“Once a Year, Go Someplace You’ve Never Been Before” – Dalai lama
The silence is rejuvenating. It isn’t the normal silence you feel when no one around you is talking, it’s a special silence, where you cannot even hear the sound of the wind or the birds chirping or the ocean waves crashing to the shore. It’s quieter than that. The only thing you hear is the sound of inhalation as the air gushes down to the lungs from your mouth, followed by an extremely rhythmic sound of long and complete exhalation. And you feel very much aware and alive every time that happens. It’s calming to hear yourself breathe. We had this experience, 18 meters underwater in the Indian Ocean, just off the Lakshadweep coast, in waters that are well endowed with beautiful marine life. A few of my friends and I went there in search of another world where calmness of existence is a given. The travel was arranged by a good friend Dr. Anand Narvekar of Kedsan Adventure in Mumbai.
The journey itself begins with a flight to Kochi from where you take a connecting flight to the Agatti Island of Lakshadweep. This is the only island with a commercial airport and Air India operates a flight (albeit irregularly) to and fro. Agatti is so small and insignificant that in the map of India you will see it as a dot somewhere in the Indian Ocean in south west waters of India. The first time I saw Agatti on the map, I thought it was a speck of dust and tried to clean it off.
From Agatti you take a speed boat ride to one of the other islands and we chose the Kadmat Island as our destination solely because they have a diving school and our intention was to do just that. Driving from airport to the jetty we could smell the beach and have a taste of things to come. Being on a jetty with boats rocking violently around with restrained movements as they are controlled by their anchors has a therapeutic effect on me. I could sit there for ages looking at them and may be would free the anchor someday and let them sail away.
The more the hardship while traveling, the more beautiful the destination appears. Our speed boat ride from Agatti to Kadmat was worse than any experience on the most convoluted roller coaster ever designed. It’s difficult to explain a journey where you are being tossed in every conceivable direction every minute. But we got there! Finally! In one piece!
The first sight of Kadmat was breath taking; we approached the island just prior to sunset. Clear turquoise, rather almost green, waters calmly embraced the pure white sands. Every few moments the waters came and hugged the sand with joy, only to depart with a pang of separation, but with the hope to be back to spend some time with the shore. As this game of hide and seek went on between the waves and the shore, we disembarked on what turned out to be the most picturesque jetty that I have seen in my lifetime. The trees around the jetty were neatly arranged along the beach with some boats scattered along, as if someone was playing with all these toys and had to leave in a hurry to do more important things. I think if there is a God, this would be this playground where he comes and spends time at leisure.
The rooms we stayed in at Kadmat Resort were spacious and clean and just about functional enough to force us to stay on the beach most of the time. The island is about 12 km in North- South direction and about 0.5 to 1 km in East west. We could walk from east to west and see the marvels of the rising sun and the magic of the setting one. That was a unique experience by itself. We had been to Havelock in Andamans, but that was bigger and parts of the island were very touristy. Kadmat was untouched, pure and almost virgin.
Nowadays on a holiday like this one, I prefer getting up before the sun rises. We did that on the first day morning and saw an enthralling sunrise with is orange-red reflection making the ocean look as if on fire. The increasing warmth of the sun in the background and some wonderful dry branches on the shore made for some amazing pictures.
After breakfast, on our first morning we were all set for our first dive of the trip. Pure enticing waters and a promise of colourful marine life was enough motivation for us to overcome the little fear that had settled in, as we had not dived for about 18 months. The oxygen tanks, the buoyancy control device and the amazing divers all set with their dive watches tuned for another dive made us more restless as we took our boat ride 45 minutes into the ocean. Our instructor, Shamsuddin, rattled all the instructions we were supposed to follow without considering how nervous we were. Reminded me of the time when I was teaching a tough skill procedure to some of my students in dental college, and how narrow my tolerance was for their fear:)
When you are geared up and in water, there comes a command from the dive master to go down. At that point we deflate the life jackets and allow our weight to take us down. The descend requires you to adapt your breathing style and keep equalising the increasing pressure on your ear drums. Once the first few seconds pass, you open your eyes to the surrounding. The first glimpses are of all the little things that live under water. The fish are colourful to say the least. Several are named after animals, so you have the leopard fish, the tiger fish etc, but what took our breath away was the large turtles that gracefully swam past us, as if to show us that big can be beautiful too. On some of our dives we saw spiky lobsters, the spikes of which resembled my childhood hairstyle. The schools of fish too seemed to be busy going about their daily business. I have still not understood why they swim a few feet one way and then turn back to return to the point of origin. I feel they play out the choreographed dance steps from time to time.
