Water-related activities like Scuba-diving, snorkeling, diving, swimming, jumping, sinking, drowning, boating — none of this was/is on my bucket list apart from bathing in deep waters now courtesy my trip to Netrani.
Once, years back, I was put on a rafting boat by my friends, and we went dashing through the Ganges. At one point where the water is still and so are the hills, you can jump into the water with your life jacket on and float in the mighty Ganges.
While all my friends were already in the water, I clung to the boat and refused to jump in. I screeched in fear, breaking the silence of the place. The boatman finally managed to push me into the water and pull me back in. With fear gripping me, I hardly remember how it was to float in the cold water. My friends have the video, which they still use to mock me. Rest is history.
My friend and I were planning to visit Murudeshwar. With just half a day to spend at the temple, my friend came up with the idea of Netrani islands. Though I knew about Netrani and Scuba diving, I was safely evading from the plan because I was afraid; afraid to take the plunge; afraid to do even snorkel. But then I decided to go ahead and give it a chance.
I thought, let me register first and probably sit in the boat, watch the pristine island and come off! I picked up the phone and called the scuba diving office. A rather heavy voice picked up the phone. I quickly asked for the rates, and he briefed it.
"Listen, is it safe?" I asked with doubt in my voice.
"100%" said the rich voice," the man said in the same threatening voice. It sounded more like a kidnapper demanding money.
"Should I have to get into that scuba suite?"
"No, madam, regular dress."
Relieved, I put down the phone without asking any further questions, paid the advance, mailed across the id proofs for they need to get a permit to enter the island, and then prayed.
Day Of Scuba Diving in Netrani
The day arrived!
We were at the place by 9 am, and after signing in the, "I am responsible if I die" form, we were waiting to board the boat.
The form has various questions to check about your medical history, and please be honest, for it is not a joke. The boat was loaded with all scuba equipment. We put on our life jacket, and off we set sailing.
As the Shiva looked at us sailing past Him, we shouted 'Har Har Mahadev' for a safe journey. As the boat sailed, the man behind the heavy voice started explaining about Scuba diving. He was so full of energy, enthusiasm, humorous, and friendly than what I had imagined.
"If you have seasickness, look at the horizon," he advised.
Oh, here comes the solution, I thought and looked out at the endless sea while gripping the planks of the boat. With a slight giddiness setting in and my heart thumping faster, he started explaining about scuba diving.
SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. He went on to explain how your ears will pain, how your joints can cramp, how your shoulders might pain, how your eardrums can get damaged, how your lungs can burst or collapse!
I looked back to pray at Shiva, and He was not in the vicinity! Should I take a plunge risking my lung collapsing? "What if I puke in the oxygen mask?", my friend popped up her long-term doubt. I was glad that she was only thinking of puking while I was thinking of lung burst.
"You come up, puke, then we go down. Simple!" the instructor laughed.
Then he taught how to use the goggles, oxygen mask, what to do if water enters the goggles, water enters your mouth, drops the oxygen mask, and runs out of oxygen.
"What? We will run out of oxygen?", my eyes popped out.
He showed me a meter hanging from the cylinder to explain how much oxygen is there, how to read it, and all that information went right over my head! We got turns to practice pressure equalization, breathing in and out of the oxygen mask, blow out water from the goggles. Whoa! It choked me big time, and I decided, am not doing it, okay?!
He calmed me down, taught me to breathe through it rhythmically, and convinced me that everybody does it, and I can do it too. Also, he assured me it is not going to be like 'Jaws' movie.
After more than an hour, the island came into sight.
As we docked near the island, the water looked emerald green. The water was so clear that you could almost see underneath. The eagerness to jump into the sea built up in me.
"If you have seasickness, jump into the sea. You will feel better!", exclaimed our diver, who was already in the water.
Before I could look, everyone else was already in the water. I looked at my friend and exclaimed, "I am not jumping. I cannot swim!"
"We have given 5000 bucks, let's at least jump into the sea", she reasoned and was in the water in a couple of minutes.
"Err... Really? Dive in?
Two others were ready to jump in, the boatman was already in the water, and I did not want to be left behind in a boat with no one.
"Should I jump in?" I asked fellow friends on the boat.
"I'll help you. Just get on and dive in. It is easier than descending from the ladder!"
I took his advice to heart, got unto the edge of the boat, and whoa, there I dived, right on my face into the sea! I must have drunk litres of seawater. I was gasping for air, and like a cockroach stuck in flush, I was doing something with my hands and legs, hoping I would float up.
