Shimla (Oct 22): As the sixth edition of Hercules MTB Himachal gets flagged off from Shimla, it will also set rolling a kaleidoscope of contours for every participant and anyone associated or following the race, which undoubtedly is among the most arduous of challenges in adventure sports. No wonder, whosoever has experienced it in the past five editions, has gone home enchanted. But once again it’s a fresh challenge altogether, approximately 550 kms of treacherous, breathtaking paddling, producing fresh patterns even for old-timers, and thus enchanting as ever.
After paragliding and motorsport rallying events, mountain biking is perhaps the third opportunity for Himachal Pradesh to lay claim as an ultimate adventure tourism destination. But it would not be an overstatement that while the first two options have nearly been wasted, with stagnation eating away the thrill, the third one is still in its infancy and therefore requires a vital push. Out of the 70 odd riders who have confirmed their participation in the current edition of the race, seven are from Himachal, this being the highest participation of Himachalis ever since the event started in 2005. This is an encouraging trend, because unless a local culture for mountain biking is developed any superimposed structure is bound to collapse. And unlike paragliding or motorsports, cycling is not at all a too costly affair, which gives cycling a big advantage.
True, MTB Himachal has a unique status of being one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences in the world. Once you gather the courage to start, the picturesque locations and beautiful surroundings keep you going through the extreme trails. At the end of the day you experience the sheer triumph and contentment of making it through the gruelling slopes and crossing Himalayan passes, pedalling high. This reads inviting for any adventure lover, but there appears not many within Himachal. The award money cannot be the only reason, as by local standards the event is rewarding enough. Probably, the local youths cannot spare time for it – it’s as simple as this. And that is because such events are yet to find contest with the local economy. Holding an event of such magnitude is no mean task and HASTPA is doing a great job, but now the government needs to step in more actively to develop related infrastructure.
That is because good mountain bike trails can attract tourists from all over, revitalise local economies. There are countries like Canada that have developed excellent biking trails and now people fly from all over the world for the express purpose of riding. More importantly, the economic benefits have convinced locals to pitch in. So whether one is a land manager, trailbuilder, government official, bike-shop owner, or an enthusiastic member of a mountain bike club, there are several things that make cycling more appealing to the local communities. Imagine a villagers with local knowledge cycling along, all the way providing interesting bits of information for an outsider.
Building community support for bicycle tourism by emphasising on economic benefits appears the only way out for sustainable biking events. So right from a cycle shop owner in a small town to roadside kiosk selling tea, there is scope for all to benefit. And to help ensure continued community participation and government investment in infrastructure improvements, it is essential to quantify the output. Though it takes several years of promoting to get an accurate reading on the positive impact of bike tourism on a community, the government needs to employ scientific understanding to describe the cause and effect relationship of any tourism activity to maintain local support.