Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Walking underwater in Mauritius

as published in Economic Times
When I married the guy of my choice, everybody kept telling me I was walking on the clouds. But when that guy took me for our honeymoon, he made me walk under water, literally. Mauritius is one of the rare places on the globe where one can do this. Yes, we went to the honeymooner's paradise – Mauritius. Even before we touched down, the aerial view from my window seat was spectacular. Miles and miles of white sandy beaches and palm tops swaying to a universal rhythm. The sights, sounds and the smells put one immediately in the mood that dominates this little island – forever on a holiday!
The sparkling water with glinting beaches and coral reefs were awe-inspiring. Formed of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the island has a central plateau, is dotted with mountains and criss-crossed by rivers. The coral reef is the third largest in the world and surrounds almost the entire island. These reefs create tranquil lagoons that protect it from the open seas making it a perfect spot for professional divers and first timers alike. Mauritius is balmy and warm round the year, which means whichever month you choose to visit you can swim, jet, snorkel, parasail or sunbathe. One can never really get bored with the limitless facilities for all kinds of water sports – water skiing, surfing, canoeing, water biking, banana boat rides and more.
Ours was an action-packed holiday in many ways than one. During the nine days that we were there, we took various small tours. A trip to Grand Bassin, a natural lake inside the crater of an extinct volcano, Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens with its huge signature Victoria Amazonica water lilies and the talipot palms, Chamarel or the seven earths popular for coloured dunes of volcanic ash in seven patterned colours, Cassela Bird Park and Ile aux cerf, a tiny island off the east coast. But the most unique experience was the underwater walk.
We decided to take a Captain Nemo's Underwater Walk programme. After getting picked up from our hotel Le Mauricia in Grand Baie, we were transported to the middle of the ocean by a motorboat, where we were welcomed by a group of divers who were our guides for the trip. Once mid-ocean we were hitched up in a launch from where we took the plunge down. Prior to which, we were given instructions and taught some basic sign language to be used underwater to indicate our level of comfort. They dressed us up in some really heavy metal belts that would help us keep under water when we were finally lowered on to the ocean floor with a box-like helmet. Oxygen is pumped from the boat so that we could breathe normally.
Once we hit the ocean bed and got acclimatised to our surroundings, it was a different world altogether. Schools of exotic tropical fish, perhaps wondering what aliens like us were doing in their domain, were all around us.
Spotting varied hues simply unimaginable to the human palette were an overwhelming number of fish. Fluorescent fish, zebra fish, and yet more fish. Phew! It sure was a fishy world down there.
Our guide handed us pieces of bread to hold and we were mobbed by more fish. I was scared for a moment and just let the bread go. Our guide, who might have been secretly enjoying our discomfort, even told us to hold hands and do a little jig of our own. It seemed as if we had walked quite a distance. But when we were pulled atop the surface, we were probably just within some 20 metre depth.
The next day, we took the glass-bottomed boat and were ferried to almost near the same place were we had dived a day ago. Sitting on the benches we watched through the glass bottomed boat and were thrilled at the thought of really being there. But just as an aside, when I spotted the water snake I was aghast, and wondered if I had been on the boat ride first, I would have probably chickened out of the walk!

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