The last time I dived was off the island of Hembadu Inolu, in the Maldives, eight years ago. And, I was quite looking forward to scuba diving at the coastal village of Vembar, on invitation of the People’s Action for Development (PAD), an NGO. Vembar is about an hour’s drive from Rameswaram on the coast of the Gulf of Mannar..
I landed in Madurai for a week’s relaxed stay in the heartland of Ramnad and was hopeful that I would get to do some good diving in the Gulf of Mannar. As our Scorpio sped past lush green paddy fields interspersed with dense coconut, palmyra and banana groves, I was already feeling rejuvenated. The weather was hot and the sky slightly cloudy. Our first stop was Rameswaram.
As we approached the town, I had a breathtaking view, from the Pamban bridge, of the blue-grey waters of the Gulf of Mannar on the one side and the Palk Bay on the other. The ocean was dotted with fishing craft -- some mechanised, and some driven by sails.
Our first venture into the ocean was to be a snorkelling excursion. An hour after a hearty lunch, we put on our fins, face mask and snorkel and entered the cool, inviting waters. It felt great to be back in the sea after eight long years. I was looking forward to do some real diving, of the scuba variety.
The next day, we set off for Vembar, a fairly big village with narrow streets. The next morning, we left for the sea shore for a ride in a fishing boat to do some wreck diving. As we headed towards the wreck, which was just a speck on the horizon, we encountered a rough sea, and the sea surface was murky.
As we got near the exposed part of the wreck -- a metallic, rusted tower-like structure sticking out of the blue-grey water -- we dropped anchor and dive master Yogesh, qualified rescue diver Beemaraj and I put on our diving gear.
At a signal from Yogesh, I hit the waters and was engulfed by a swirling greyness. Emptying the air in my Buoyancy Compensator Device and taking a deep breath, I started my descent by exhaling steadily. Beema and Yogesh followed, and at a depth of about eight feet, we headed towards the wreck. We had hardly gone 20 metres when Yogesh, whose face was just about visible in the murkiness, signalled that we surface. He called off the dive off due to poor visibility and rough waves that could knock us against the jagged metallic wreck.
The next day’s dive was also cancelled as the conditions were no better. Then, it was decided that we would attempt a dive at Rameswaram, as the conditions there might be slightly better. A day later, we set off in a hired fishing boat from a point below the Pamban Bridge. Beema got into the waters first and scouted around till he found an area with good visibility. The sea was also much calmer than at Vembar.
Yogesh and I toppled over into the cool waters, and after descending to the bottom, the three of us moved from one coral formation to another. It was a silent, beautiful world, the only sounds being the hiss of my breathing and the steady glug, glug, glug of the bubbles.
I spotted blastomussa coral, brain coral, bubble coral, trumpet coral and some other varieties. I also spotted some small fish, mostly catfish and a few cyprinids and anabantids in the 55 minutes spent underwater.
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