Friday, February 10, 2017

Scuba Diving in Lakshadweep’s Coral Islands- When I Walked on the Seabed

Scuba diving was perhaps the most difficult to accomplish adventure I always had in mind before it became a reality few months back. It actually turned out to be pretty easy when I got to do it. And you can do it too without even knowing how to swim.

Scuba diving was perhaps the one experience I was looking forward to most, after the ‘travelling on a cruise’ bit, during our LakshadweepTrip. There was as much anxiety as there was excitement. I have never been a very water friendly person, but my interest in everything adventurous starting from rafting in Rishikesh back in May 2011, made sure experiencing scuba diving went into my adventure travel bucket list. I didn’t really care where I did it, as long as I did it.

After having missed scuba on Kavaratti Island, thanks to apprehension, I was first in line at Kadmat Island the next day to enquire about the dive. Kadmat, as per what I had read online, is one of the best dive locations in India. Sadly, there was no dive happening that day due to low visibility. I did snorkel in the beach there, and I would realise the next day that this was going to be of huge help.

Am I on camera under water? Scuba diving in Lakshadweep Islands
The next day on Kalpeni Island, I enrolled myself at the dive centre and filled out the mandatory form that I love calling ‘death warrant’. We were a total of 10-12 people going for the dive.

The instruction session began at the dive centre by PADI certified divers. This was not a certificate programme and we were to follow complete instructions of our guides. They were going to be the ones who control the pressure in the cylinder and take us around underwater. We simply had to follow their instructions, indicate in case there was a worry, and enjoy the views.

‘The only major worry during scuba remains adjusting to the water pressure. The more you go down in water, the ears tend to hurt. As soon as you feel pain in the ears, signal your guide and he will take you to the surface. You can acclimatize and then slowly go back down. But do not ignore the pain in the ears, it is the only thing that can kill you there’¸ we were told.

As the instructors went on to teach us about the functioning of the oxygen cylinder and jacket, the various hand gestures underwater, what to do and what not to, I sat there listening intently, my heartbeat racing, wondering if I would be able to do it or return panic-stricken.

Learning the basics in a theory class before we head for the practical sessions in the open ocean
Kalpeni Dive Centre, Lakshadweep Islands

Breathing practice and equipment handling instructions at the Pitti beach before heading for the dive in the middle of the sea.
Kalpeni, Lakshadweep Islands

We then headed to the North end of the island to Pitti beach. Wearing life jackets, we entered the beach slowly. The initial trial of breathing with the oxygen cylinder would decide whether we would be able to scuba dive or not. I was one of the first to try and I remembered the previous day’s snorkelling session- I had panicked then, unable to breathe through the snorkel attached in my mouth, but a couple of tries later I had been successful. The key is to relax, I told myself and put on the eye-nose mask and the mouthpiece of the oxygen cylinder. I breathed through it a few times before putting my head inside water. It was a little strenuous, but I succeeded in one go. It was a victory moment.

After everyone’s trials, we headed on a boat to the middle of the sea. It started drizzling on our way but thankfully, the blazing sun returned soon enough. The instructors got into their dive costumes and looked for the perfect spot. The entire Lakshadweep sea area has low visibility in water post-monsoons due to dust travelling from the Indian mainland and settling on the sea, we were told. The phenomenon happens once in a while every few years and takes about 3 weeks for the visibility to clear. What we were seeing was clear blue water; we only wondered how much clearer this water can be.

There were three divers who were taking us one-by-one for the dive. I patiently waited for my turn, anxiety increasing with every passing second. The sun was burning the skin and the life-jackets were our only cover. It was soon my turn.

I calmly climbed down the stairs, holding the handle, chest-deep into the waters. The water wasn’t very cold, but was cold enough to relieve us of the blazing sun’s heat. I was actually dreading to let go of the last step, since that would make me suspended in water, which was way deeper than my height. With no knowledge of swimming and no life-jacket, I would simply go down. Shahjahan, my instructor, made me wear the oxygen cylinder jacket, as I still held on to the handle both by feet and hands. I was given a quick recap of the signages to be used underwater and was reminded of the pressure-ear problem and how to tackle it by blowing the breath out while holding the nose and mouth closed.

‘Now leave your feet from the ladder,’ Shahjahan told me. A moment of apprehension later, I lifted my feet. I was floating, he holding me from the jacket. I put on the mouthpiece, and he slowly pulled me into the water, head first, on my belly, the oxygen cylinder on my back.

Just stay calm, relax, no need to panic, I kept telling myself reminding myself of how easy snorkelling had been the previous day after I had relaxed. A couple of feet below the water level, Shahjahan indicated me to blow through my nose, to adjust to the pressure. I could see a huge piece of coral just a few feet below us. A videographer was taking my pictures and video on a GoPro and Shahjahan took me a few metres around there, while I adjusted to the water. It was actually easy and I already felt comfortable.

