India: As any good trekker knows, his survival depends on his preparation and in ensuring that he has the right equipment, enough food and proper navigation tools. Unfortunately for Indian trekkers, maps are hard to come by.
So, Indian trekkers have taken it as a challenge and developed maps exclusively for fellow trekkers. Partha S Banerjee, who has been trekking in the Indian Himalayas for 15 years, started making his own maps nine years ago. Now, he has compiled them into a book that trekkers can purchase. On the other hand, hiker Ajay Reddy started the website Trip Naksha a year ago when he wanted information on trek locales around Hyderabad and couldn’t find a website that offered trekking maps. “I made use of the application programming interface (API) that Google maps offers, and used their base maps to sketch my own trails. No sooner had I uploaded a few of my own maps than contributions from trekkers started to flow in,” said Reddy. The site has now become a forum for trekkers to share experiences, maps and photographs.
MapsofIndia has a team of cartographers who use GIS software applications to chart maps and build on them using graphic designing software. But, these maps are not to scale. Explaining this, Subir Roy of MapsofIndia says, “To publish maps that are to scale, you need permissions from Survey of India and the Ministry of Defence as there are a lot of restricted zones that you cannot encroach upon.”
Tracing route on a map isn’t easy, even with GPS devices. When trekking in the Sahyadris, hiker Abhijit Avalaskar uses his eTrex Venture GPS receiver to record his coordinates periodically. On connecting to the computer, the device automatically transfers the position points, which Avalaskar then draws on a map demarcating the locations of wells, streams and forts. “I add colours to notify a change in topography or terrain so that trekkers have a fair clue of what to expect,” said, Avalaskar.
An important concern for trekkers is that trail maps become obsolete very quickly. The geography of a place is continually altering, and new routes bring new challenges. According to adventure enthusiast Ivon Gill, who manages the Himadventures.com portal, it just isn’t possible to describe the exact topography of a trail.
“In the Himalayas, landslides and snowfall commonly block old roads and give rise to new ones, not all of which can be kept track of. What one must ideally do is carry a GPS system after studying the nature of the climb on a map before setting out,” said Ivon.