So, there I was floating face down, riding one gentle wave after another, in a narrow channel between Havelock Island and one of its smaller neighbours. I could feel myself drifting further and further away from the shore. The only assurance came from the snorkeling vest hugging me and the tube that kept me afloat. On shore, I had been subjected to about a five minutes of ‘how to snorkel’ lesson before I was fitted with the mask and the tube. Now I breathed heavily through the tube stuffed in my mouth and lifted my head to look towards the shore. The small lighthouse standing at the edge of the island was growing smaller as were the two figures standing on the otherwise empty beach, waiting for my return. This spot on the beach was at the other end of the small island, far from the tourist snorkeling point, thus deserted and peaceful.
I turned my face away and concentrated on what lay some meters beneath the surface of the sea. The sharp tropical sun of the morning had turned the water into glass and there was an amazingly beautiful world looking up at me from the sea bed. Defused rays of the sun reflected off the playful neon coloured shoals of fish. Heads of sea anemones swayed in the undercurrent while a truant fish or two flitted in and out of the dancing weeds. Live corals of varied colours and types raised their heads from the sea bed and formed a live fortress for those amazing creatures of the sea.
(One of the neon coloured fish that played among the corals close to the shore was caught on camera by my daughter)
By this time a little voice in the head had suddenly come alive and kept telling me that I was quite far away from the shore. The mind was already on an overdrive, running all the ‘lost at sea’ movies in rushes. And just as suddenly, I felt a deep tug towards terra firma. I pulled off my snorkel and insisted that my snorkeling instructor take me back to shore, which by now was a thinning line. My adventures in snorkeling thus were cut short and I heaved a sigh of relief as my feet walked on the slightly rough, coral strewn beach again. The other two brave members of my family ventured further and saw “much more”.
Later, “In reality you were barely 400 mts from the shore.” was how my perception of having drifted far away from the shore was corrected.
The snorkeling trip had featured on day four of our trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Monsoon had already arrived before we had arrived at the archipelago for our seven days vacation. The days were moody; the sky was still trying to make up its mind whether to remain sunny or look dark and cloudy. Fickle drizzles came in fits and spurts and disappeared before one could unfold the umbrella. And the sea changed its shades from a brilliant blue to a dull gray with the moody sky going from sunny to cloudy.
The day we arrived, descending on to the tiny Port Blair airstrip had not been too smooth. Dark gray rain clouds and strong winds had kept us company from Calcutta and tossed us around a little while we prepared to land. The dark skies predicted rain and chances of spoiling our plans for day one. The itinerary for day one had Chidiya Tapu, a small fishing village at the southern most tip of the South Andaman and a visit to the Cellular Jail aka Kalapani, within the city of Port Blair. But rain kept playing spoilsport and we had to forego our trip to Chidiya Tapu.
So what did we do with a whole clear afternoon that had looked full till we landed in a rainy island? Well, nothing. Following a big lunch, we decided to lounge on the lounge chairs on our balcony, watch the rain shower in sheets over the sea and listened to the wind rushing through the tall trees.
Later in the afternoon, as we stepped in through the iron gates of the Cellular Jail, a colonial prison built to exile political prisoners to this remote island, my first impressions were quite mixed up. The ground inside had well manicured stretches of grass with bright cheerful flower bushes. There was nothing intimidating about the prison complex as I had expected, not even a dreary, gray exterior wall. Everything had been scrubbed, cleaned, painted and made tourist ready.
That was until we had toured the tiny museum situated near the main gate and arrived at the …..
To be continued.