Neil is a small island in South Andaman. With beaches on both the east and west, it offers beautiful views to both sunrise and sunset. Bharatpur beach is on the north, and the jetty which connects the ferries from Havelock island — the only mode of transport to and fro Neil — is adjacent to this beach. It is also the only beach on Neil from which Scuba-diving is pursued.
Our boat was Neil Ganga, and it was four of us: the boat’s captain, the instructor, my guide Abhijit, and me. After the instructor briefed me about what all I needed to do — breathe through the mouth with lips tightly sealed, equalize pressure by pinching the nose and blowing through the ears during descent, relax under water, actions during emergency and under-water signs for communication with Abhijit — I wore my suit and we set off for the light house where we would park, around 700 meter from the coast, halfway between Neil and Havelock islands.
Once we had anchored, Abhijit briefed me about the gears and the diving procedure. Then he dived and the other two helped me put on my gears, which were very heavy. Once seated, I dived backwards at the count of three. What was to follow was a trial of necessary actions a few feet below the surface, and I had trouble with equalizing the pressure, moreover my lips not being tight enough around the breathing pipe ensured water seeped into my mouth. With one more trial, however, I got used to the necessities, including puking out water by pressing the button on the gear and clearing the vision by pressing another button. We were all set to dive!
Initially it was foggy. As we dived more, the vision got clearer and I had to keep equalizing the pressure. I had trouble as water got into my mouth once, and was again making the mistake of sucking the pipe. Abhijit helped me, and soon I got used to breathing and equalizing at the same time. We dived deeper!
After equalizing and feeling comfortable, I got a sight of heaven! What I saw is beyond me to explain in words. Still, I will try. Shoals of small to medium-sized fishes, of all colors and varieties, swimming with not a care in the world! You go close to them, and they don’t stir! You overtake through the shoal, they just let you pass! And from this crack or the other peep the bigger ones. Some appear dull to the human eye, and some are most brilliant! The ground below, moreover, is thick with living corals of all kind! It goes shallow at places, and deep at others. I remember noticing the Table Coral, the Finger Coral, the Spot Coral, the tentacle-like Coral (forgotten the name). The variety and combination of colours was spectacular. Blue was rare but the best camouflaged. The dark-yellow spot corals gave me shivers! The variety of fishes was beyond my comprehension: one shoal giving away into another…
In the mean time, Abhijit had got the camera out and was shooting our journey. The water got deeper and led way to an uninhabited bed on the sandy floor. Abhijit signalled me to put my feet on the bed, I did and felt very comfortable. It was difficult staying at one place because of the undercurrents. We were soon drifting, so we had to pull each other back.
A little ahead, we encountered a large pillar-like structure, thickly inhabited with all sorts of flora! There was a stair-case on the bed, and the wrecks of a boat just like ours. The flora and fauna had however made the wreckage their home. Corals on the body of the boat and fishes swimming in and out of the gaps — including the steering handrails — were breath-taking, yet added a chill to the atmosphere.
The regular procedure of breathing and equalizing had become very comfortable by then. However, I had started feeling cold in my legs. Water had gotten into my glasses once, soon fixed by following the regular procedure. All was going well, but I realized that the dive was nearing its end. After swimming some more through the heavenly-beautiful scenes, Abhijit released the pressures, inflated our jackets, and we ascended — the sand-bed below becoming hazier, the sunlight gleaming in and spreading its rays into the most amazing colours all around. As we came up, I swam towards the stairs and finally got hold of it. Once the other two helped me get off the heavy gears, I traipsed into the boat, followed by Abhijit. The gears were packed, the lighthouse attachment severed and we were heading back. Some amazing above water sceneries followed, but I knew that they were nowhere close to what I had witnessed a few moments back…