Shimla/Manali, June 1 (IANS) From rock-climbing to trudging lofty mountains in the Himalayas, to white-water rafting and parasailing, the mountainous trails of Himachal Pradesh have a lot to offer for tourists.
Mountaneering remains an ever-popular activity among both Indians and foreigners visiting the state.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, a professional government-run institute in Manali, regularly organises adventure sport expeditions to promote adventure tourism.
'The basic and advanced summer courses in mountaineering and water sports have started in the Manali centre and eight other centres across the state. The courses would continue till the onset of winter,' Randhir Singh Salhuria, the director of the institute, told IANS.
He said the courses have been designed for professionals and beginners and any participant in the age group of 15-50 can enrol.
For professional mountaineers, peaks of the Great Himalayan National Park in the picturesque Kullu Valley offer challenging playground for expeditions.
Most of the peaks with an altitude of 4,000-6,000 metres are yet to be conquered.
The institute is conducting special activities in mountaineering, backpacking, skiing, trekking, rafting, kayaking and paragliding for students, families and corporates.
'Programmes can also be designed as per the requirement of the participants,' Salhuria added.
The institute, set up in 1961, has so far trained more than 120,000 people from India and abroad. It also boasts of mountaineering instructors of international fame.
The state forest department is also conducting adventure sport expeditions.
'We are conducting expeditions on more than 50 identified trekking routes - both arduous and moderate. Some of the routes are just for students, families and corporates,' Chief Conservator of Forests (Ecotourism) Chandresh Sharma told IANS.
The popular trek among families is a one-day soft expedition to Shali Tibba, around Shimla hills.
Popular tourist town Manali is in the middle of a heavy rush of adventure seekers.
'The snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas attract a good number of adventure seekers every year. A number of camps are under way,' said Mehar Chand Thakur, a prominent travel agent in Manali.
'Last year's flash floods in Leh (in Jammu and Kashmir) had severely hit the business. This year, we are hopeful of good business. Moreover, sufficient snow accumulation on the peaks so far is an added attraction,' he added.
Manali has over 40 travel agents who specialise in adventure tourism.
Backpackers, especially from the US, Britain, Italy, France and Germany, descend on Manali from August to September for adventure-related activities.
Most of them prefer to drive down the 475-km-long Manali-Leh highway.
The trans-Himalayan Buddhist circuit in Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur districts attracts globetrotters not only for nature-based activities but also because of ancient monasteries like Tabo, Dhankar, Gungri, Lidang and Hikkam.
Gaurav Jain of Aamod, a private resort on the outskirts of Shimla, said: 'Long walks and bird watching in the vicinity of the resort are the preferred activity among our guests.'
Chris Bowden, a trekker from Britain, rated the Tirthan-Sainj in Kullu district as one of the best trekking routes in the world.
'The entire five-day trek is full of surprises. One has to pass through magnificent glaciers, trudge lofty mountains and cross gurgling snow-fed streams. But it's strictly for professionals,' he added.
Naveen Shukla, who came here with his friends from Delhi, said: 'The Jalori Pass (at 3,223 metres in Kullu district) trekking route was quite tough and enjoyable as one gets the chance to enjoy the countryside beauty.'
Himachal Pradesh, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, attracted 11.4 million tourists, including 400,583 foreigners, last year.
Kullu-Manali has emerged as a favourite tourist destination, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])