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Scuba diving should certainly be on your bucket list – whether you can swim or not. The season starts soon in the Andamans, and you should plan for it.
I remember it was the summer vacation I was in my first standard, and my brother and all the other elder cousins were playing in the river which ran behind my uncle’s home back in Kollam, Kerala. I was the only girl on the paternal side of the family then. I wanted to go into the water as well, but none of the cousins wanted to take the responsibility of taking care of a little chit like me, and I was just watching them and crying, non-stop.
Finally my uncle agreed to take me into the water as well. I still remember this crystal clear – my grandmother said, “When you go into the water remember if the water level reaches your chin, do not take a sudden breath or else you would always be scared of getting into water!”
Post that whenever we used to go to the beach in the Andamans where I grew up, I would not be scared to get into water. I would go right up till my chin while standing straight in water (whatever the height that would be) and jump when the waves would hit me.
The only regret I have is that I never managed to learn swimming! I know that it’s shameful and embarrassing to not know swimming when I grew up in the islands, but the thing was – for some reason, if I had to learn swimming, it would mean my Dad teaching me in the open sea on the beach, and it never really happened. I did not really think much of it – I was too busy enjoying my dance classes and taking part in literary competitions, etc. Beaches only meant picnics, getting into the water to take a bath and just play, even though I would always regret not knowing how to swim. Especially when I saw my other friends getting into the sea or a swimming pool for a swim. My job would be to sit by the side, and hand them food and drinks when needed.
Years went by. I turned 30 last July, and I hate to say this – but I don’t know swimming even now (was hoping to learn this summer… which is already past…). But one thing that I had on my bucket list was Scuba Diving! It became even more of an adventure that I wanted to fulfill anyhow when I had learnt you don’t really need to know swimming to do scuba diving (thanks to Zoya Akhtar and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). There always is a way if you really want to do something in life.
Scuba diving became a popular water sport in the last few years in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and whenever i went home for a vacation it would be just a week or two and mostly i would be home and catching up with family friends and relatives. There was no possibility of me going to the beach and take up diving.
I had not given up hope and had to do scuba diving before my 30th birthday and finally it happened, yes my first ever scuba diving experience and I don’t have words to describe how beautiful that feeling is. It was exactly the #ZindagiNaMilegiDobara moment when Hrithik Roshan takes his first dive and the poem in the background, it was exactly that.
On 12th Feb 2017 I did my first scuba diving. All thanks to my friends who joined me in a week long vacation to Andamans. I decided to join them as a tourist and see more of my beautiful hometown.
We were doing the scuba diving through Barefoot Scuba, which is the first and only PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Resort in the Andaman Islands established in 2004 I knew them personally since it was part of the Barefoot Resorts. My brother is their Operational Manager, and the diving instructors were known to me, so I was pretty much in my comfort zone. My dive instructor was Bunty bhaiya (the one in the first pic and in the video you can watch below). Other than Barefoot Scuba, there are other scuba diving operators like Dive India, and Andaman Bubbles Scuba Diving, which are also good.
The 45 minute scuba diving session included 15 minutes of training and then 30 minutes of dive of up to 13-14 meters underwater. For a non swimmer like me 14 meters is a big deal. We chose the North Bay islands for scuba diving unlike the Havelock where generally tourists do the scuba diving. One because we knew them personally and second the rush is less in North Bay compared to Havelock, so the divers too are not in a hurry.
To start with the training we were told all the hand gestures that we would be using underwater like Ok, not okay, up, down, nose block, ear pain, water getting into the mouth etc. Then you are made to practice to breathe through your mouth wearing the scuba gear. Trust me this is the most difficult part; I had a tough time to get used to breathing through the mouth.
Then the moment arrived, once the trainers checked for all the precautions and revised us through the hand gestures they pulled us along with them inside water. Ideally it’s one instructor with two people but I got to go alone with Bunty bhaiya, perks of being an islander. I didn’t even realize and I was already underwater. It was beautiful, calm and quiet, it was a different world all together. The only sound I could hear was my heart beat and the sound of me breathing in and out.
I saw some small fishes of different colors, corals, also managed to see a sea cucumber and a sea urchin (which was not new to me, had seen them before also) . It was so beautiful that I stopped breathing in between and suddenly my ears started paining. I think i came up above water twice in the 30 minute dive. I did want to see the Nemo but i couldn’t but i have heard people telling they saw the Nemo, below is one such pic my friend Saketh clicked.
Time flies underwater, before I could get the whole hang of it thirty minutes was up and time for me to say bye to the amazing marine life. I feel so proud to be from the Andamans – not that I was not before but after the dive I get the whole idea of why people enjoy diving so much and travel all the way to these islands for diving and snorkeling.
Here is my scuba diving video to give you a sneak peek of what the underwater life looks like. Barefoot Scuba makes sure your memories are captured forever. Watch till the end to see the fishes. (Or skip to 1:06)
Also they give us a certificate once we finish our dive which is pretty good.
I am determined to go for even more scuba diving sessions once I learn swimming, so that I can become better than my first one in terms of breathing and not letting the claustrophobia hit me which has always stopped me from learning swimming.
The azure waters surrounding the Andaman Islands make it a treasure trove to dive into and snorkel around.
Pristine dive spots and enchanting fish life have ensured that the Andamans are now considered as a diving hot spot and divers from all around the world make their way to these islands simply to scuba dive. Irrespective of whether you can swim or not – as long as you are at least 8 years old, you too can try your hand at diving and get addicted for life!
One can also take up advanced level certification and become a certified diver. Many folks from all over the world actually come to the Andamans to take up the diving certifications. You can also check out some instagrammers who are based in the Andamans and their profiles are a treat to watch. @tara.oceanista and @nelson_raju
Have you done scuba diving? Where and how was your experience? Is it on your bucket list? If yes then some serious advice – PLEASE DO IT. Don’t think about it even for a second, the moment you get a chance just do it.
Even if you can’t swim.
Published here earlier.
Images credit: Sneha Sasikumar and Saketh