BANGALORE: After watching the super hit Hindi film Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, like many others, my friends and I had set two new goals to accomplish in our lives — to try sky diving and scuba diving. So, when a friend suggested that we head to Murudeshwar for a bit of scuba diving, we jumped at the opportunity, ignoring the fact that most of us couldn’t swim let alone dive! While we were repeatedly assured that one need not be swimmers in order to do scuba diving, nothing prepared us for what we were about to face. One sleepless bus ride along the soothing night sky and 467 km later, we landed in the beach town of Murudeshwar, in Bhatkal taluk of Uttar Karnataka. We checked in to a local hotel, freshened up and head out to explore the town. Incidentally, our visit coincided with the local fair and we found ourselves at the centre of all the rush and madness. The whole town was buzzing with a festive fervor and we were instantly sucked into the mood.
After sampling the local culture and food, and buying things we probably won’t use once we were back home, we headed to witness a glorious sunset at the beach. We wake up the next day to a promising blue sky, chirping birds and the smell of fresh coffee wafting from the kitchen below our rooms. Aware of the building anxiety, we head to the Dreamz Diving office, by the beach where our diving instructors were waiting for us. We helped lug the scuba gear – oxygen tank, breathing apparatus, flippers and goggles into the min van. It’s a quiet walk down to the beach, each one occupied with their own thoughts and unspoken fears.
The scuba diving happened at Netrani Island, 12 nautical miles (19 km) from Murudeshwar. We had a boat ride to the island. We loaded our gear onto the boat and set off to Netrani. All through the boat ride, the chief scuba instructor Dhirendra Rawat briefed us on the do’s and don’ts of scuba diving. We got familiarised with the apparatus and also get some basic physics lessons on air pressure, all of which are very important when one goes diving. We practised breathing with the oxygen tank and learnt hand gestures that are needed to communicate underwater. Each person was accompanied with an instructor and that piece of news brought us some relief. An hour later, we were ‘gearing up’ for the time of our lives but somehow it didn’t feel so.
Things were about to change. One by one we sat on the edge of the boat with our backs to the sea and were pushed head first into the water. A chaotic two seconds and lots of bubbles later I come up and my instructor asked me in his typical hand gesture — are you ok? No other choice, I nodded. Okay, time to go in — I put the rubber hose into my mouth and took a deep breath of oxygen from the tank while I kept reminding myself not to use my nose to breathe. It’s weird the first couple of times but you get used to it soon, but, all of this is above water, the real challenge is to keep our wits while doing the same underwater.
The first breath underwater is something one doesn’t forget that easily. It is a mixture of fear, exhilaration laced with huge, irregular, panicky gasps of breaths. Once my breathing became normal, I was guided lower and lower into the sea. Soon, all the panic was replaced by incredulity and awe at witnessing life underwater. The serene sea interspersed with the shining rays of the sun near the surface slowly gave way to the deep blue sea and its hidden treasures.
At first I saw nothing but soon the whole water kingdom appeared from nowhere, staring in your water-filled-foggy-goggled eyes. A school of fish fin their way past me from my left with a bigger fish close on their heels, probably chasing its lunch. All this while, the corals and the motionless sea cucumbers sat indifferently witnessing all the action. A curious snake peeped out of its hideout and quickly darted back in. I saw a colourful rock and found myself laughing into my oxygen tank when it started moving and I realised it’s a turtle! Its tried to swim and I decided to have fun and start chasing it. A fun chase later I let it go and turned my attention to my instructor who is holding out a sea cucumber for me to touch. Colourful corals, fluorescent fish all go about their business while I swam alongside them, an intruder in their space. About 30 minutes later, it was time to head up and I wished we didn’t have to. All this while I had forgotten that I was breathing from an oxygen tank, forgotten that I had an instructor guiding me underwater, forgotten the world I came from, mesmerised by the new world I was introduced to.
For a minute underwater, I didn’t breathe. I just let the soothing silence flow over me, wishing I could be there forever. As we slowly made our way up, a new found appreciation for the sea warmed my heart. I surfaced with a smile on my face, the same smile I saw on the faces of all my friends after their dive. Soon, it was time to head to the shore and back to Bangalore. On the way back I kept replaying the dive over and over again in my head. All I could think was it was undoubtedly the best 30 minutes of my life.