If you have an incurable urge to fling yourself off a mountain or navigate tricky rapids, the Himalayan range channels your inner adrenaline junkie down dramatic, scenic routes. Take a look at our top Himalayan adventure sports for India’s most extreme experiences.
With a cavalier disregard for manicured prettiness, the feisty Himalayas offer the best playground for off-piste skiing, heaving white water rapids for rafting and heli-skiing to some of the highest virgin peaks. Attracting pros and beginners alike, the slopes offer excellent climate for adventure sports almost all year round.
The Himalayan range has lavishly spread itself across several countries and several states within India, but what are your options if you're flying to Delhi? The major adventure sports centres have been developed in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir. Sikkim and the pristine Arunachal Pradesh are playing catch-up and offer some spectacular, unspoilt scenic views.
The Beas River meanders through the state to join the Sutlej River, offering many popular rafting expeditions including the 20-km run from Shamshi to Aut. The river may lull you into a sense of placid contemplation, but its rapids range from cheeky to extreme. Himalayan Sports also organises trips to rafting points between Manali and Bhunter.
Manali, not content with its proximity to the rapids, also lures in the visitors with incredible skiing possibilities. If the idea of trudging up ski slopes doesn't make you rush to the nearest ski rental, try heli-skiing here. A comparably pricey activity, heli-skiing offers the opportunity to be dropped off on peaks as high as 6,500m. Deo Tibba, Hanuman Tibba, Chanderkheni Pass and Rohtang Pass are the top heli-skiing hotspots. For some traditional skiing, head to Kufri, Narkanda or Solang Valley.
If that's not enough for you, Billing in Kangra Valley, surrounded by tea estates and just 14-kms from Bir, is known for hang gliding and paragliding. Paragliding can also be found in various locations from Solang Nala to Marhi.
If you have the urge to defy gravity, Rishikesh's a great place to go for bungee jumping. The views are magnificent, if your eyes aren't glazed over in terror at the sheer drop.
In Rishikesh, go white water kayaking on the Ganga. GMVN conducts white water rafting courses in Kaudiyala. From Kaudiyala to Rishikesh, the river has 12 major rapids over 36-kms long. The sacred Ganga in Garhwal region has frothing waters and sandy beaches for rafters to pull over.
GMVN can also take you skiing in the winter resort of Auli, which is known for its 500-m long ski lift up to the slopes (altitude 3,049 m). In Garwhal, Mundali and Dayara Bugyal are also great ski spots with panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks.
Garhwal is also a dream for paragliding and parasailing enthusiasts as the hot air from the Gangetic plains and cold air from the hills makes for impeccable flight conditions. Flying season is from September to December and March to June.
Gulmarg, Kashmir's 'meadow of flowers', with the gondola cable car, offers the longest and highest ski slopes in Asia. For skiing and snowboarding, try K-Line Himalayan Adventure Sports, run by Paul Lalley, an accomplished snowboarder, mountain biker, fly-fisherman and former competitive athlete. The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering also offers courses like skiing, water skiing, white water rafting and paragliding. And if that doesn't sate your appetite for challenges, try ice climbing on frozen waterfalls.
Further north, the stark Ladakh landscape is surreal and unforgettable. Navigate the Zanskar rapids along its spectacular course through the gorge in the mountains between Padum and Nimo. Nimo sees the confluence of Zanskar and Indus, while the Indus stretch from Spituk to Karu is popular with beginners and experienced rafters alike.
An interesting option is the MHE Zanskar rafting expedition that starts in Srinagar. Take in the overwhelming landscapes as you raft down the Stod, Zanskar and Indus and end up in Leh.
In the Northeast, Sikkim is a popular destination for trekkers, rafters and visitors looking for stunning views with the backdrop of the mighty Kanchenjunga. For rafting enthusiasts, there are two rivers to paddle in. The Teesta and Rangit offer dramatic views while cutting through deep forests and varied rapids. On the Teesta, raft or kayak down from Makha to Sirwani and Sirwani to Rangpo. The Rangit stretch is from Sikip to Nayabazar to Melli.
Sikkim tourism has also recently started promoting hang gliding in North Sikkim and Jorethang in West Sikkim. If the serene sport of paragliding is more to your taste, you can give it a go at lower Luing Resithang near Khel Gaon in Gangtok, East Sikkim with iSikkim or Sikkim Paragliding.
The pristine state of Arunachal Pradesh (translating as land of the dawn-lit mountains) is for those looking for adventure without hordes of tourists in tow. There's a wealth of thick forest cover and five rivers for rafting - Kameng (Seppa-Bhalukpung), Subansiri (Taliha- North of Daporijo), Lohit, Siang (entire course) and Tirap - to choose from. The Tibetans believe that the Siang River, which originates from the Tibetan plateau and forms the main flow of the Brahmaputra, is ‘the horse mouth river and its sands are actually emeralds that flows towards east.' They also believe that one can become as strong as a horse by drinking its water.
On the Siang, the expedition is a 180-km run from Tuting to Pansighat with the river leading the way through the gorges of Nigguing and Marmon. To get off the jump-point, you need four days of hardy travel by boat and jeep. There’s a 10-mile stretch of rapids with high impact names like Moing Madness and Pulsating Palisi. You can't say you haven't been warned…
So take the plunge. There's no greater high or sense of achievement than conquering your fears in the mighty Himalayas.
Header photo: The virgin landscape of Arunachal Pradesh © Arunachal Pradesh Tourism
Have you tried your hand at some of these Himalayan adventure sports? How did you get on? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Namrata Bhawnani
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About the author: NamrataNamrata Bhawnani
Namrata Bhawnani is a London-based freelance travel writer and the co-founder of the ecotravel web magazine www.ecophiles.com.