A mid-air adrenalin rush

Written by Jyoti Verma | Updated: Oct 7 2007, 04:45am hrs
Maya Patel has just posted her travelogue on a social networking site. Shes willing to bet all those adventures her colleagues had been bragging about would pale in comparison to what she braved. Her setting: a rainforest in Langkawi. Her mission: combating earths gravity 40 metres above the ground while moving on cables. And while in flight, warding off leeches and other insects. Actually, forget colleagues Tarzan Bundolo, are you listening Welcome to the world of air trekking or canopy tour. Bungee jumping might need to retire.

Patels euphoria is evident in her descriptions. Sample this: Believe me, you dont have to worry about the crawling snakes and roaring tigers in the jungle. Here, the fun unfurled in the air itself. Keep only one point in mind. You will always remain inexperienced to this sport, and thus remain open to problems. Trust your biceps and move, says the designer head of Mumbai-based Aver Software Technologies Limited.

So listen in air trekking is the latest fad on the adventure sport block. Many travel freaks have tried their hand at it globally. And, it is an interesting way for nature lovers to discover natural landscapes ranging from dense tropical rainforests to low-land mountain vegetation. A simple concept of moving from one tree to another (like good old Tarzan does) to discover the rainforest canopy, air trekking involves abseiling (the process of descending on a fixed rope), climbing, jungle trekking and gliding high above the ground on a cable system. This trekking enables people of all ages to expand their comfort zones step by step in terms of what and how much adventure they want. First timers should imagine it like walking on Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh, but a very narrow Laxman Jhula, with only one person walking at a time. Air trekking gives you the feeling you are walking on top of tall trees, explains Patel.

It may be new, but this adventure sport has caught on pretty fast in the US, in Europe, and South America and can be done in modified versions too. Instead of going the whole hog, you could settle for smaller jumps, give yourself a push from five feet and jump to the next platform without running into trees, says Javed Akhtar, CEO, TravelPort Holidays India. The experiences vary from location to location. Like in Langkawi, the activity enables people of all ages to extend their limits step by step in terms of what and how much they desire. The idea here is founded on the locations ecological opportunities, calling in people like scientists, professional and amateur photographers and film teams who aim to discover the world from a different perspective. In Europe, the emphasis though is more on the adventure, he says.

At the Langkawi Canopy Rainforest, one can trek up to 800 metres, beginning with a brief on how to handle the gears given to make you stay. From here one is hooked on to safety lines and starts flying across the forest and finally will be abseiling down from a 40-metre tall tree. The cables are high, making it imperative to hold on to them really tight while moving. If you let go, the same cable can take you back to the middle and you could be hanging mid air at times at a height of 40 to 60 feet. In fact, I had to land on a very tall and dense tree, recalls Patel.

George Deeb, CEO of adventure travel site www.iExplore.com thinks air trekking was originally designed as a way for wildlife lovers to get a closer look at animals that only live high up in tree canopies. But over time, the concept evolved to attract hikers and thrill seekers. This is particularly so when the rope systems are now including zip lines to get from platform to platform, which one never used to see, he says.

Air trekking, though not so expensive, can have other costs like getting to the destination and touring surrounding areas. A trip to Costa Rica could range anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the trip length, excursions and level of comfort. At Langkawi, the sport can cost you somewhere around $100 per head. Besides, there are added costs like commuting from the hotel, etc. More taxing than the expenses is the booking. Sometimes you dont get the air-trekking booking at all, says Patel. Currently, being promoted by tour operators within their itineraries, air trekking still needs to be promoted as a standalone adventure sport. But with adventure travel being the fastest-growing category within the overall travel industry (growing 10-12% per year, versus 5-6% in the general industry growth globally), one is sure to see much action in air trekking soon, says Deeb.

The destinations too are keen to take the sport to newer heights. After attracting general tourists, scientists and photographers, air trekking is trying to catch the fancy of the MICE segment. An alternate to bungee jumping, the sport is being pursued as a team-building activity to help top corporates instill confidence in their people, says Roslan Abdullah, director, Tourism Malaysia, North & East Market.

With everything on cable (read track), the only pending concern remains to be that of the conservationists. There could be too much of a crowd in the jungle, with people getting interested in air trekking. But there is a flip side too. With many forests globally being destroyed through illegal logging practices, air trekking is a good tool to raise awareness of the importance of our precious ecosystem. While one must welcome activities to promote valuable flora and fauna, it is important that tour operators act responsibly to cut down on any activity with a potential to disturb wildlife and damage forests. Bolstering infrastructure like buildings and roads to provide necessary access to the forest if not done responsibly, can also pose negative consequences. In addition, visitor numbers need to be limited, says Justin Francis, co-founder of responsibletravel.com, a site promoting the concept of responsible tourism globally.

With the foundation of air trekking resting on pillars of ecology and adventure, it becomes imperative for any traveller to balance them well. That too on a light cable suspended in the air. So are you ready to swing by the forest