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Diving with turtles

india Updated: Feb 20, 2010 22:47 IST
Thomas Abraham

We are at the Lakshwadeep Center in Cochin harbour excitedly awaiting our first scuba diving trip. After the security check, we dump our baggage into a trailer and are herded like cattle into a minibus that drives us to the dusty terminal where MV Kavaratti is docked. There is yet another scramble to get the baggage out and lug it up a narrow staircase into the ship.

MV Kavaratti plies weekly from Cochin to the Lakshwadeep islands. We are to halt at Kavaratti and Agatti before our final destination — Kadmat. The ship ferries 700 passengers and speeds at 15 knots an hour.

The halts at Kavarrati and Agatti are about an hour each. The waters turn a deep green closer to the islands, from the otherwise marine blue, when we are in deep waters over 1,000 metres above the seabed. It is almost 24 hours before we reach our destination, Kadmat.

Kadmat is among the 35 islands of Lakshwadeep and a paradise for scuba diving and snorkelling. It is the only island with lagoons on the east and west.

We meet up with the instructors at the Diving School affiliated to Confederation Mondiale des Activities Subacquatiques (CMAS). This is at the Kadmat Beach Resort, which has air-conditioned cottages and is quite comfortable. My son, Ishan and I are on a 4-day certification program while Radhika has settled for snorkelling. Seemant, our instructor does a basic briefing on what the course entails.

We are initiated the next morning with some basic snorkelling techniques in the two-meters deep west lagoon which is followed by shallow water dives. It takes a while for a first-timer to get comfortable breathing through the mouthpiece and stay relaxed.

There is a variety of marine life on view in the lagoon and the open water. You get to see Skip Jack Tuna, Morey Eels, Yellow Fin Tuna, Powder Blue Surgeonfish, Mantaray, sharks, Pufferfish, Damselfish, Hermit Crabs, Swordfish, Barracuda, Kingfish and different kinds of turtles.

It is time for the ‘Open Water’ dives. This is really exciting. Sting Ray City, Sand Patch, North Cave and Tunnel are some of the exotic dive sites around Kadmat well suited for beginners as well as seasoned divers. We head out in a motorised boat by 7.30 am to Sting Ray City, which is well outside the lagoon.

With our gear on, we do a ‘back flip’ into the sea and move down 12 meters ‘equalising’ pressure while descending onto the sand bed. There is so much of marine life around us and we swim headlong, with Seemant leading Ishan and I, who are scuba ‘buddies’. It is important not to touch any coral to ensure preservation and also prevent injury.

We gently float over corals and lower ourselves to greater depths exploring the plant and sea life. After staying almost an hour underwater the air pressure in our cylinders reaches the minimum level and it is time to head back up. We have a mandatory ‘decompression’ stop at five-meter depth for a few minutes from where we inflate our jackets and hit the surface.

We are now ready for deeper and more exciting dives.

Diving at ‘North Cave’ is truly exhilarating. This dive site is 45 mins by boat and at a depth of 22 meters (imagine going down a 6-storeyed building). We dive off the boat onto a sand bed about 5 meters deep and then cruise along for about 25 meters to the edge of a valley. A sheer scary drop awaits us with a world of marine life deep below. It is a slow swim downward under the watchful eyes of Seemant who guides us through the underwater world to a cave.

Sitting in the cave and seeing the aquamarine blue world around us is a sight we will remember forever. There are turtles and more turtles and various other exotic fish moving all around. We spend some time admiring the Green Morey Eel that is perched on a rock along the valley while holding onto a ‘safe’ rock. Watching schools of fish in various hues go past us is a lifetime experience. You don’t realise the distance covered underwater and also tend to lose your sense of direction as corals and more corals, with a host of sea life surrounding them, take over your emotions.

There are many more dive sites around Kadmat and other islands of Lakshwadeep.

But it is time to bid goodbye to the turtles and corals as we head back to Cochin. Diving is sport that gets your adrenalin pumping and we promise to be back next year to explore more exotic underwater locations with our CMAS certifications in hand.

Thomas Abraham is based in Delhi and is the managing director of Sage India — India subsidiary of the global IT firm.