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Sunday , April 29 , 2012
 
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Summer escapades

When Dhruv S., a Class VII student, went for a snake walk in the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), it opened up a whole new world for him. “We were accompanied by guides and two members of the local Irula tribe, who track and catch venomous snakes to make anti-venom solutions. They found a track and actually knew what time the snake had passed through there! That was truly amazing. We trekked for two hours before spotting the first snake — a buff-stripped keelback,” he says, wonderstruck.

Sounds like extreme adventure, eh? Well, there’s no better way to enjoy this vacation than by setting off on a summer camp where adventure, fun and games rule.

If you are aged between eight and 17, then pick from the summer camps that have opened up across the country. Some will be operational up to July. “Parents realise that their children aren’t getting enough of the outdoors. This has prompted them to look for safe but fun ways to get the kids to bond with nature,” says B. Nivedita, director, Frolic Boonies, which runs a wildlife camp in Mudumalai, near Ooty.

(From top) Rapelling is a hugely popular activity at Rocksport camps; bamboo rafting is a part of the wildlife camps run by Frolic Boonies; a white-water rafting session in progress at a Himadventures camp

Popular camping sites could be anywhere from Himalayan Kullu to Karnataka’s Agumbe Rainforest to Maharashtra. Check-in for anything between three and 15 days and on board are activities like rappelling, night hiking, trekking, rafting, nature trails and even wildlife camps. Accommodation is in sync with the surroundings and could be in tents, bamboo huts or dormitories. Food is usually vegetarian, though there are occasional non-vegetarian options as well.

Depending on the response, the organisers arrange two to six camps with up to 2,000 children participating each summer. Parents can rest easy, for great emphasis is laid on trained instructors and a high instructor-to-children ratio. “Our camp-leaders are educated in risk management and first-aid and undergo pre-season training sessions,” says Nalini Dhariwal, partner, Youreka, which specialises in adventure-based learning.

So, check out the coolest camps that are in business this summer.

Roughing it out

It’s time for some serious adventure but you can be sure that you won’t be on a boot camp!

“We don’t have a fixed schedule. There’s a list of activities lined up but the basic idea is to have fun,” says Andre Morris, director, Outbound Adventure, that organises camps around Mumbai. An average day starts at 5.30am or 6am. Go rappelling down a rock-face, trekking or mountain biking. Once the sun climbs higher, there are lessons in archery or on how to tie different kinds of knots (essential in rock climbing). This is followed by two to three hours of rest. The evenings are relaxed with starting a campfire or going on night trails.

With Himadventures, on a typical day children can indulge in several activities like rock climbing, river crossing and learning about knots.

Youreka, on the other hand, lets a child choose one activity and follows it up with a full eight-day programme revolving around it. For instance, if a child chooses ‘Vertical Limits’, he or she acclimatises on Day 1, learns about knots and ropes on Day 2, bouldering (learn different climbing techniques) on Day 3, tackling a rock face on Day 4 and so on.

“Our camps offer trekking, rock climbing, white water rafting, night hiking, rappelling, jumaring (technique used to ascend a rope), mountain biking and more,” says Pranav Kukreti, co-founder and director, Treks ’Rapids, an adventure sports learning outfit which runs the Chipmunks camps(www.trek snrapids.com/chipmunks).

Adds Piyush Khandelwal, founding director, Rocksport, a Delhi-based adventure education organisation: “The kids also learn survival skills. They learn how to make improvised shelters, start a fire and read a compass.”

Himadventures has week-long camps till September in Naggar and Seo Bagh, Kullu, for Rs 10,000 per child. It includes tented accommodation, meals, activities but not transport. Call 08888201002.

Rocksport is offering 3-day camps in Shimla and Nainital ex-Delhi till May-end. Costs vary between Rs 4,575 and Rs 4,875 per child, depending on transport, and includes stay in luxury tents/ cottages, meals, activities. Call 011 32024090/91.

Outbound Adventure has a camp ex-Mumbai in Khandala from May 20 to May 27 for Rs 9,000 per child. It includes tented accommodation, meals, transport and activities. Call 022 26315019.

