“Deflate, Descend, Equalise, Exhale! Okay? Okay! ” These words will always be music to my ears. Music which transported me to the real land down under- the land of the ocean.
Exactly a year back the adrenaline junkie in me just had to try scuba diving. Wasting no time, I enrolled for a course with Dive India in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and set off to dive in the Indian Ocean. My brother Adu and close friends Dola, Deepu, Dhvani, Saaniya and Bharat(who will always be our pseudo terrorist in army pants :p) also accompanied me.
About two hours away from the noise and clutter of Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was Havelock island where Dive India was situated. This island became our home for the next ten days, leaving us ‘havelocked’ as we like to call it.
” SCUBA DIVING (Self contained underwater breathing apparatusdiving) ? Not a big deal at all ! ” Was what I always thought. Being a water baby, I was sure diving would be a piece of cake. But there is a lot of training required before you actually venture out for your first dive. One has to figure out how to use the SCUBA equipment as well as understand the science behind diving. No doubt it gives you an adrenaline rush but it also tests your knowledge in physics, chemistry and biology by making you recollect theories of Buoyancy, Air and Water pressure etc.
Getting trained to set up all the SCUBA equipment, Sahil my diving instructor (who was the Hitler of my life for the first few days :p) advised us about the safety precautions to be taken while diving. He introduced us to the term ‘Nitrogen Narcosis’, sending a chill down our spines. The nitrogen content in the ocean is very high. When divers, breathing compressed air,venture to a depth beyond 100 feet, chances are that they could get ‘Narched’- a feeling similar to getting drunk. But this could get fatal as the high pressure of nitrogen could result in blindness, unconsciousness or even death! ‘WHAT HAD WE SIGNED UP FOR?’ We wondered then. But this is one question we never asked ourselves again.
Early next morning, we set off for our very first dive .Remembering Sahil’s rules, we put our regulators (The apparatus which helps you breathe underwater) in our mouths, and descended into the ocean. The first descent was one which involved a bit of panic as I forgot how to breathe ( It’s not natural to breathe underwater is it?). But Sahil’s exaggerated actions depicting the words ‘ÉXHALE NORMALLY OR YOU WILL DIE’ helped me breathe again. PHEW! From here on, what I experienced was surreal. I became an underwater singer, humming my favourite tunes to the beat of my flippers. Deep diving needs you to remain buoyant and the trick to do so is to breathe normally but exhale for a long period. This also saves air. Singing seemed to help me exhale longer, calming my nerves and making me feel a true sense of bliss.
Each day our salty bodies dived at various spots around Havelock island like The Lighthouse, The Wall etc to name a few. The Wall was my personal favourite being a place where you saw a vibrant underwater life while experiencing violent ocean currents. The wall ran along the ocean bed and then had a sudden drop. The drop went as deep as 60 metres, making the spot a challenging one to dive in. Visibility in this area was quite low and the currents were strong.
Struggling with a bad cold on the day we ventured to the wall, the first 10 metres of descent sent out vibes of excruciating pain through my ears. To subside the ear pain I had to hold my breath and equalise the pressure exerted on it by the air and water. Henceforth Sahil guided us along the wall. We saw so many different sea creatures ranging from clown fish, crabs, star fish, an octopus, a sea turtle, eels, barakudas , lion fish and innumerable others whose names I have sadly forgotten (Sorry about that Bharat :p I need to come for your marine biology classes soon) . We also spotted a sea snake ! I remember losing a lot of air by breathing quickly in fear just looking at the snake. A gigantic sea turtle also swam by us.The turtle had a majestic aura and swam at a speed which could almost be compared to the speed of light! (Okay not literally :p). We got a good cardio for the day trying to follow the sea turtle.
As clichéd as it sounds the sea water was now our second home. We explored the reefs following a buddy system which I just have to harp about. Dola, Bharat , adu and I dived at most of the sites together resembling Sahil’s army . His training helped us especially when we experienced buoyancy issues and got pushed around by the currents. Not moving our hands around much and trying to stay close to each other we did make an awesome team 🙂
After every dive hydrating yourself was the most important. Our helpers on the boat led by Lemu, the coolest boat manever always gave us piping hot cups of masala chai and samosas, rehydrating us. If you had to pee, the only option was to do so in the ocean. Yes the joy of peeing there was so satisfying. It was “Peedom!” (Liberating your heavy bladder before each dive was really a pee freedom 😛 ) .
Back on the island, living in beautiful cabanas and huts, and pampered with the ‘to die for’ food at ‘Moon café’( the break out area for all the divers at dive india) , we enjoyed a luxury no five star or seven star hotel could offer us. Afternoons were spent lazing around on the hammocks or enjoying with Havelock’s best dogs Frodo, Sam and Buffy. Stacy our little mouse friend and Eugene the coacroach of deepu, dhvani and saaniya’s cabana, also entertained us with their sneaky visits.
There was never a boring moment on the island. Divers from all over the world came here, sharing experiences which enthralled each of us. Full moon parties by the sea, dancing to Fleetwood Mac and gazing at the shooting stars in the sky, were some moments we truly enjoyed and cherish.
But the highlight of the trip was the ‘night dive’. It was a part of the advanced diving course which Deepu, Saaniya, Bharat, Adu and me signed up for. Descending into the water just before sunset, a pitch black scene greeted us. Each of us had a torch and could see only what our torch light shine on. The corals seemed to glow and the creatures of the night began to peek out of their hiding spots, adding a splash of colour to the already picturesque scene. These creatures did not look scary. Infact deepu and me felt like eating them (Sorry but I love sea food). The fish however were quite funny at night. Timid during the day, fish are blind at night and have a tendency to swim into so you have to be extra careful. The silence of the night was experienced with each of us only hearing our own breath . I felt like I was actually living every moment, witnessing my life with every bubble I exhaled. This made me realise realise that land was an overrated place. (Damn i wish i was born a mermaid!).
Ascending gradually, Tanuj our night dive master, did something which left us awe-struck. Creating ripples in the water with his flippers, white lights began moving towards us. These ‘lights’ were the bioluminescent plankton.Holding on to the rope, just a few metres below the boat we experienced a meteor shower underwater. With the white lights coming towards us each of us felt something we could have never imagined. It was an experience which left me speechless then and still does everytime I try to relive it .
Diving in the Andamans changed my life. As James Nestor, the author of the book ‘Deep’, a book on free diving, quotes, “Those who dive deep in the ocean get a glassy look in their eyes when they describe their experiences; it’s the same look one sees in the eyes of Buddhist monks or emergency room patients who have died and then been resuscitated minutes later.”
We made it to the other side of the world and hope to go back there soon . Thank you dear ocean for inspiring us and making us feel so humble . Life on land has never been the same after we visited you!