I stood on the edge of a speedboat, the oxygen cylinder a heavy weight on my back holding me in place. My heart was racing wildly, the adrenaline at an all-time high. As I was staring down into the endless waves, the instructor, who was already in the water, asked me to jump in.
This was no time for second thoughts. I adjusted and checked my mouthpiece, closed my eyes and took a leap of faith. once in the water, my instructor adjusted the straps of the tank, re-checked the oxygen pressure and signalled that we were good to go.
We swam a bit ahead and nosedived into the sea. As we descended into the depths of the ocean, I was introduced to a whole new world. A world that I, until then, had only witnessed in documentaries, movies and photographs; it was one more mystical realm.
With cerulean blue seas that seemed to stretch endlessly along white powdery beaches, the Lakshadweep Islands offered a similar vibe, something straight out of a dream. Agatti Airport was the best way to enter this wonderland. here, the waves lashed on the beaches on both sides, so close to the runway, that one could almost reach out and touch the water, if not for the fences that surrounded the airport.
A four-hour-long ferry from the Agatti port brought me to Kavaratti, the capital of Lakshadweep. What greeted me was a gradient of blue and the somewhat lazy waves of the Laccadive Sea. The moment I checked in at Paradise Island hut, I changed into my swimming trunks and dashed for the sea to while away the rest of the afternoon. later, I indulged in a wholesome lunch of rice, rasam and fish curry. lounging on the chair with a coconut in one hand and a book in another, I couldn’t help but think that this would make for a worthy retirement.
As the sun started to go down, I decided to go for a little stroll along the beach, which was slowly coming to life. Men sat in small groups chatting away, while kids jumped from boat to boat near the jetty and then somersaulted into the sea. I longed to join them in their fun but had other things in mind.
Kavaratti is a hub for watersports, providing numerous options. From snorkelling to scuba diving, each was as tempting as the next. I signed up for scuba diving at the nearest PADI counter. Diving in the coral reefs of the Laccadive Sea was a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, one I wasn’t going to pass up. An hour-long training session was the first step in the process. To indulge in my Bollywood dreams, I had to put in the work.
I was taught the basics of the sign language that we would use underwater, how to operate the oxygen cylinder, and how to breathe through the mouthpiece underwater. Then, after a small briefing session about complications that could arise and how to counter them, we left for the shallow waters of the reef in a small speedboat, just off the coast of Kavaratti.
Once underwater, I saw fish swimming around a colony of vibrant corals. The coral reef was a world in itself, home to a variety of corals in different shapes and sizes. But as enchanting as they were, the fish were much more mesmerising. My instructor pointed out corals where the fish hid in their tiny homes. When near us, some fish shied away, while others played hide and seek with us. They came out of the nooks and crannies of corals, and the most daring of them almost kissed my nose.
As we swam through the reef, my instructor revealed a bag of breadcrumbs. No sooner did he open the bag that we were swarmed by hundreds of fishes. They came in a variety of colours and shapes: orange stripes on black, yellow stripes on blue, from cardinalfish to butterflyfish, we even came across Nemo and some of his family. Surreal would be an understatement. When my instructor took out the camera to take some pictures, the fish happily swam into the frame in a photobomb, as if to say, “I am the view!”
Back on the boat, I felt a serene sense of accomplishment, a crucial item finally ticked off my bucket list. I recalled Hrithik Roshan’s character from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and for a second, as I lay on my back to gaze up at the sky, the wind that whipped around sounded like the lyrical poetry that played in the movie.
The next day at dawn, we left for Thinnakara Island on a small ship. I prided myself on not succumbing to seasickness easily, but the choppy waters did make my stomach roll in the most unpleasant of ways. When we transferred to a speedboat at Agatti, I sat on the prow of the boat, letting the waves spray and ease my nausea. Was I acting like Monkey D. Luffy, the excited manchild from the manga series One Piece? Probably. Almost too soon, the rough waves turned into the gentle waters of the coral reef. The waters here were so shallow during low tide that taller corals tended to jut out, making it extremely difficult to get around in the water.
Thinnakara Island was also something straight out of a movie. All around me were pristine beaches and calm lagoons, with an occasional canopy of coconut trees to provide shade. There was not a person in sight and we had to walk a bit to reach our destination, the tents of Thinnakara Island Stay.
I could have danced to the tunes of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai and nothing would be amiss. Except, maybe, the lack of Ameesha Patel for company. Apart from a strong Bollywood recall, there was not much to Thinnakara. My days were spent in a haze of bliss, an occasional swim in the sea, getting a tan under the sun and gorging on delicious seafood. on my last night in Lakshadweep, I sat under the blanket of a starlit sky, munching on freshly-grilled calamari until the sound of waves lulled me to sleep.
Returning to Agatti the next day to board my flight back to Kochi, I felt nostalgic already. I hoped that the beaches of lakshadweep would remain so, the water a clear blue and the corals, alive and colourful. For I intend to go back someday with my very own Ameesha Patel and meet Nemo’s family deep down in the Laccadive Sea.