On the ‘International Mountain Day’ globally acclaimed mountaineer from Odisha Dividutta Panda says Odisha is endowed with natural set up for all kinds of adventure sports activities including mountaineering. In an exclusive interview with odishatv.in, the Everest conqueror urges that these vast potentials should be utilised fully to turn Odisha into a hub for adventure sports. Excerpts…
Q: What are the prospects of trekking, mountaineering and other adventure sports in Odisha ?
A: Adventure activities could be broadly classified into three categories--land, water and aero sports. Odisha is blessed with natural resources for all these kinds of adventure activities.
Possibilities in different sports
Land sports: The discipline includes trekking, rock climbing, cycling, ultra marathon, mountain terrain biking (MTB), bungee jumping etc.
Trekking: The discipline includes coastal trekking (vast eastern coast of Bay of Bengal), estuary trekking (in Bhitar Kanika), trekking through remote villages of aborigines (in Mayurbhanj)
Rock climbing: Any rocky outcrop could be used in the discipline. Odisha is replete with many rocky hills in the Eastern Ghat range.
Cycling: Organised cycling could be conducted at any part. Doing so through scenic parts of the State would attract many enthusiasts. In fact there is one such event named ‘tour de Kalinga’ which is being conducted every year.
Ultra marathon: Long distance running of more than 50 Km is termed as ultra marathon. Odisha could easily become a destination for such runs which could be conducted during winter months.
MTB: Mountainous and rough terrain of Easter ghats could be very well utilised for this activity.
Water sports: The discipline includes kayaking, rafting, sailing, scuba diving, jet ski etc. Abundance of water bodies such as rivers, lakes and a large sea coast makes Odisha a perfect place for developing such activities.
Aero sport: The discipline includes microlight, powered hang glider (PHG), para motor, parasailing, paragliding, sky diving etc. Microlight and PHG require a basic runway. However, most of the other activities could be conducted practically from any open space. Again, Odisha is blessed with vast planes, many disused/under-utilised runways to conduct these activities.
Q: How these possibilities could be tapped to the optimum?
A: It is not very difficult to utilise the vast potential in the State to develop these adventure sports. Odisha is endowed with hill features, large coast line, islands, lakes, rivers, estuaries, good roads and disused/under used runways. These activities could be started with a little investment in developing the necessary infrastructure, train enthusiasts who in turn would train others, purchase basic equipment and market these activities.
The initiative could be taken either by government or private enterprise. However it would be much easier for any government department to initiate these projects. Once these activities are developed and encouraged, there would be many sportsmen and adventure enthusiasts who would be able to develop their skill. Further it would give rise to adventure tourism making Odisha a favourite destination for all kinds of adventure activities. It would also generate employment for local youth and engage them in a very positive way.
Q: How has mountaineering been affected due to Covid-19 ?
A: Once Covid-19 became a pandemic in our country, the entire nation was brought under a very strict lockdown. The lockdown was lifted gradually with Covid appropriate behaviour in force. This puts a lot of restrictions on inter and intra-state travel. Such restriction remained in effect for a very long duration (more than a year).
Mountaineering and high altitude trekking are restricted to Himalyan states i.e. Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. During complete lockdown, there was almost no inter-state movement and mountaineering was out of question. Even when restrictions started getting diluted, most of the Himalayan states remained closed to inter-state movement. Large part of these states is remote and difficult to reach areas where medical facilities are almost non-existence. Therefore mountain communities residing in these areas remained apprehensive about getting infected with the virus and didn’t allow any ‘outsider’ to venture there.
Covid has affected all human activities and with gradual lifting of restrictions life has limped back to normalcy; mountaineering and allied activities have followed a similar pattern.
Q: Has mountaineering completely returned to normalcy now?
A: Mountaineering is a seasonal activity and in the Indian sub-continent there are primarily two climbing seasons i.e. pre monsoon (March to June) and post monsoon (September to November). The entire year 2020 went without any activity as most of the lockdown related travel restrictions remained in place. By the time things started getting normal after mass vaccination, the pre-monsoon season of 2021 was almost at the fag end. Post-monsoon season has witnessed a resurgence of mountaineering activities in the Indian Himalayas. However it’s not back to the pre Covid era. People are still apprehensive and it will take some more time for all mountaineering related activities to get back to absolute normalcy. It is presumed that the year 2022 would witness the bouncing back of all adventure sports in case the Covid-19 situation remains under control.
Q: What is the economic impact?
A: Covid-19 has adversely affected all human activities and had a debilitating impact on the world economy. The effects on mountaineering related economic activities have been much worse. Many mountain villages depend on adventure tourism in their area for a large chunk of their yearly income. They get employed as guides, porters, horse men, cooks etc. during expeditions and treks. Their income has been severely restricted due to the pandemic. Similarly adventure tour operators also have not been able to conduct much activity during this period thereby, adversely affecting their revenue. Many operators have not been able to pay their employees during the pandemic. The entire ecosystem of villagers, tour and taxi operators, equipment suppliers etc. has been severely impacted.
Q: How has the situation affected the spirit of the adventurous sportspersons?
A: Adventure sports are a leisurely activity. Many adventure enthusiasts have lost their livelihood and jobs and many have been left with severely restricted income. Therefore their first priority would be to get their finances back on track. Further many people are still apprehensive about travelling and undertaking group activities. Long period of inactivity has also made many people unfit. However the spirit of adventure is innate to all human beings and as the dark clouds of Covid are dispersing, a bright ray of hope is now visible. The spirit of a truly adventurous person has not been adversely affected as everyone knew that Covid-19 was a bad phase and life would eventually get back to normal.