Nina Simon is amazed at the vibrant underwater life in Chidiya Tapu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The plane glided above the jade green sea and then over thick green foliage as winding snake-like rivers crawled towards the hissing shores and waves crashed into white onto the jet- black rocks. Yes, I was heading for an island. I was picked up by the owner of the dive center, Commander Baath, who is an ex- navy diver and Commander in the Indian Navy and one of the pioneers of the underwater exploration of the islands. Soon, we were on our way to the southernmost tip of the South Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The terrain was hilly with rainforest-like vegetation and then there was the constant presence of the sea's horizon, peeping along the bends as we climbed the hills. The region is dotted with many mangrove pockets which are home to salt water crocodiles and a variety of endemic birds from which the island earned its name “Chidia Tapu” or the “Bird Island”. The island also shelters small tranquil beaches strewn with driftwood and on Sundays, tourists and locals in good numbers visit these beaches.
The first day of the course was full of videos and the theory of diving and I expected to go through one more day of that, but I was in for a surprise.
The next day, my dive instructors Karan and Nithin taught me how to “suit up” and though the cylinders were a wee bit heavy, the good thing about water is that it makes everything lighter. At first there was a hesitance to get underwater. “Take one breath and you will forget everything,” they said, and I'm glad I listened. As I deflated, swarms of Blue Damsel Fish stared back as I blew semi-convex bubbles scattering shoals of Glass Fish in all directions. Lion Fish stood still, mostly in couples among the crevices of the coral (I guess it was mating season). I had the good fortune of seeing a Banded Sea Krait and a Green Turtle besides the Clown Fish which bobbed in and out of the sea anemones. Parrot Fish gnawed at the coral as Puffer Fish swam, cautious of our presence. Gobies and Blennies darted in and out of their burrows, curious about the new aliens from above the sea- surface.
Life in the deep
Soon, I was comfortable with shallow dives and ventured further deep and had the experience of diving 30 metres below the surface to explore an ancient British ship wreck. With friendly batfish swimming close in large numbers and huge shoals of Giant Travally and Barracuda eyeing us nervously, we waded across the 80-foot wreckage which has some permanent residents like a massive four-and-a-half-feet-long Grouper Fish which swam like ‘royalty' around the wreck, tailed by Cleaner Fish. Many other creatures of the sea like Star Fish, Puffer Fish and Sea Feathers have also made the wreck their ‘home'.
They say, “All good things must come to an end” but the best of things end in no time and soon I found myself packing my bag getting ready to catch the ten o' clock flight. These were the fastest 10 days of my life! I was surprised how in such a short time I didn't just learn how to dive but found a family far away from home and a whole new idea of what the deep blue sea actually looks like.
Never say no to an opportunity to go diving because you will be missing out on a whole new experience. And if you're young, don't wait for the opportunity. Go live it!
To know more details about diving at Chidiya Tapu visit: http://infinityscubandamans.com/
Nina is a I Year M.Sc. Marine Biology student, Annamalai University.