SHUBH YATRA: THE INFLIGHT MAGAZINE OF AIR INDIA
Why travel abroad to experience deep sea walking? Now just do it at the aquamarine, pristine waters of Andamans, writes Abhilasha Ojha.
"Nirvana! This is the first word I matter to myself after I've walked" (yes, you heard that right) on the ocean bed in the pristine waters of Andamans. A popular underwater activity abroad, the concept was introduced for the very first time in India just two months ago by Sea Link Adventures, which is a part of Space Link Tour's and Travels, an eight years old Bangalore based travel company. Sea Link Adventures will promote a variety of underwater activities and plans to start sea walking in Havelock Island by mid 2012. In next couple of years it also plans to bring to India the concept of underwater jet skiing among other water based activities. To be sure, it took the company two years to work out all logistics before it finally introduced deep seawalking in India.
The initial investment by the company has been roughly Rs. 3.5 crore. This includes specialized helmets for the activity that have been imported from Japan, besides oxygen cylinders, wet suites for the instructors, a safety net that covers nearly 400 sqm space for the people to walk and experience the incredible marine life. "So far, people from India were travelling to places like Thailand, Mauritius, Australia and Philippines to experience deep sea walking. Now, with initiatives they don't have to travel abroad to experience this underwater activity," says Babu (he uses his first name only), partner, Sea Link Adventures.
The challenges, however, were immense. While importing the equipment and taking adequate safety measures was expensive, the company says Babu, was clear that they would keep the activity nominally priced for people. Also, it was critical to train divers (many of them local boys from extremely poor backgrounds from Orissa) in accordance with international standards. And in what would turn out to be the most crucial aspect of the activity, experts at Sea Link Adventures spent three months to decide on a reef, complete with a variety of fish and coral beds, where the 25 minutes experience could be offered to people. This was done by trying up with water Sports Company based in Thailand with over two decades of experience in deep sea walking.
The reef, not surprisingly, is a complete winner ever as you watch google-eyed at the fascinating variety of fishes different colours and sizes. It wouldn't be wrong to say that some level, this experience is life-altering in that you come in contact with a completely different world, completely different universe. Suddenly, you inhabit a space where the fish rule, where the corals (unlike colourful corals found elsewhere, the coral beds in Andaman mostly ecru colour) dot the ocean bed and where you are effectively guest, someone who is allowed just a glimpse into the wonders of marine life.
The action begins with a motor boat taking us to the designated spot at the North Bay Island, which is roughly 20 minutes away from Port Blair by ferry. The cool waters gently slapping the face of warm, sunny morning while we're on our way to experience deep-sea-walking is just trailor of the good things that will come our way.
Babu, smiling and gently reaching out his hand to board us on the two tier pontoon boat, welcomes us (we are a group of nine, including a 10 year old child) and starts explaining us about the wonders of deep sea walking. The good part: Unlike snorkeling and scuba diving where you have to master the technique of inhaling and exhaling from mouth, in deep sea walking you breathe normally, from the nose. Having done both snorkeling and scuba diving, I feel that it's precisely this aspect that makes the activity completely worth it. For the first time scuba diving enthusiast, just acclimatizing to being under water, coupled with a mouth regulator, cylinder and weight belt besides the life jacket strapped on you, while also trying to breathe from mouth, can be daunting. Typically, scuba diving companies don't allow children below 15 years to be part of the activity. Deep sea walking, however, can be done by children who are as young as five years old. In short, this is the perfect activity to initiate people into getting enthusiastic about marine life and witnessing it up, close and personal.
What may be slightly intimidating initially is the weight of the special helmet that resembles a fish bowl, gives you grand 270 degree vision of the life under water, contains three times the amount of air that is needed for normal breathing, and that offers close-up, magnified view of the reef. Weighing roughly 20 kgs, it's the proverbial crown resting uncomfortably on your head. You feel its weight crushing your shoulders for initial 20 seconds and you might just feel claustrophobic while you start getting 25-30 feet under water.
Once you have adjusted the buoyancy, once the feet touch the ocean bed and you've left the land to be enveloped in the cool waters of the sea, you'll find that there's never a dull moment inside the waters. School of fish (I first sport butterfly fish; the gorgeous yellow and blue striped fish swimming in front of my eyes) dart from all directions and we spot giant seashells while brushing against coral beds, gaping in wonder at natures' fabulous creations.
