Saturday, February 20, 2016

Scuba diving at Havelock : A beginners journey into the sea

Jumping into a bottomless body of water, with nothing to cling onto, had been a dreadful thought for me. I am sure that I shared this feeling with many of you. It is said that the best way to overcome your fear is to face it. But, it is easier said than done. The longer you let the fear rule, the harder the resolution to overcome it becomes.

My abilities in swimming is limited to crossing the width of an average size swimming pool. Yet the thought of going scuba diving was toying in my mind. I had explored the wilderness of the hills through trekking to a maximum height of 16700 feet in Ladakah and Sikkim. But when it comes to water, I was stopped on my tracks by an unknown fear. I could not do it the first time I went to Andamans. Though couple of snorkelling trips boosted my confidence. It also stroked the desire to scale the next level – scuba diving. On my next island trip in Phi Phi Island, Thailand, I almost jumped into the sea, retracting the steps from the diving board of the boat.

Then came a second trip to Andaman early this year. Well before reaching the shores of Havelock, I was determined to dive this time. It was kind of now or never situation. I felt being guided by a strong inner voice. I was all set to explore the underwater world – both physically and mentally. After checking in at the resort, I called up my old contact Sanika and requested him to come over to discuss my plans for next couple of days.

Sanika had grown his business of renting cars and bikes in these intervening years. He is a full-fledged tour operator now. Knowing about my interest in diving, he took me to the office of Ocean Tribe, a dive centre next door and bargained a good price for me. The rate offered was lower than what was available on the net and my research. We were offered a product named Introductory Diving that would last about 45 min. I filled up the forms telling me about dangers and that I was aware of the risks etc. This is the point where 20-30% tourists drops out. Some drops out even after paying up. The fact that each one of us would have an individual instructor boasted my confidence.

Getting ready for the dive

Finally the day of reckoning arrived with lovely sunshine. We reported at the dive centre at our specified time. We slipped into the diving suit. Mr Farhan, our lead instructor led us to the boat that was to take us to the dive site. With few excited souls on board, the boat sped off tearing into the turquoise water of the Andaman Sea. When we reached the dive spot, we could see a few more boats already moored. The dive team helped us to wear the oxygen cylinder belts and weights. I realised that it is difficult to go under sea water without the weight belt and cylinder kit, forget about drowning. Another confidence booster realisation. With the kit belted to my body, the training of about 15 min started in shallow waters. The first thing asked by my dive instructor was whether I know swimming. I said a little bit. The instructor told me to forget that I know swimming, adding that I should not try to swim during the dive session. Whoa! I could not believe it. To prevent you from going astray, the instructor will control your movement and buoyancy. Hence you are not supposed to swim during the dive. All of us successfully cleared the training session. Excitement was at its zenith. Final equipment and breathing check was done. I signalled to indicate all OK. Next I found myself under the sea!

All OK....lets explore

The journey into the sea bed was like a game of computer. Level 1 of the entertainment. Max depth may be 15 feet. A magnificent world started unfolding before me. Colourful fishes was swimming across and over me. Corals of myriad colours were welcoming me to their world. After spending a few minutes, the instructor asked me whether I was comfortable and want to go further down. I signalled the OK sign and then thumb down to indicate that I was ready to go further down.

Level 2 was another 10 feet deeper. It was kind of cascading bowls of corals. From a bowl in level 1, you swim to a new bowl further down. Corals and fishes increased in number and variety with depth. They seem more beautiful and colourful here. I was enjoying every moment of it. So was my family, whom I could see occasionally. After spending few minutes at this level, the question of whether I was comfortable and want to go further down was thrown at me again. Except for the fact that the ever increasing pressure of seabed blocking my ears, I was not having any problem. We were taught how to clear the blocked feeling in ears during training. I signalled thumb down go further deep.

the world of fishes

Level 3 is the final frontier for introductory diving. It was another 10 feet or deeper into another bowl. It was more beautiful. I felt like a small fish swimming in a giant aquarium. There were colourful fishes and more colourful fishes. Occasionally a fellow diver would cross your path. We were under water for more than 30 minutes by now. Besides choking of ears, I had to encounter a new problem. The throat was drying up due to prolonged breathing through mouth. It was getting increasingly difficult to keep the throat wet. But the thrill of the moment kept me going. I thanked god for giving me courage and opportunity to explore this world.

Swathi observing the world of Nemo

We were awestruck even as we slowly emerged out of the sea. It was simply a wow experience. Those 45 minutes of life had been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life till date. I explored a new world – the underwater. I overcame a fear for life. A desire to explore it further waits.

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