I do not have a huge wish list list but there was this one thing on that list that had been up there for eternity – “Scuba Diving“. Frankly, I didn’t have any idea what it takes or what it was going to feel like, but the fact that you can survive underwater with or without diving gear and enjoy the beauty that nature has to present, had me holding on tightly to this item on the list. A random advertisement by “Outdoor Ventures on Instagram had me looking at a neatly designed trip to a coastal town nearby. Formalities completed and we had signed up for the trip for the weekend.

                                        The Beach

Off we went packed in a little mini bus late on friday evening. Our plan was to reach the town of ‘Tarkarli’ by day break on Saturday. Initially i was undecided if I really wanted to go, but in the end I had to overcome my fear – and it was a GO ! On the bus, I realized on the seats alongside me were kids aged 6, 7 and maybe 12 or 13 – that is when it struck me that they were way more confident than me in any sense, and now suddenly my self respect, inter twined with my fragile ego had been hurt. I had to do this !!

In the wee hours of the morning the little mini bus rolled into a rather quiet nugatory town that would have been missed, had it not been for the alluring coastline that it boasted of. The houses were typically coastal with coconut trees lined up against the external mud walls. Old boats, fishnets, ropes and large tanks probably used to store water were common sights along the road. It was daybreak and people had just begun to appear on the streets.

The beaches were clean, well maintained and free of unwanted clutter like food stalls and hawkers. On one side a few meters was a nice sea water park that was inflated and ready for kids to enjoy. Plenty of options to try your hand at water sports like the jet ski, banana ride, para sailing or even snorkeling were available along the beach.

                               The Camp

Our place of accommodation was a home stay with a local family – a perfect way to taste the food, learn the culture and understand finer details of their lives. This was probably one of the points that had attracted me on this tour. To add to the experience, I had opted to camp on the beach, something I hadn’t done before.The kids and me hopped off the bus and straight into the little cottage that was built for visiting guests like us. The experience of camping on the beach was second to none. The vast skies lit up at night with a million stars looking down. Surprisingly, the beach was active all night with people flocking to see its beauty well past midnight.

Off we go !

We changed into something comfortable and after a quick light bite, we headed straight for the beach where a boat was waiting for us with cylinders and diving gear at the ready. That was when the first signs of fear emerged. Watching the boat bob up and down in the playful waters of the Arabian sea made my heart sink. The excitement was high, and I diverted my attention to a group of kids playing with their dog on the other side. A few mandatory beach shots and a small stroll later, we were aboard a small boat that chugged into the sea. The wind was calm and soothing, the sun had begun its journey for the day. Birds were flying low and close mistaking us for a fishing trawler, in anticipation of a quick grab of the fresh catch.

                                   The Deck

The rattling sound of the boats engines died and it drifted for a few yards before coming to a halt near a slightly larger boat that looked like our dock for the next few hours. All occupants of our boat transferred into the bigger boat along with the cylinders and relevant gear. A tall lean instructor inspected the gear and sent the boat away with a thumbs up sign. He was soon flanked by a two others who were in their wet suits. Occasionally the sea water lapped against the boat creating the only sounds in the middle of the sea apart from the slightly irritating screeches of the seagulls. We went through the rules, which were pretty simple – “don’t swim, don’t breathe through your nose, remember the hand signals and don’t move till you reach the bottom”. I felt my heart sink into my stomach at that point. The only credible advantage I had till then was – ‘I could swim’ and here, I was told I should not.

There was only one way forward – go first ! Once the instructor had finished repeating his instructions, he asked in a strong tone “who would want to go first?” I raised my hand slowly from one end of the boat. Before I knew it I had the life jacket on, weights tied around my waist, and cylinders mounted on my back. The face mask was interesting – it covered the entire face except the mouth. He waited patiently in the water till I had gathered the courage to get in. The scary part was, the mask had shut my nostrils tight and every attempt of me trying to breathe through my nose left me breathless. I was floating with the help of the life jackets clearly hearing the voice of the instructor – I could not fathom the courage to give a go ahead and take the dive. I kept submerging my head in the water trying to get a feel of how it would be. As i dipped my head in the outer world disappeared leading me into a void of calm and dark. I quickly retracted and pulled myself back to the normal world. I was scared.

“Talking is not an option underwater, I felt we should spend lot more time under just to develop the lost art of listening”

“I had to do it in the next two minutes or fear will take over” I said to myself and gave a shaky go ahead with my index finger circling around to touch the thumb with the remaining three fingers stretched out. In a swift move the diving instructor put on his mask, shoved the breathing regulator in my mouth, opened the breathing valve and emptied the air in my life jacket. The deafening silence hit my ears as we started to descend into the water. I could feel two distinct forces, a strong push from the instructor as he led me down into the deep and the other was water building pressure on my ears. Out of nowhere appeared another diver who was ready with his camera to take shots. I could see nothing but breathing had become surprisingly easy. The mask was effective in forcing me to breathe through my mouth. Suddenly, I could see blurry images in the distance. The water was shallow as the sunlight was reaching the spot, lighting up a small portion of the seabed. The current was strong and by now the pressure had built up strongly on my ears.

There were corals, colorful fish and more corals all around. We reached a spot and my ears were bursting under the pressure. I had to blow my ears out (a technique that is used to clear air cabin pressure during flights) to get sanity back. As I turned around the beauty of the underwater world had completely taken over me. It was serene and beautiful all over. I wanted to scream each time a shoal of fish came close. They moved fast, or maybe I was clumsy but it was fun. The instructor checked with me if I was alright. I responded with a sharp “okay” hand signal and he swooped me away like a tugboat to another coral formation in the distance. This one was even better. I held on to a small piece of rock swaying under the water current like a helpless float. At one time I let go off my grip and began drifting because of the strong undercurrent. The instructor swung into action to hold me and pull me back to where I was. The fish came in large numbers as we fed them bread. They were bold to eat out of the hands. We moved from one spot to yet another where the corals were larger and more bright.

Just as I had gotten used to the silence, I felt a tug on my back. The instructor signaled it was time to go back up. We began the ascend slowly and surfaced momentarily. All eyes on the deck were looking at me with questions and nervous looks. I had been under water for about twenty minutes as per the stipulated guidelines. “How was it ?” was the chorus question I spat out the air regulator from my mouth and replied in one breath – “Divine”.

I do not remember the last time I smiled away in contentment sitting on the deck – staring at the horizon and intermittently diving and surfacing divers.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain

Getting to Tarkarli:

Well connected from Pune/Mumbai by road.

Nearest Train Station: Kudal/Sindhudurg

Places to stay: Plenty of homestay and resort options available.

Food to Eat: Local sea food cuisine, home made food (veg/non-veg), ukhdiche modak (sweet rice momos), sol-kadi (a tangy drink made out of kokam – a local fruit)

Best time to visit: October to March. April – May (hot summer climate)

Climate type : Tropical.

Other major attractions: Sindhudurg fort situated in the sea, ganesha temple.

Things to carry: Sunscreen, cap, water, camera, light clothing.

Need help in planning a trip ? Call on “Outdoor Ventures” for a detailed and well planned trip.

Images and write up are property of the author and should not be duplicated without permission.

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