Leisure: Dive into the deep sea and make new friends. Helping you achieve this is Temple Adventures, a Puducherry-based group that organises and trains people in this activity

Most of us believe that fish don’t like being petted. But if you listen to Aravind’s experience deep beneath the sea, you'll be forced to believe otherwise. It’s all very Life of Pi-esque, if you ask me. Aravind is a diver and one of the co-founders of Temple Adventures, a group that trains and organises deep sea diving, surfing and snorkelling in Puducherry. “This is South India’s only PADI certified diving centre,” says Aravind.

On one of his diving expeditions, Aravind found a five-foot long grouper, weighing around 60 kg, trapped in a net. Daunted by its size, the accompanying divers went up to the surface, while Aravind stayed on and freed the grouper. As he began to swim towards the surface, he found the fish following close behind him and nuzzling his legs. After a few affectionate pats, he sent the fish away. Ever since that day, every time Aravind goes diving his faithful friend comes to him to be petted. “It was a fantastic experience. I remember, the very next day after rescuing the grouper, when I had gone diving, I saw a group of 20 big groupers swimming towards me. It was a bit unsettling at first and then this particular one came to me and swam around my feet and nestled against my legs waiting for me to pat him. The other divers were amazed. Never had they seen anything of this sort. Ever since, I feel bad to eat fish,” says Aravind.

Temple Adventures was started in 2008 by Robert Partridge, David Hearn and Aravind S.B. “I have been diving for eight years now. The idea of establishing a diving school came about when I was holidaying in Australia in 2007 and met Rob and David there. I went diving with them and it was quite an experience. We decided, why not start one in South India, given we have such a beautiful sea, teeming with marine life,” says Aravind. According to him, India has very few diving schools. There’s one in the Andamans, one in Goa and one in Mumbai. “In Puducherry, we offer around 16-20 diving spots. The most popular are Aravind’s wall, named after me because I found it,” he grins and adds, “Cave 32, Hole, Ravines, Net Cave, Cool Down and Sans Garden.”

Even though Temple Adventures also offers snorkelling, free diving and surfing, scuba diving is most popular. “Initially, we would get around five to six people in a week. Now because of the popularity, we get 25-30 people in a week.” It’s open seven days of the week. But the weekends are the most active with more tourists coming in. Of the clients, around 10 per cent are local divers, 35 per cent are tourists from other countries, and the remaining from all over India. “We get clients belonging to different age groups. But most of them are in the 20-30 age group. Children as young as 10 also come to us. We don’t allow children younger than that to attempt diving,” explains Aravind.

There are five trainers who speak Tamil, French, German, English and Hindi depending on the language the learner is comfortable with. There are different classes to choose from. For beginners, there’s an hour-long preparatory class that takes place in a small pool within the office premises. Clients get to wear their diving outfits, fins and masks and get into the tank for a familiarisation class. The actual deep sea diving session starts at 6.45 a.m. when the trainers and learners board a ferry from a private jetty and go anywhere between six km and 15 km into the sea and then jump into the calm blue waters for an “underwater break.”

You can go diving throughout the year but the best months are February, March and October. Going by the photographs Aravind shows us, the water is quite clear, till a depth of about 30 metres. So don’t be surprised if you see a Manta Ray gently float by or a barracuda or a whale shark glide past. You get around 50 minutes to explore the beautiful underwater world and get acquainted with the bat fish, lion fish, rock fish, scorpion fish, and colourful corals. “We also work towards keeping the sea clean and saving the corals. Even though I have been doing this for years, going underwater can never get boring. Sometimes it’s where you make new friends and create lasting bonds,” smiles Aravind.

For details, log onto www.templeadventures.com

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