Monday, May 18, 2009

Lakshadweep Diaries 4

(Read Lakshadweep Diaries 1,2,3 below first)

We reached Kavaratti very early next morning. Again, we were taken to the island in smaller boats. The ride was longer this time and again, the colour of the water changed from deep blue to green and aqua blue. An archway welcomed us to Kavaratti. We were taken to the Dolphin dive center where we were served with the complimentary welcome drink.

After spending some time there doing essentially nothing, we were ready for the first activity of the day-Lagoon watching. We were made to sit in a glass bottomed boat—a boat where glass was fitted on the floor so that we could see the ocean floor clearly. We were then taken to the coral reefs slightly away from the shore. The sights that I saw on this ride were amazing. I know I have been using these adjectives very frequently, but believe me, they are all under statements compared to the sights I’ve seen. Through the glass, we could see all the wonderful corals under sea in many unimaginable shapes. There were rocks which looked giant brains, antler horns and ones which looked just out-of-this-world. And as we were just getting used to the undersea landscape, the fishes appeared.

They were beautiful!! We saw fishes in all the beautiful shades of black, white, blue, red, yellow, orange and god knows how many others. We also saw clown fishes (remember Finding Nemo?) and the sea anemones (noodle shaped plants in which Nemo lived). As our guide threw pieces of bread in the sea, they all stormed to eat them. The sheer variety of life down there was superb!! We also saw giant turtles(about 1.5-2 Ft. long) swimming calmly in their habitat!

Still dazed by what we had seen, we returned to the island. There, we changed into our swimming gear and life-jackets and were back again into the sea—this time for deep sea snorkelling!! We were taken by a boat to the middle of the ocean and were let go for snorkelling. This time, it was even more amazing. There were many more varieties of fishes and corals here. Once again, kudos to the people of lakshadweep. For the people in our group who could not swim, they personally assisted them and showed them around, the sea floor. All of us had a great time here.

I had an amazing experience here. The guides that were with us in between dived to the ocean floor about 3-5 mts below the sea level. Seeing them, I felt ‘inspired’. I asked them whether I could remove my life jacket. Believe it or not, they actually let me do that!! And so for a few minutes, I was in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket!! Now 5 mts might not look like a great depth to you, but the current was really powerful. But I was determined to dive to the floor and touch the corals. It was not nearly as easy diving in the pool. Salty water made me more buoyant and I had to really put a lot of effort to get to the floor. As a result, I was really breathless by the time I reached down. Coming up seemed to take forever. But once on the surface, it felt exhilarating!! The adrenaline rush was superb!! I’ll never forget the time when I was at the mercy of those waters.

After having a great time, we came back to the island, passed time kayaking and swimming and had our lunch. The members of Lakshadweep Kala Academy performed a folk dance for us here. After lunch, the actual itinerary had a visit to the local museum and aquarium. But some of us from the group wanted to go scuba diving, and the organisers agreed! So while the others went to the museum, five of us filled the forms for scuba (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving. At Rs.750/- per head for a 20 minute dive, it was the only activity which we had to pay for separately. After a brief introduction to the equipment and a few basic underwater signals, we were taken to the middle of the ocean to the diving site. We were supposed to go underwater one by one accompanied by a professional guide diver.

Scuba was by far the cherry on the cake of this holiday. I wore my equipment and was taken to the bottom of the sea by my guide. I was told not to attempt swimming and the guide carried me everywhere.

I was first taken to a fish which was apparently not scared of outsiders. It stared at me the way I stared at it. I was told to produce my fist in front of the fish. As I did so, the fish came and kissed my hand!! It felt strange initially, but as it did it again and again, I started enjoying it. Then I was taken to the sea anemone, where I saw the clown fish (Finding Nemo fame) right in front of my eyes. It was one thing seeing the anemone from the boat. Down here, it was amazing. The noodle like plant had a base that had a colour unlike what I’ve ever seen before. It was a mixture of a bright purple and a fluorescent. I can’t describe it in words. As I touched it, it felt strange. It had a very rubbery, leathery feel to it. After that, I saw the under sea equivalent of touch-me-not plant. It grew in the vesicles in the rocks and as I snapped my fingers in front of it, it retracted itself quickly inside the rocks!!

The guide carried a bag filled with bread with him. As he shook that bag, pieces of bread floated out of it. And then, I witnessed one of the most mesmerizing sights of my life….

As the bread floated out, schools of fishes around me rushed to it. A riot of colours broke out in front of my eyes. There were fishes in all shades of pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, silver, gold….The glass boat ride did not even come close to it. As I raised my hand to touch them, they swam above, below, around and even through my fingers!! Some of them even brushed my hand!! I saw around. Everywhere I looked, there was the deep blue water. The variety of corals around was amazing, made even brilliant by the schools of fishes swimming through them. I had seen these sights on TV before, but being there was……It all felt surreal!!

After spending about 15 mins in there, I had completely forgotten that any other world existed outside. That’s when my guide asked me to look up. There, I could see the boat from which I had dived. As the boat was glass bottomed, I could see the others sitting in it. That’s when I came back to my senses. And after some time, I resurfaced. I could not believe it. I had just lived the dream of my life!! It took me a long time to come back to my senses. After me the others in the group went down for their turn and as they dived, I waited on the boat. This was another great experience… sitting in a small boat in the middle of ocean in the evening chatting with the local boat driver. God…Rs.750/- was a bargain for that experience.

After that, we were back on the island. We had our tea, spent the evening on the island and as the sun reached the horizon, returned back to the ship. I had realized many things today. Firstly, I had realized the wonder that this world is. One can’t really help appreciating God when you see the under sea life. Secondly, I realized the urgency of the concerns expressed by people around the world campaigning to save the great barrier reef and other corals, against global warming etc. I always thought they were irrelevant and unimportant. But when you actually witness all this beauty, you can’t help feeling a sense of purpose towards them. The islands are barely 1 or 2 feet above sea level. Even a small rise in ocean levels can wipe them off this planet…

Anyway, I had just had the best day of my life and I longed to sleep. The best holiday of my life was about to get over. I would be back to cochin the next day and I wanted to relish my last night on the ship. I dozed off to sleep listening to the discovery channel jingle—‘I love the whole world, and all it’s sights and sounds… boom de oda, boom de oda……

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