Lurking around the bend

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MORE THAN TOKENISM Karnataka has the most beautiful trekking trails, but only if it comes with enough safety measures, will it be a great package
MORE THAN TOKENISM Karnataka has the most beautiful trekking trails, but only if it comes with enough safety measures, will it be a great package

The recent tragedy of the three trekkers has thrown up some uncomfortable questions, yet again. It's time the State put some serious regulation into eco-tourism

The recovery of the remains of three trekkers who went missing last year in Karnataka has once again brought eco-tourism into sharp focus. The three went trekking in the dense tropical forests near Subramanya in the height of the monsoon last year and that was the last heard from them.Eco-tourism and adventure sports have really become a huge market in the city with a sharp rise in disposable incomes. The idea of a returning to nature for a recharge after a week's hard work has increasingly become an attractive option for the young workforce. But the case of the three trekkers is definitely not a first. There have been many such in the past and most cases do not get enough reportage. In fact, accidents are most common when tourists head to water bodies. Hogennakal and Muttati, two popular tourist spots on the Cauvery river are famous for their swirling currents that have claimed the life of many students. There are also a number of lakes and small irrigation dams in the state which are popular with weekend travellers and have had their fair share of accidents. Most of these spots are fairly isolated and lack even the most basic infrastructure, such as a motorable road. Trekking in itself is considered a safe activity. There is not much that can go wrong when a few basic rules are followed. Karnataka is blessed with probably some of the best trekking trails in the country. There are a number of operators who offer trekking packages, but with so much information available off the Internet even amateurs tend to head for a trek, with just a route print out. There are two kinds of operators who offer packages - commercial and non-commercial. The most prominent non-commercial operators are YHAI (Youth Hostel Association of India) and the Karnataka Mountaineering Association (KMA). Expeditions conducted by YHAI and KMA are known for their meticulous organisation and they are always led by licensed climbers. But the commercial sector is largely unregulated and their rules are self-laid.Nobody turns a blind eye to safety, but it comes at different levels. It is said the most stringent requirements are to be met when official company trips are organised. Human resource managers in the city's IT and corporate sector often use adventure travel to improve bonding among their workforce. They are said to have their own rulebook for safety as the company is liable for any mishap. For example, no company trip is ever conducted without a doctor on board. So the tour organiser has to arrange for a doctor for the entire duration of the trip. When it comes to water sports, certified boats, lifeguards and safety equipment are mandatory. The next highest level of safety comes when foreign tourists are involved. Used to a level of safety standards abroad, they do not make a booking if the tour operator does not meet those conditions.But many operators do bend the rules with the chief reason being cost - safety comes at a price. Chances are never taken when water sports are involved. But with trekking it is a totally different ball game. Finding and networking with experienced local guides is always a problem, so some organisers make do with seasoned trekkers as guides. When wildlife areas are involved, it is mandatory to have the permission of the Forest Department, which sends it own watchers along. But there have been many cases of commercial operators flouting that rule. -The chronic shortage of personnel with the Forest Department means enforcement is often lax. Many operators feel it is "high time" a separate authority is set up for eco-tourism and a single window system set up to process formalities such as trekking permits. Also they are asking for a certification system that would enable consumers make an informed choice.ANAND SANKAR




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