Clearly, Mother Nature is the world's best fashion designer as a glimpse of the under world will show anyone. After all, how else will one know the suede and the power blue can be fabulous combination (yes, we saw fish like that); blending orange and white can look beautiful (we see clown fish in these colours); opaque orange and ecru blend fabulously well (sea anemones are just that). In those 25 minutes, all you hear is the sound of your breath, all you see around you are bright coloured fish who more in rhythmic motion and behave like students who appear in disciplined and playful at the same time.
Thanks to the Hollywood blockbuster finding nemo, a major highlight of the sea walking activity was, well 'finding nemo'. The clown fish (yes, that's what is called), which darted in the out of its sea anemones, will do a little dance with its tail, turn around to face you, come close and just you're about to touch it, vanish. It'll then come back. Flash a smile and kiss your helmet before it waves its right fin and says goodbye (okay, we made up last bit). Under water, what one sees is nothing less than a blockbuster film. Its complete action when I start offering the fish some bread with my bare hands, its romance when they move in slow, rhythmic motion in front of my eyes, it's adventure when I'm just about to touch the surgeon fish (with its pointy spikes) by mistake.
Most importantly, like most blockbusters, it's a film with a 'happy ending'. Take our word, once you're on land you'll smile when you remember the experience. What's more, you'll think about it for a long, long time and recommend it to your family and friends. After all, that's how experience becomes 'blockbusters'.
Leading English Daily Published From Kolkatta and Port Blair
Date: 5 Oct 2012
what can be termed as a shot in the arm for the burgeoning tourism industry in the remote Andaman & Nicobar Islands blessed with the bounties of the mother nature, the "Sea Link Adventures (A unit of Space Link Tour & Travels, Phoenix Bay, Port Blair) set up a "Sea Walker" project at North Bay, in Port Blair which was inaugurated by the Chief Secretary, Mr. Anand Prakash today. "Sea Walker", the unique water adventure sport, first of its kind in the entire Indian subcontinent, provides a person an out of the world exhilarating experience of walking on the sea bed and surrounded by a variety of colourful fishes and live corals.
Chief Secretary, Mr. Anand Prakash, accompanied by a number of senior bureacrats including Mr. Jalaj Srivastav, Mr. Satish Mathur, Capt. Seshasai, Mr. Amit Satija, Mr. Rakesh Bali as well as Mr. Kuldeep Rai Sharma, PCC chief, Mr. Hamid Ali and a group of media persons, evinced keen interest in the nitty-gritty of the project and its operation. Mr. Jalaj Srivastav took the lead to take a plunge to explore the underwater world followed by Capt. Seshasai and some journalists.
The "Sea Walker" being introduced for the first time in India is only done here in Andamans apart from a handful of other tropical islands like Australia, Bali, Mauritius, Pattaya etc. It's simple, quick and easy. There is absolutely no experience needed, no complicated equipments to handle as one walks on the smooth and clear sand of the sea floor. It's perfectly safe. A large full face window in the sea walker helmet offers a close up view of the beautiful underwater world, see beautiful corals and play with colorful fishes. Anyone aging between 7 to 70 can go on to sea walk without any difficulties and the trained and certified guides (divers) are always in the water to ensure one's safe adventure. However, persons suffering from heart ailments and asthma might face some problems," Mr. Faiz Asif, maternal grandson of Mr. Hamid Ali, Vice President, PCC, told the media persons onboard the Sea Link Adventures pontoon anchored in the placid waters of North Bay, just 10 minutes boat ride away from Aberdeeen Jetty, in Port Blair.
New Watermark, Into The Deep
Date: Jan 1, 2013
Now take a walk on Andaman's wilder and wetter side. At 15-25ft under sea level, the pace can only be leisurely, hopping down from India's only sea-walker station, operated by Sea Link Adventures. Whether you're eight or eighty, it's the easiest way to get a fisheye view of life under the sea. No swimming classes or scuba-diving certificate necessary. Safety precautions do exist, by way of buoys, shark nets and life jackets, plus expert supervision. Should you need to come up for air, there's a coffee shop as well as loos and locker rooms on the 1,600sq ft mothership. The site is a 10-minute boat ride from Port Blair, but the company is planning to commence deep-sea underwater walks at Havelock too later in the year.