian countries today. Apart from a range of activities, the platform also gives the choice to book rentals and complete tours.
Famous as the youngest woman to have circumnavigated the world on a bicycle, Vedangi Kulkarni is a force to reckon with at 21. Native to Pune, Maharashtra, she grew up exploring the outdoors with her parents. Kulkarni credits her father for her adventurous streak. From experimenting with her own valley crossings and creating an Everest out of the high end of a wall to learning rope knots, Kulkarni’s childhood was one big adventure. When she turned 17, she had a dream that was quite unlike her peers’. “I wanted to cycle across the Himalayan passes before I moved abroad for higher studies. So, I did!” shares Kulkarni. One adventure led to another, and before she knew it, Kulkarni was competing to be the fastest cyclist to circumnavigate the world. Even though she couldn’t break the world record, Kulkarni became the fastest Asian to do so by pedalling 29,000 kilometres across 14 countries in 160 days, mostly solo and unsupported.
Founder, Aqua Outback
On a holiday in Tarifa, Spain, Arjun Motha discovered kitesurfing and was instantly hooked. A few years later, he came across people kitesurfing near his hometown of Tuticorin (also known as Thoothukudi) in Tamil Nadu—it is one of India’s ‘windiest spots’. “I met kitesurfers from around the world who came here following the wind. One of the best conditions to kitesurf was right here at home. I did not have to go anywhere else,” says Motha. So, he bought his own gear and eventually received the IKO (International Kiteboarding Organization) Certification from Vietnam. He then set up his own water sports and fitness centre called Aqua Outback in Tuticorin. “The ocean has always held fond memories for me; it made me want to create environmental awareness so others may explore it through sustainable ecosports such as kayaking, kitesurfing, standup paddle boarding, and foil-boarding. I also wanted to give back to the region I grew up in, by building an alternative job opportunity for the local fishermen,” explains Motha. The Aqua Outback experiences range from a one-day Taster Package to a week-long course that is good enough to turn you into an independent kitesurfer.
Founder & Managing Director, Flying Fox Asia
In 2005, after a major earthquake hit Kashmir, Jonathan Walter was in the region working for the humanitarian organisation International Red Cross. Circumstances required him to reach a village across the River Indus that was only accessible via a rickety zip line. As he squatted in a metal cage, being pulled with a rope by some villagers on the other side, he looked down and saw the world in a new light. The idea of Flying Fox was born. “With help from a childhood friend—who started a very successful high ropes company in the UK called Go Ape—I set up my dream of flying over amazing Indian landscapes on zip lines,” shares Walter. Popular as India’s first zip line company, it was launched at the Neemrana Fort-Palace in 2009. Today, the company operates in Jodhpur, Kikar, Rishikesh, and Patnitop, and has crossed one million safe zipline descents. “My children grew up in India, and I wanted to create adventures that they could enjoy,” adds Walter.
Aanchal Thakur shot to fame in her early 20s, when she became the first Indian to win a bronze medal at the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup, held in Turkey and organised by the Federation Internationale de Ski. She had earlier respresented India at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics. Born and brought up in a family of athletes, in a village called Burua in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, she began taking on the snowy slopes of her hometown at a very young age under the guidance of her father, Roshan Thakur, who served as the secretary general of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI). “Skiing is like meditation for me. I love it when I’m sliding down a mountain, the wind hitting my face, with sights my eyes can’t catch from anywhere else,” says Thakur. She seeks new avenues for the adventure sport in India, and is also gearing up for the 2022 Winter Olympics.