For water babies

Most camps include a fair dose of aqua adventure in their itineraries. And children needn’t be swimmers to participate. Make a splash and try white water rafting, body surfing (riding a wave with only the aid of specialised flippers), paddle caddie (paddling in twos on gentle waters) and even kayaking.

Sam Trek, a Maharashtra-based adventure tourism outfit, organises camps where children zip-line across a river, kayak or even jet-ski along with activities like rifle shooting, zorbing and rappelling at their Kolad (112km from Mumbai) or Bhor (139km from Mumbai) camping sites. “Every child gets a life jacket and we never take them to deep waters,” assures Sam Ansari, MD, Sam Trek.

Pugmarks Holidays (PG), offering adventure and wildlife experiences, has camps planned around watersports for children above 14 years. They can go scuba diving and kayaking in Lakshwadeep or bodysurfing in Rishikesh (of course, they need to be good swimmers for this one).

Sam Trek is offering 2-night and 3-day camps ex- Mumbai in Bhor and Kolad till July for Rs 5,600 per child. It includes tented accommodation, meals, transport, activities. Call 9011241766.

PG is running 8-day rafting camps in Rishikesh ex-Delhi till June. The cost per child is between Rs 14,500 and Rs 22,000, depending on transport, and includes tented accommodation, meals, activities. Call 022-24445938.

(From top) Children gather around for a lesson with Gowri Shankar, a herpetologist; Young Naturalists Camps help children to understand reptiles better; Les Elfes India kids have a blast tubing on Lake Geneva, Switzerland

The wild side

Wildlife summer camps do it differently. Since the emphasis is on watching and learning, children are encouraged to watch birds make nests, go on nature walks to track animal foo tprints and even go bamboo rafting on jungle streams.

PG offers camps in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhore that promise tigers, elephants, deer and wild dogs. Birding is a major attraction as well — so go armed with a pair of powerful binoculars.

Gerry Martin, a herpetologist (who studies amphibians and reptiles) and conservationist, conducts Young Naturalists Camps (YNC) in the MCBT, Masinagudi and Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu, Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), Mhadei Research Centre, Goa and the Andamans. Expect to learn everything from reptile biology to acquiring bush skills.

P. Gowri Shankar, a herpetologist with the ARRS, introduces kids to field research methodologies too. Says Shankar: “We introduce students to forest types, explore flora and fauna and more.” So go herping or on butterfly walks or even learn to grow medicinal plants in the garden.

•   Shankar’s camps, on till June, cost Rs 1,000 per day per child. It includes tented accommodation, meals, activities but not transport. Mail to gowrishankar.pogiri@gmail.com.

• YNC has 4-night and 5-day camps ex-Bangalore till May for Rs 15,000 per child and includes meals, accommodation in tents/ dormitories, transport, activities.

• Frolic Boonies have summer camps ex-Bangalore till May-end for Rs 11,000 per child. It includes accommodation in bamboo huts/tents, meals, activities. Transport costs Rs 1,000 extra. Call 080 65790008.

Beyond borders

If children want to go exploring the world to expand their horizons, they could opt for camps — which are a bit expensive — in foreign locales too.

Youreka is organising summer camps in Spain, Singapore and the UK in May and June. “In Spain we’ll go sailing and snorkelling in Cala Llevado; in Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK, we do kayaking, rapelling and archery; and in Singapore we do high and low ropes (a climbing challenge) and kayaking,” says Dhariwal.

Les Elfes India organises spring camps till May-end at the ski-resorts of Zermatt and Verbier, Switzerland. Go skiing, mountain biking, paragliding and bridge swinging. “The activities promote leadership and teamwork,” says Bibi Rani Nangia, director, Les Elfes Indian Operations.

• Book a 2-week camp with Les Elfes India ex-Mumbai for CHF 4,000 (approximately Rs 2.24 lakh). It includes accommodation in chalets, meals, activities, return airfare and surface transfer. Call 011 29213155.

• Explore Barcelona and Cala Llevado in Spain with Youreka. For Rs 1.45 lakh per child, the 7-day ex-Delhi trip includes accommodation in tents/ dormitories, meals, return airfare, surface transfer, sightseeing and activities. Call 011 40801100.