I felt the weight drift away. As I floated further down, it felt strange. Soon, I saw the multi-colour fins, the blue wavy roof, the perfectly crafted vegetation and a foreground so fine and soothing to step on. The cool air that I was breathing, not only kept me alive, but had unleashed a new side of me with each new step that I had taken.
All of a sudden, I could see the branches and twigs floating above me. Thus marked the end of an experience that changed me. Not only did I experience a strange pain in my right ear, but I had to work for four days to shake-off the hangover. This story is about my first visit to Kerala's most popular beach, Kovalam and the first underwater experience I had. I am convinced that, even in the most populated tourist spots, there is a lot of excitement that does not meet the eye.
Before I proceed to the details, tell me, how many of you would consider Scuba Diving in Kerala's beaches?
Experience vs sight seeing
Jackson Peter, the Managing Director of Cool -Divers, based-out of Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram said that the tourism scenario in Kerala has begun to change. “It is no longer about sight – seeing Visitors look forward to an experience that they can cherish for a lifetime. Kovalam, has a lot of scope to become the best beach destinations in the country. It can even become the best destination for water sports in India,” explains Jackson Peter.
Cool Divers decided to capitalise on this need and offers visitors an unique underwater safari. Picture this. A fancy scooter, attached to a container filled with air, that permits one person to explore the underwater world. Fear not, you would not be drinking any sea-water in the bargain and you would only be partially drenched. Yes – the Bond Safari gives your that and more. Jackson and his partner Suraj Khan said that Bond Safari is the first step towards introducing the local crowd to the world of scuba diving. They further explained that the Bond Safari does restrict the person's movement under water to an extent which is not the case in the scuba diving. “In my experience, about 80 per cent of our visitors consider scuba diving post the Bond Safari,” commented Jackson Peter.
Scuba diving – safe, scientific, serene
Scuba stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. While scuba diving has been popular among a large number of people abroad, the idea is rather new for many Malayalis. Here are some facts that could be useful for those who are hesitant about taking their first session:
1. Scuba diving is safe. The gear, that weighs almost 14 kilograms, ensures that no matter what happens, you will be safe. Don't worry, once you are in the water, the 14 kilograms is reduced to mere 'weightlessness' due to the laws of physics.
2. The most important rules for a beginner are:
a) Listen to the instructor(s) and follow his/her instructions to the 'T.' You might be an expert swimmer, but scuba diving in the open water, is extremely different from doing a few laps across a swimming pool. Hence, it would be wise follow instructions.
b) Breathe in, Breathe out, and stay calm. As mentioned earlier, your gear is designed to ensure that you are safe in all circumstances. Interestingly, the jacket that you wear, is inflated before you head into the water, allowing you to float on the surface. Also, when you are under water, you are breathing the purest form of air (which, as a matter of fact, is dry and mildly cold). In short, relax. Your instructors will not leave you in the dark and you are never alone. Even professional divers head out to the water only in pairs or groups.
3. Enjoy the change in environment. Everything under water is peaceful. The silence is priceless. The sight of aquatic life, often seen on television or on the big screen, can leave you dumbstruck. As you walk on the ocean bed, you are likely to feel the fine sand below your feet and would consider kneeling down to observe your surroundings better. Enjoy it. But take care. Some sea animals have extremely effective defense mechanisms. You wouldn't want your fingers or toes to be anywhere near their tentacles.
4. Most importantly – DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. This session will give you an insight into a world that very few have explored. It throws light upon habitats that are often disturbed in some of the most atrocious ways. Respect the aquatic life, give it's due space and experience the true sense of harmony.
5. If you do feel hungry after the session – don't worry- eat all you can. Subin, a diver at the Cool-divers said that he can eat upto 25 grams of cheese and more each day post his dive sessions. Yes. Scuba diving does keep you fit. The air that you breath underwater through the snorkel is cold and dry. Hence, it is recommended that you drink some water before the dive, lest your throat becomes dry during the session.
No age limit
Anybody above the age of 8 can consider scuba diving. For those who wish to do so regularly, you could complete a basic course in diving certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). There is no compulsion to buy the scuba gear. You can always rent them. However, it is preferably if you could purchase your very own pair of underwater goggles and a snorkel. The basic course costs about Rs. 25,000 (including the gear).
A personal take
The scuba diving session by cool-divers lasted for three hours. The first hour gave us an insight into the world of scuba diving. The next one-and-a-half hours were spent on understanding the scuba equipment, its functions and hand signals used under water. This is essential for it is near impossible to speak under water. The scuba session took place at the Kovalam beach. It had lasted for 30-40 minutes. Personally, it was the best experience ever.
The first breath through the snorkel was the scariest. I feared that I might drown to death for the seas were slightly rough and I had was not accustomed to the breathing device provided. Thus, I began drinking a lot of salt water and was beginning to drift away from my instructor named Subin. I admired the confidence with which my instructor had convinced me of the wonderful sights below, calmed me down and assured me of being safe. On the count of three, both of us and the organisation's photographer had entered the ocean. After I had signalled 'O.K' we decided to swim deeper and discover a world that I would have never imagined.
From sea urchins to needle fish, to shoals of other exclusive species, I knew I had reached heaven. It was true. I forgot to acknowledge the presence of my instructor or the camera man and had begun to feel part of the world around me. It was as if the sea had become my new home. My ears could sense the shift of pressure as we continued to descend lower. Then again, I chose to ignore it and wanted to see more. It was a unique sense of freedom and also of self- realisation. For until then, I knew not of a world beyond the obvious. Many are unaware of the sea world and its power. Only few are aware of the first aid care that ought to be provided when a jelly fish stings you!
It was however, unfortunate to see the way in which speed boats and other visitors at the beach discard garbage into the sea. Sure, the sea can wash it a way, but only until the next big wave lashes the shore. I was overwhelmed to know that this group of divers have taken it upon themselves to keep the beaches clean and personally collect the garbage on the seabed and discard them in an better manner. “It is our responsibility as divers to do so. We do not want to show the world the filth on our beaches. They have to enjoy the experience to the fullest,” said the divers.
As Jackson Peter and Suraj Khan rightfully said, Kovalam does have the ability and the resources to become one of India's best centres for water sports. At present, the organisations managing director and four other partners pool-in a portion of their savings towards the venture. The response has been fantastic.
I am grateful to Jackson Peter, Suraj Khan, Subin, Madhumathy, and the many divers at Cool-Divers for the experience that has kept me yearning for more. I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to explore, experience and cherish a true adventure. Going all the way down, in this case, is not bad AT ALL!