As a child growing up in a small town in 1990s India, the concept of ‘adventure sports’ was as alien to me as the language of Greek. However, in the last decade or so, they have become a buzzword in the travel industry in India—to the extent that several companies today include some form of adventure sports activities in their tour packages.
Of the many Indian states that offer superb sites for such activities, Tamil Nadu is a prime location. Its varied geological features ensure that people can enjoy a host of sporting activities—from rock climbing and paragliding to surfing, and much more. Here, we take a look at five of the best adventure-sports locations in the state:
It was the Covelong Point Surf and Music Festival that put Covelong (or Kovalam) on the world’s surfing map. Since then, the numbers have only swelled here. Other events, such as the Indian National leading to Kolli Hills Surf and SUP Championship in 2021 have boosted Kovalam’s popularity among both national and international surfers and water sports enthusiasts. Apart from surfing, kayaking and snorkelling are also quite popular in the ocean stretch between Kovalam and Mahabalipuram. Several schools such as the Covelong Point Surf School and Bay of Life Surf School offer adequate and well-rounded lessons on surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) before you venture out into the open sea. Some of these schools offer accommodation facilities as well.
Situated in the Namakkal district, Kolli Hills is well-loved by hikers, cyclists, trekkers and bikers. This mountain range, a part of the Eastern Ghats itself is secluded, rising up to 1300 metres above sea level, but at its foothills lie towns such as Namakkal, Rasipuram and Thuraiyur, among others.
Kolli Hills is significant both in Tamil literature and as a pilgrimage spot (the Arapaleeswarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is situated on this range). The trek to the top of the Kolli Hills takes one past verdant forests and several serene waterbodies such as ponds, streams and waterfalls. Revel in the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of this region—there are three reserve forests (Ariyur Solai, Kundur Nadu and Pulianjolai), protected by the Tamil Nadu government, that abound in Ariyur shola and silver oak trees. They are also home to animal and bird species such as pangolins, sloth bears, barking deer, mongoose, jackals, hornbills, thrushes, and many others.
What awaits you at the summit of Kolli Hills is a ferocious and rapidly flowing 300-feet waterfall called Agaya Gangai. One needs to climb 1,196 steep mountain steps to reach this waterfall on the river Aiyaru. The Arapaleeswarar Temple is located close by, while in the forest nearby, one can find two caves called Korakka Siddhar and Kalaanginatha Siddhar. While the scenic views and its historical and mythological significance make Kolli Hills a worthy destination for hikers and trekkers, cyclists and bikers additionally have the thrill of negotiating 70 hairpin bends to the top of the hill. What’s even better is the fact that this once offbeat destination is being developed as a tourist hotspot with the inclusion of an eco-adventure resort and camping sites, which are currently in the works.
The first things that come to mind when one mentions Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu’s Pamban Island are the Ramanathaswamy Temple, the Pamban Bridge and Dhanushkodi (on the south-eastern tip of the Pamban Island). However, over the years, Rameswaram has developed into an excellent site for water sports in its own right. Rameswaram’s clear waters, clean beaches and strategic, isolated location in the Indian Ocean are all being leveraged to develop it as a hub for water sports. In addition, the favourable winds, ocean currents and placid waters make it a wonderfully safe place to check out scuba diving, SUP, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, kiteboarding and snorkelling.
Udhagamandalam (better known as Ooty) is often considered to be the pride of the Nilgiris and called the Queen of Hill Stations. Ooty’s residence in the lap of nature, its cool climate and the wealth of plants, animals and birds found here make it a popular summertime tourist destination. But, it is also part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve which means that several regions in the city’s environs are protected, reserved areas to protect the fragile ecosystem. Still, the Tamil Nadu government is opening up some of these areas in a sustainable way to promote ecotourism.
One can embark on several treks in Udhagamandalam. A good starting point would be the Parson’s Valley base camp. From here, one could trek up to Mukurthi Lake, and then cross Pandiar Hills and Pykara Lake. This route eventually takes one to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (68 kilometres from Ooty), home to nearly 500 species of plants, over 250 species of birds and over 30 animal species. Another route takes one past the picturesque Avalanche and Emerald Lakes (which provide spectacular views of the surrounding panoramic hills and valleys), towards Kolaribetta, one of the highest peaks in the Nilgiris, going past Upper Bhavani and the Mukurthi National Park en route. One encounters forests of shola trees and endemic animal species such as the Nilgiri tahr along the journey. Other mountain treks worth undertaking include the one to Glenmorgan, going past woods of eucalyptus and rhododendron, and the one to Doddabetta, another of the Nilgiris’ highest peaks. Due to the sheer variety of nature’s treasures here, Ooty is, therefore, the perfect destination if one wishes to enjoy the best of trekking and ecotourism together as a whole.
Like Ooty, Yelagiri is a hill station which offers lots of sightseeing options to be explored via trekking and rock climbing. One of the easier treks is to the Jalagamparai Waterfalls, a stunning, roaring 30-metre waterfall that is best visited between November and February. A more challenging rock-climbing and trekking experience is the journey to the top of the cake-shaped, 4,338-metre-high Swamimalai Hill that boasts of picturesque, verdant meadows and calm lakes. Nearby, there are other peaks such as the Javadi Hills and the Palamathi Hills. Adventure camps and parks atop Yelagiri’s nicely elevated hills provide the perfect place to experience the thrill of activities such as rock climbing and paragliding, while appreciating the beauty of Yelagiri’s green valleys. Meanwhile, the beautiful Punganur Lake will give you opportunities to try boating and rowing.