Ever wondered what the world would be like without a sound? Like watching a silent movie, perhaps? Not even the sound of the wind or a rustle. Now imagine yourself in the movie, and water around you. That my friend is the experience of scuba diving!
The Indian coastline has a proud length of 7,500 km, majority of which is uninhabited except the metros and the ports. Of this, 1,400 km belongs to the Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which thankfully have not been exploited yet to such an extent commercially. The major source of livelihood in the cluster of islands is fishing in Lakshdweep and tourism in the Andamans. A few years ago, I came across an opening for a certified scuba diving course to be conducted at Kavaratti, the capital of Lakshadweep.
Dizzy with ecstasy, I went for the basic swimming and medical test which I cleared. To check your ear pressure, they create underwater conditions in a chamber and give your body a real life experience of adjusting to the pressure below sea level. Passing that, the routine for the next 15 days comprised rigorous work out and stamina building, starting from running at 6 am, followed by jogging, PT exercises, stretching, push -ups and then swimming in the pool. They taught us to stay suspended on the surface using only our legs to float to make us stronger. They asked us to jump off the 5m board to get rid of our fears. They introduced us to all the gear we were to use including snorkels, fins, scuba masks, cylinders, ropes.
After training with the equipment, we would have theory sessions on how to make dive tables, physics of water forces, coral and wildlife study, evolution of diving etc. By the end of this training, we were all quite trained, aware and tanned, ready for our adventure.
We also had the good fortune of travelling to Kavaratti on a ship as a part of the Navy family welfare society. The ship experience is a tale in itself, but it would be incorrect to not mention the beautiful dolphins and aqua blue water we saw gushing from the propellers deep in the middle of the ocean. After many hours of being surrounded by only water, we came face to face with a tiny strip of carrot shaped land covered with coconut trees from north to south and a light house at one end.
While looking at that place, I wondered why Bollywood films like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai or Dhoom2 weren’t shot here? The sand as white as it gets, the ocean floor visible from the surface even 20 m deep, the virgin beach, and the glistening sun was breathtaking.
We hopped on to a barge to take us to the small and only jetty in Kavaratti, and soon enough we were fascinated by the huge fish, prawns, sharks they had caught to be sold at Kochi and the local market. We then checked into our PWD guesthouses, spic and span, amidst a banana orchid and reported back to our base camp.
We were introduced to the senior instructors of LacaDives, the diving company, who would be giving us our international diving licenses on successful completion of the course. They explained to us our schedule for the next 10 days, the actual diving routine and the theory lecture plan. We were then asked to change into swim gear and were finally allowed to explore the long awaited Lakshadweep waters. If you have ever been to beach anywhere else in India, apart from these islands, you would know how it is hardly ever clean. On the contrary, these beaches were nothing short of the picturesque Maldives, Seychelles or any other photograph you would have seen on a postcard. We kayaked, canoed and swam the first day, taking it all in, until dusk and waited for our chance with deep sea diving.
The next few days, we would all embark on a small boat and venture into the ocean where the depth would be about 20 m and anchor ourselves. We would spend the entire day sunbathing and taking turns to dive with the instructor. We had trained so much in the pool that there wasn’t a hint of fear in any of us.
The first time I jumped into the ocean with my scuba gear, I felt reborn. Underwater, there is pin drop silence. The splashing, gurgling, bubbling sounds are only on the surface. When a foot artist trains himself to use his feet due to lack of his upper limbs, it is no coincidence, it is science at work, enhancing your other senses to make up for loses. The exact theory works underwater, when the hearing and speaking is cut off.
The scene ahead of you is a plethora of colours with fish and coral of all sizes and shapes passing you by. If you go to touch them, they will run away and what you thought was stationary will come to life. You feel weightless, suspended in time, wishing the time to stand still, enjoying the sand under your feet as you look up to see the sun enter the surface of the water to give life to the entire ecosystem existing here. Few steps away is a submerged valley. You simply marvel at the wonder of science and the beauty of nature, enjoy a few moments of pure solitude in another world.
We did our underwater drill for ten days, loving every moment of it. Studied and understood the importance of the coral and the dangers to them by our rapid industrialization, collected shells only to put them back on to the beach. Finally, we passed our tests and with a heavy heart got on board to go back home, carrying with us memories for a lifetime!