This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic.(Photo: AP)
Whether it be climbing the tallest mountain or plumbing the depths of the ocean, taking a trip into outer space or setting off on a 24-day private jet tour around the world – the super-rich are forever in search of super-thrills they will never forget. Most of these ultra-luxury excursions come with their own set of high risks, which is what makes them both, so pricey and apt for the ‘adventure of a lifetime’ title.
Though the risks are understood, the five billionaire tourists who set out to see the wreck of the Titanic in a submersible would never have believed that they would meet their end in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, as did those on board the passenger liner way back in 1912. Over the last few years, extreme tourism has been growing as a trend among those looking for an adrenaline rush. Such thrill-seekers can be found all across the world, including India. They are willing to push the boundaries of conventional or safe travel like never before.
A trip away from the ordinary
How does an over 10,000-km trip from London to the North Pole on icy roads in peak winter sound to you? Entrepreneurs Uday Pilani and his buddy Sanjay Gulabani found it right up their street in 2020.
The two friends were bored of the ordinary and decided to drive down to the North Pole in a Saloon car, which turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime for them. "Much more than the astronomical phenomena of the North Pole with its magical lights, what left me awestruck was the unique experience of the road drive," says Sanjay.
Uday feels with higher disposal incomes and better work-life balance more people are willing to exploit opportunities to satisfy their lust for adrenaline and adventure. He believes that most people who have worked hard and achieved success, want to live it up.
Ask Sanjay if adventure or extreme travel is risky, and he says the risk is a myth. "It’s all about planning and being physically and mentally ready to accept challenges that unfold during the journey. Unlike earlier, nowadays, we are equipped with a lot of information to anticipate possible risks. Above all it is about courage and passion," he says.
Just for the daredevils
Xavier Augustin, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, Y-Axis Overseas Careers, stresses that "Adventure travel is not for all. Extreme adventure is only for the daredevils. As adventure seekers, we are on a quest to find ourselves, test ourselves, learn about our mysterious planet and become storytellers."
Look at the things Xavier has done over the years: He has climbed Mt.Kilimanjaro, ridden across the Mongolian grasslands on horseback, river rafted in the wilderness of Idaho, motorbiked in the Himalayas, gone dog sledding in the Arctic and walked across England. "Adventure is something where you don’t know what is coming up around the next bend. It stimulates the intellect as well as the adrenaline. When one is back to tell the tale, one is not the same" says the travel enthusiast. "One needs to be cautious of what one chooses, and see that what most matters is to be back to normalcy and live to tell the tale," Xavier adds with a smile.
Ironman triathlete and entrepreneur Nikhil Kapur says adventure sports is a growing segment. "Each year, we come across newer, more dangerous stuff. I came across cliff camping and cave diving a few months ago. It becomes difficult to categorise it," he says.
Nikhil, Co-Founder and director of Atmantan Wellness Centre, believes there is a class of people out there who are sensation-seekers. "They want to participate in risk activities in their leisure time and not as professionals. To my mind, adventure sports are transformative in nature and make us more resilient. They help develop skills and physical capacities which help us in our everyday life," he says.
However, Nikhil cautions that these come with high risks and require a lot of discipline. "The tipping point can be understood only when the individual trains for it. With proper training, markers get established in our mind —‘Can I do more? Or shall I stop now?’" he reveals.
A lot of times, impulsive decisions to participate in an adventure sport without adequate training and assessment of the sport and your own capability can lead to undesirable results, he feels.
What’s driving extreme tourism?
In his new National Geographic series, Limitless With Chris Hemsworth, actor Chris Hemsworth completed a test of the body’s responses to fear: He scaled a hundred-foot rope suspended from a cable car high above a canyon floor in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
Skydiving, skiing, scuba diving, free diving, surfing, base jumping, extreme or high-altitude treks are just a few examples of adventure sports, according to Anees Adenwala, Founder of Orca Dive Club and Underwater Film Services. He claims that the adrenaline rush makes him ecstatic after the experience. "There’s a rush to put yourself out of your own comfort zone to explore. Hence you get out of bed everyday wanting more," says the CMAS 2 instructor and PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer.
Adenwala emphasises the importance of the level of experience of the operator conducting, the team, the experience of the trainers, the facilities and equipment used, and the safety records/standards maintained. Guest reviews are a good indication of these parameters, he says, adding that full knowledge of risks involved in a particular adventure sport is a must.
"In adventure sports, what works is recommendations by word-of-mouth. Although regulations and rule books have always existed, what is important is the enforcement of and compliance to these measures. People may choose not to follow them and find loopholes to bypass the regulations to suit their convenience," he points out, stressing that experiences that push boundaries should not come at the expense of safety.
Safety always priority, never a waste
Stockton Rush, founder of the Oceangate, which owned the ill-fated submersible craft, believed that safety is ‘pure waste.’ "If you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything," Rush had said in a 2022 podcast. "At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question."
Taking a risk should not come at the cost of your life. "If the submersible had come back safe and sound, like it had done in the past, the five gentleman would have had an amazing story to tell. However, it did not go as planned and we now have a catastrophic result," notes Adenwala, who has been involved with the adventure sport of scuba diving since 1995. "I long to do it every day, fully knowing the risks involved, but always keeping within the safety zone," he says.
Vinay Menon, a biker who gets a high by jumping off cliffs, believes that the ‘colourful’ social media culture has opened the eyes of the Indian masses, who are otherwise risk averse. "With the #YOLO (You Only Live Once) trend amongst the youth these days, there has been a steep rise in the number of adventure seekers in India," he says. It is easy to find a tour operator who sells attractive packages to exotic mountainous locations, on social media. "But, one should research the trip facilitator’s background in that sport, the extent of their experience, their qualifications as lead guide, their safety preps, and relevant safety certifications," he recommends.
There are several good ‘adventure trip’ organisers in India backed by years of experience, knowledge and certifications, who take their clients’ safety as priority, he says. He also suggests that veterans of India’s outdoor adventure tourism industry could come together to assist in the growth of safe tours by spreading awareness and essential knowledge."