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Under water experience at Kovalam – The Hindu
BY : admin
15 March 2019

Kovalam is not only about sun, surf, sandy beaches and the blue sky. We often forget that it’s got an even more spectacular world hidden beneath the waves, a world bursting with life and colour. Now that Bond Safari Kovalam, an underwater adventure company has set up shop, Kovalam’s water world is open for exploration, even for the aquatically-challenged! Instead of cumbersome scuba gear, you’ll be going down in what’s called a ‘Bond’ submarine, a self-propelled, underwater scooter, tethered to a buoy, with your head ensconced in a helmet that allows you to breathe normally. It’s said to be a first-of-its-kind facility in the country.

That’s how yours truly, who can tread water at best, found herself on a motor boat in Vizhinjam harbour on a clear and sunny day, padded up in a wet suit. “Don’t flail your hands or feet around in the water… that’s shark bait!” says Toni Murro, a PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors]-certified dive master. Say, what? “Just kidding! There are not many sharks in this part of the coast, well, at least, not right now. I’ve been diving for 15 years all across the world and I can count the number of times I’ve encountered a shark,” he adds. Phew! That’s one worry off the list.

“What’s interesting about the sea near Kovalam is that it has comparatively calm waters and teems with several species of marine life,” says Toni. If you’re lucky, you can spot shoals of anchovy and silver moony, Bluefin trevaly, the odd Moray eel, puffer fish, groupers, box fish, sergeants, pipe fish, butterfly fish, rabbit fish…. “All you have to keep in mind is that this is their world. This is actual wildlife we’re dealing with and not those in a theme park. Rest assured, there will be two divers with you at all times,” adds the dive master.

Nonetheless, you’ll still be like a fish out of water, struggling with a sudden bout of claustrophobia that you didn’t know you had at the very prospect of being in the deep.

Some 15 minutes later, we are at the dive site, which turns out to be just off the Main Beach in Kovalam. “The visibility here is three to five metres on a good day,” says Toni. Oh well, this close to mainland, you can’t expect the crystal clear waters in places like Lakshadweep Islands, the Andamans or even Toni’s hometown, the island of Majorca, Spain.

“The sea is slightly choppy so we can’t wander too far but we’re going to try and make it to the underwater cave nearby, home to a few big fish, particularly eels,” says Toni, as he straps me into the sub. “Once underwater, because of the pressure, your ears will pop. Hold your nose, occasionally, and breathe out forcefully and you’ll be fine,” add Navneet Gupta and Sandra Bednarczyk, the two other divers, before they all dive, head first, into the water.

A crane on the boat lowers the sub into the sea, inch by inch, so that you’re not overwhelmed. Even then, there you’ll be holding on to the sub for dear life, more than a bit uncomfortable at the coldness of the water. Thanks to the air flow inside the helmet, even when you are completely submerged, the water just comes up to your shoulders. The sub itself is actually quite cool, navigable in any direction with just the turn of the handle and it can go only a maximum of 4 km per hour.

Underwater, it’s dull green everywhere, with plenty of tiny, downright scary-when-this-up-close bits of moss floating about. As promised, the divers are never too far away, talking videos of our little adventure and reminding me to breathe too.

Then again, a quick glance up makes you realise that you are just a feet or so under water. The first thing we encounter up-close is a sea anemone with pretty red tentacles, which Sandra promptly plonks on the sub as a talisman. Unbeknownst to me, up above, they’ve spotted a huge shoal of fish near the boat.

There’s a mad dash to get the sub there in time, more murky water, only for the fish to slip away. It’s getting choppier by the minute and a trip to the cave is just not possible. Thankfully, the sun chooses that moment to shine on the spot and as if a switch has been turned on everything is clear.

There before me is a pale green world full of the most wondrous sea life, up close. I’m no fish expert but those are definitely a few sergeants, with black stripes on translucent silver skin. I can count at least 10 sea urchins and hundreds of cockles clinging on to the rocks. Are those pretty blue things damsel fish? Totally, a Dory of Finding Nemo moment. Perhaps, Nemo (clown fish) is here somewhere too?

After what seems like five minutes underwater, Toni gives the thumbs up for the sub’s ascent back to the real world. “It’s actually been 20 minutes since you went down,” says Jackson Peter, managing partner, Bond Safari, who has accompanied us for the trip. “Kovalam has for long been a top tourist destination, we wanted to make it a top underwater destination too,” he adds.

Each submarine adventure costs Rs. 6,000 for adults and Rs. 4,500 for children. Only 12 people can go in one boat, so it’s best to book in advance. Expect each trip to take around three hours, from Bond Safari’s office on Beach Road to the sea and back. Shortly, the company will begin proper scuba diving lessons/trips too. Contact: 9946550073

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