In one of those silent moments under water I looked up to the sky from the ocean floor and I saw the fish shimmering in the rays of the subdued filtered out sun. Even the sun does not like to be harsh on these underwater creatures. At that point everything seemed to be in slow motion. You know your time under water is limited to the amount of oxygen in your tank and those few minutes you want to see as much as you can and more than that try your best to remember everything you see. The metamorphosis that your mind undergoes after passing the 40 year mark is that you often catch yourself saying that you may not have enough time to visit every place the second time. This may be the last time you are here, and that makes me want to soak it all in as much as I can.
On the last dive we went to this dive site called “The Wall”. It was a dive in which we started on the mountain peak under water that had a steep 20 feet fall into the valley. It was great to be under water but at the top of the mountain at the same time, falling down into the valley full of beautiful creatures. Buoyancy control is the name of the game under water. You have to strike a balance between floating up and sinking further down, almost like how we do it in real life on land. You don’t let your failures take you down and the success to make you rise up so much that your feet don’t touch the ground.
Good friends can share a lot of silence with each other very comfortably. When we come up from our dives generally for a few minutes no one talks after the pleasantries are exchanged. Each one gets lost into reminiscent images of the beauty witnessed underwater. My thoughts usually get more philosophical and these are the times I question the reason of my existence, the purpose of my life. The answer is usually very harsh as my inner voice tells me that in this big universe I am too small to take myself so seriously. I think my purpose now is to ‘just be’ and travel as much as I can to see the natural designs that are attributed to be of divine origin.
Kayaking into the glorious colourful sunset was an activity I have never done before. In Kadmat, the evening invited us to spend the time rowing towards the setting sun that only looked humble as it got ready to be engulfed by the water. It surprises me every time how the harsh beating sun can be humbled by the passage of the day, a quality many of us humans should learn. We had our snorkels with us, so we took a dip into the water to observe some superficial corals with their rich marine inhabitants. The bright pink colours of the live corals were fortunately better than the grayscale corals we had seen as Andamans. I was surprised to see so much beauty just a few feet under water. The fish must be finding us humans so colourless, with our shapes really funny and sounds that we make while breathing must be a pain to their ears. I saw some of the fish looking condescendingly at me, just the way I would look at an intruding stranger in my world.
So our days went by, from waking up before sunrise to see the hope of a new day unfold in front of our eyes, taking our morning dives and being impressed with all that we saw, to having some great simple local seafood for lunch (and during dinner we ate the fish we caught) with a relaxing afternoon nap and then as the universe gets energised to call it a day, we sat on the beach with some warm conversations and saw the beautiful sunset scenes orchestrated in front of our eyes. As the darkness of the night took over we laid there on the beach and looked at the stars in the busy sky, trying to make sense of the subtle messages we receive from them.
On our last morning we went on a tour to see the kadmat Island. The tour was over in 2 hours. We found the North end of the island rocky with the smallest lighthouse on the shore I have ever seen. It was almost as if the light house was in hiding, trying to prevent people in the sea from finding Kadmat. The highlight of the tour was the wonderful hospitality we received at the house of the tour operator with some local sweet dishes and a special item called coconut apple.
Good trips end fast, and here we were on the last evening, sitting on the beach, surrendering ourselves to the last sunset of the trip. This was the time when we split up and moved around exploring the stretch of our thoughts on our own. On the jetty, watching the sun set I found some soothing music from a strumming guitar, there was some love in the air.
At the far end from where I was, I saw some of my friends talk to each other and a few minutes later as the sun bid us the last goodbye for the trip, I saw them get up to leave; as they did that, they left their soul there. I did the same and walked back to our room to pack up, the next morning will see us depart from Kadmat and arrive to the cacophony of the mundane, materialistic city life. Fortunately our kids are there back home, reason enough for us to want to get back and get lost in their warm loving hugs, the ones you get as they run to the door to welcome you back. I still feel great reaching home, I know I will rest and travel soon again……
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”– St Augustine