The death of two trekkers near Khemenger Glacier in Lahaul and Spiti of Himachal Pradesh is a morbid addition to the list of fatalities related to adventure tourism in the state. The deceased were part of a group of six from West Bengal — supported by 11 porters and one guide — who were stranded in the middle of nowhere after the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. The previous week, four persons on paragliders — two pilots and two tourists — had a miraculous escape when, after taking off from Billing in Kangra district, they encountered high-velocity winds and got stuck on trees. Also last week, a woman and her 12-year-old son drowned in the Beas river near Manali as they posed for photographs. Earlier this month, four trekkers were found dead at Kamal Kund glacier near Manimahesh Lake in the remote Bharmour sub-division of Chamba district, while last month a trekker from Gujarat was washed away by the strong current while crossing a rivulet in Lahaul and Spiti. Clearly, the trickle of tourism-related fatalities in Himachal Pradesh points towards a worrisome trend.
Risk is an enticing element of adventure tourism and on remote glaciers, mountains and swift rivers, risk can never really be eliminated. However, it’s the duty of the government, tourism department and local authorities to make sure that the risk is minimised, and also ensure that tourists are deeply aware about the perils they are exposing themselves to when crossing glaciers, rafting in rivers, climbing mountains or jumping off a cliff on a paraglider. If the government is allowing tourists to engage in risky adventures in the state, it must also ensure that if something untoward happens, help is never too far.
Unfortunately, reports of past accidents suggest that in many cases, guides are not adequately trained and some camping outfits are run by unscrupulous individuals out to fleece tourists. Specifically on paragliding, the government has failed to implement the extremely high safety standards the sport requires. On their part, the tourists must understand that while their fitness levels may be good for a walk in the park, they could end up getting physically and mentally overwhelmed by the challenge of navigating a high mountain pass low on oxygen. Risks could be thrilling, but taking unexamined risks amounts to madness.
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