The Araku Valley is the hub for adventure activity in Andhra Pradesh
Adventure tourism is catching fire with the Ministry of Tourism having declared 2018 the Year of Adventure Travel in India. As it is my favourite type of tourism, I was excited when I was invited to attend the 14th Adventure Tour Operator Association of India (ATOAI) annual convention in the Araku Valley by my old friend Vaibhav Kala, Founder of Aquaterra Adventures and the current Chairman. This year the convention was being hosted in the vaguely Maori-sounding Araku Valley by the government of Andhra Pradesh, not a state that comes quickly to mind when you think of adventure tourism. So I was curious to see what would be on offer.
Demonstration outdoor activities at the ATOAI 2019 convention
We flew down to Vishakhapatnam, a coastal city mainly known for its military and strategic importance as a naval base, and left the next day for the three hour drive to the Araku Valley nestled in the hinterland. On arrival we settled into our modest rooms in the official AP Tourism Board hotel Mayuri only to find the activity schedule in a shambles. Low water levels had taken kayaking off the list and the heavy morning fog eliminated ballooning. I was keen to try out paramotoring but stringent weight limits, imposed on account of wind conditions and a makeshift runway, grounded me. The tandem paramotor itself looked like an awkward marriage between a giant parasail and a go-kart powered by a single propeller. But as the flimsy craft soared into the sunset I was reminded of that 1965 movie classic Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines – it looked like great fun!
Explorer Huw Kingston was the showstopper – here, there and everywhere 🙂
My spirits lifted with the keynote presentation by Huw Kingston later that evening. Now it is impossible to describe Huw in one word or even one sentence but if I were to pick three, I would say a terrific adventurer, campaigner and communicator and therefore someone I could immediately relate to. The audience sat spellbound as the riches of his adventures around the world unfolded before us told in a most engaging and entertaining manner. I was most fascinated by his one year journey around the Mediterranean where he covered 13,000 Km by foot, bike, kayak and rowboat, travelled through 17 countries and raised about A$100,000 for Save the Children Australia. This incredible journey reinforced his determination to fight against single-use plastic as the sight of beaches clogged with waste bottles was the one thing that marred his trip. Earlier Huw had the distinction of turning his hometown of Bundanoon in Australia into the first place on the planet to be free of bottled water.
Adventuring for a cause – Skater Rana and the Himalayan Spice Girls!
The theme of adventuring for a cause was carried forward by marathon skater Rana Uppalapati who completed an amazing journey of 6,000 Km through the Golden Quadrilateral over a period of just 3 months. He raised US$ 7 million in this adventure which will help educate 25,000 underprivileged girl children and his mission was to create awareness about safety and security of the girl child. Rana stood effortlessly on his skates throughout his presentation and impressed me greatly with his clarity of vision and his quiet determination.
Rana was followed by Anusha Subramanian, a young female mountaineer who bounded on stage and spoke engagingly about leading a trip with three blind climbers to the top of Kilimanjaro. Two years ago she launched a social initiative Summiting4Hope which is focussed on promoting the inclusion of persons with disability in outdoor adventure. Anusha is also co-founder of Bohemian Adventures along with Guneet Puri and Shashi Bahuguna, the first adventure travel company in India to be led entirely by women. Later Anusha was joined by her sister mountaineers in an animated panel discussion on careers for women in Adventure Travel and the formidable challenges they face in a male-dominated world. I just loved the feisty style of these three young women and promptly dubbed them The Himalayan Spice Girls!
The Everest summiteers from AP and their future home in Gandikota
Other presentations focussed on technical aspects like how to make better travel videos on your smartphone, brand positioning and customer loyalty, sustainable tourism and risk mitigation. The Andhra government grabbed the opportunity as hosts to parade over twenty young Everesters on stage. While I object to such mass-produced summit achievements and especially when it is done as a publicity stunt, what are creditable are their efforts to build a new Academy of Adventure Sports in Gandikota on the banks of the Pennar river which will give employment to and be run by these young people. And while the Araku Valley is pleasant enough as a holiday destination, it doesn’t have the high mountains or the deep rivers which would make it stand out amongst its peers in other states as an adventure hub.
Personal interactions and bonding over drinks make all the difference 🙂
Ultimately it is the networking and personal interactions that make a success of such conferences as much as the formal presentations and in this ATOAI undoubtedly met its aims for me. I met and engaged with several interesting people and companies who were involved with adventure and we bonded well over the excellent drinks and dinner each evening. On the last night I was asked to introduce myself around the fire-lit circle and recounted the infamous story of Mutiny Beach on my first major rafting trip on the Brahmaputra with Vaibhav and Aquaterra. Amid much laughter, Akshay Kumar who is Founder of Mercury Himalayan Explorations (and incidentally a good friend of Vaibhav’s) promptly asked me why I didn’t go with them instead. Later that night he got his wish when I won the lucky draw for two nights at Bull’s Retreat, his home base camp on the Ganga!!
Anubhav the Boy Wonder comes in for a perfect landing!