Checking with me every few seconds if I was okay or not (to which I pertinently kept responding with an okay-gesture), we went further down, floating around the corals. I could sense my breathing getting faster and requiring more effort the further down we went. The one thing worrying me was the ear-pain which, surprisingly, wasn’t happening at all. At that moment, I thought perhaps something was not right, but later was told that some people do not face the issue and it’s good.

This was just the beginning, Scuba diving in Kalpeni, Lakshadweep

Schools of fish in all different colours and shades swam near us. I spotted a lone blue-yellow fish chatting animatedly with the pointed corals. The corals themselves seemed to be of a huge variety. After what felt like at least a few minutes, I spotted the serenely white sea bed. Shahjahan got down and stood on the bed and instructed me to do the same. This was unexpected.

I walked on the sea bed. Many feet below the sea but I was way above the clouds in my head.

We then floated around the bed for sometime and I started feeling my mouth going completely dry with the breathing. I didn’t want the experience to end soon but this was getting a little uneasy. So when Shahjahan asked me next if I wanted to continue for longer or go up, I gave him the thumbs-up sign- the gesture for ‘take me up’. He released air into my jacket and slowly we went up the water coming out of the surface right next to our boat. I immediately took my face mask off and breathed fresh air through the nose.

Taking hold of the ladder, I took off the oxygen cylinder jacket and climbed up on the boat. A definite smile of victory spread across my face. I hadn’t just successfully done scuba diving, I had actually walked on the seabed!

One of my co-divers faced an issue of a non-functional oxygen cylinder. He definitely had panicked when he realised he was not getting any air from the cylinder while breathing and within moments he had been taken out of the water without any worry. It was the same cylinder that I had on minutes ago.
‘I am the only one who used the ‘there is an emergency’ gesture,’ he later joked recounting his experience. All the rest of us had simply used the ‘go down’, ‘all okay’ and ‘go up’ gestures.

We were all soon sharing and discussing our underwater tales.

‘Was this better than the views in Kavaratti?’ I asked one of the guys who had dived in Kavaratti too.

‘Definitely. This was way clearer. In fact, this was much better than my experience at Havelock Island in Andamans,’ he said which came as a pleasant surprise for the rest of us. Lakshadweep is indeed an undiscovered paradise.

A slight drizzle greeted us again as our boat headed back to land. One by one we got down from the boat and walked out of the beach, all safe, with a myriad of underwater sights to remember and one hell of a story to tell.

‘How deep was the seabed where we walked?’ I asked Shahjahan.

‘About 6 metres…20 feet’ he replied.

Just a few steps, but I had literally WALKED on the sea bed 20 feet below the surface of the water. Wow!

I thanked Shahjahan, Hafiz and the other instructors and left.

Towards the end of the day, a screening of our underwater films was organised at the dive centre and we were given the CDs with the GoPro photos and videos. Only if the photos could do justice to what we felt underwater, swimming there with millions of strange and unknown fish, in a world where the only audible sound was that of our breathing and bubbles going out.

With Shahjahan, Hafiz and the other instructors at the Kalpeni Dive Center

5 Simple and Important Tips for First-Time Scuba-divers:

1. You don’t need to know swimming for scuba diving- at all. Unless you are looking at getting a PADI certificate, you can do scuba with an instructor.

2. The only important thing is- relax. You won’t die. Do not panic.

3. Get used to breathing by mouth. Takes a little practice, but is easy. It didn’t take me long and the snorkelling experience of the previous day helped me as well.

4. As you go further down in the water, the water pressure increases and you might feel severe pain in your ears. Be very careful of this as it is the only thing fatal if allowed to persist. A little acclimatisation to the water and depth is all it takes to be fine.


5. Follow instructions of your guide very sincerely and you will be safe.

Now read:
Exploring Lakshadweep Islands with Samudram Package
My First Time on a Cruise Ship- Onboard MV Kavaratti
A Dreamy Sail aboard MV Kavaratti- Cruise to Lakshadweep

Join On second thoughts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more travel inspiration.

5 comments :

  1. Lovely write-up filled with so many emotions anxiety,excitement,apprehension,happiness, joy and victory!
    Great tips for 1st time scuba divers .

    P.S. Many feet below the sea but I was above the clouds in my head ....my favourite line from the post . Every time I read this line it brings a smile on my face :D

    ReplyDelete

Copyright © on second thoughts... | Powered by Blogger
Design by SimpleWpThemes | Blogger Theme by NewBloggerThemes.com