I eventually did float up with my head still underwater, and the diver came to my rescue and turned me around.
"I drank so much of seawater!" I cried, still battling the water with my hands and legs.
"Your system will be cleansed today!" joked the instructor.
He took me near the ladder and helped me get unto the boat!
"I am alive". I never felt livelier before.
My friend and I were over the cloud with the first little adventure of battling with dense cold seawater and coming out alive.
There were nearly 35 people for the day, with approximately 6 to 7 divers. We were taken in batches. For almost 30 to 40 minutes, you will be underwater. It also depends on how comfortable you are.
There are rings around the boat, and you can manage to snorkel in it or laze around too. Now, we had already got into the water, wet, the jacket was suffocating, the sun was scorchingly hot, we are hungry, and there was no sign of our turn.
We were offered some biscuits, fruits, juices while the boat was wobbling badly. I could see people going in and out of water. Guys did not want to lose face in front of girls, and girls did not want to prove they are any less, so eventually, everybody took the plunge.
I was the 35th person to dive when there was no one else. They put on the fins, fixed the oxygen cylinder, added a lot of weights, and then the goggles. I breathed through the oxygen mask.
Fellow travellers and divers surrounded me, and they kept cheering me, asking me to relax and encouraged me to take it cool.
Well, the rest 34 were alive, so I should be fine too. Then, I sat on the edge of the boat, and they pushed my back right on into the sea, like a somersault! I went down again, kept breathing, and the diver pulled me up.
Relax, breathe, turn into the water— I reminded myself.
Everything was blur and brown, and I panicked!
I came up, breathed, relaxed, turned, and panicked yet again!
The diver calmed me down, and this time I took my time to breathe rhythmically and maintained the rhythm as I turned. Believe me, and you will be in trouble if you breathe fast, don't breathe, or lose track of your rhythm. Count 1 to 10 for every time you inhale, then again for exhale and you are all set. As you go down, your ears start to prick. Close your nose and release the pressure.
Exploring The Deep Sea
I could soon see rocks or the sea bed with some weeds on it, and soon I was wondered, 'Did I take all the pain to see this?' But then I lifted my head and whoa! The colourful world stood right in front of me, and I could not believe what I was seeing. It was beyond beautiful.
The myriads of sea creatures were maroon coloured, striped, blue ones, yellow with black ones. There were different shades of eels, sea urchin, corals, fish camouflaged like rock, and none of which I know the name of.
I was lucky to spot a pearl in its seashell. I turned into a child pointing to go here and there, and the diver took me everywhere. Low and high and behind the school of fishes. With the air bubbles going in a rhythmic sound and beautiful scenery in front of me, my state of mind was exquisite.
While I was lost in this world, I had no clue when I had let go of the diver's hand. He was in front of me clicking photos. I am one person who does not pose for pictures even on the land, and he wanted me to pose underwater!
After a couple of pictures, I held on to him and was set to come up to the surface. We both bid goodbye to the fishes and the lovely sea and went back.
"Did you like it?" the diver asked me.
I was hugging the ladder, so I couldn't turn around to give him one too. I don't know his name, but he is someone I will always remember for showing me such a beautiful world. The entire team of divers was amazing.
They were taking people from almost morning 11.30 till 5 in the evening, and they do it every day, yet the enthusiasm and curiosity they have to seem as though it is their first dive. It shows how passionate they are.
I did not have anything to worry about being safe in the hands of such experienced divers. I had such a wonderful time with them. My throat had run dry, I drank juice, and before I could finish, I puked!
There, everything out as if a tap just broke. Everybody in the boat cheered, "Yay, one more wicket down!"
As the sun went down, we left the island and started our way back to the land. I was still out of words, for my perception towards the sea had changed —from the rough one that dashes to the shore and retreats to a paradise that needs to be explored and preserved.
With a sense of achievement, I gleefully looked at my face in the mirror. Oh my God! I looked like a charred chicken kabab with loads of salt, and my hair had some spikes. I laughed at my super-tanned face.
"Who cares!" I brushed it off. I have a day to cherish for the rest of my life.
I still remember the diver's words, "Go girl, go around the world and dive. 70% of the earth is water, so you have more places to explore than the land. Divers live longest, it's the best sport."
Well, I don't know if they will live longer because of the sport, but with happy souls wishing them, they will live long.