Monday, May 14, 2018

Under the Sea: Scuba diving in the great barrier reef

 The great barrier reef is an enchanting world by itself. I could see it through my saucer shaped snorkel masks which looked more like a window rather than a pair of goggles. In a way, it was a window to a whole new world that wasn't visible to the naked eye so easily. I had to put on a suit that made me look like an astronaut, carry a cylinder on my back-they call it the oxygen tank and wear those elongated pair of flip-flops that was commonly referred to as fins. On top of that I had to enter deep waters to witness this scintillating world of corals and shoal of fish present in different shapes, sizes and colors. 

Since the time I had read Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, I was fascinated by the mystical underwater world. My childhood was spent on the sandy beaches watching the waves lash against the shore, sometimes in a friendly manner and sometimes angrily. I secretly hoped to see a mermaid on the shores but I was scoffed for this futile fantasy of mine. “Mermaids don’t exist”, I was told much to my disappointment. Yet I never gave up with a hope that one day, I would actually explore the world beneath these tumultuous waves. The day had arrived.

Surrounded by limitless contours of blue, with an occasional ray of sunlight penetrating through the waves, shades of white, pink and yellow hairy follicles swayed in a rhythmic manner.It almost appeared like human hair bobbing in the murmur of the gentle flow and I longed to touch them with my delicate fingers. I watched the sturdy creamy brown rocks hold forte on the ocean floor as I swam near them. A shoal of fish came out instantly swimming deftly, their fins moving in a synchronized manner. Their bodies were a tinge of green tossed with shades of pink and their scales were so apparent that it resembled a stroke of an artist’s brush. The mother fish led her off springs to some of those corals and nibbled on them hungrily. It was their lunch time, I was signaled by my tour guide as he demonstrated it by a sign, in other words the underwater language since we couldn’t communicate verbally. 

So this was what Ariel's world was like, I thought excitedly, referring to the little mermaid and my thoughts drifted away to the sequence of the story and the characters. 

A few creatures shaped like a bat headed towards us. I recognized them as the manta rays which had large mouths and horn shaped fins. They were searching for food and brushed past us rather haughtily as though we were obstructing their way to a fine spread of delicacies. The corals below were shaped like a big cottage which housed several kinds of fish. Behind this cottage existed a moss green carpet on the floor with some long elongated black things that resembled grubs. My trainer picked one of them and stroked it gently. The sea cucumbers as I remembered them seemed to enjoy being patted and stroked. A small purple spot was clearly visible on its silky smooth black skin. A tiny crab had perched on the sea cucumber enjoying the warmth of the furry skin. 

Spotting some seaweeds, I swam towards it quite forgetting my trainer’s instructions about not to venture too far. A couple of clown fish were dancing and making merry. 

They chased one another playfully and swam from one point to another with such speed that my eyeballs were fatigued just trying to watch them. The coral city boasted of some exotic species including a green turtle which swam past me. With his hard shell, spots on his face and neck and his flaps, he made a handsome picture despite his droopy eyes which appeared as though he was down by a few pegs of single malt. Unlike other creatures, he appeared to be alone and I followed him eager to know where he was headed. 

He entered another area a little further from the coral city. Varied shades of green showcased the aquatic garden as he nibbled on some of the plants. After one nibble he would look up, chew before he took another mouthful. He seemed to enjoy eating alone unlike humans who always preferred company during their meals. Speaking of company, I looked around to see I was alone and had ventured far from my guide and group. 

I began to panic. All I could see was blue ripples and bubbles. I tried to scream but my regulator from my breathing apparatus was firmly inserted in my mouth. Besides who would hear me in a world that was dominated by the gentle yet enormous waves. They would clamp your mouth shut if you dared to misbehave in their abode. I felt a burning sensation as though my body was on fire as I looked around frantically, hoping to spot a familiar figure of a human body wrapped in a wetsuit with fins and mask. 

 I swam through the ripples of blue, trying to find my way to the coral city. Finally, I finally spotted that couple of clown fish and swam towards them and soon entered the familiar world of pinks and whites. I noticed a pair of purple fins ahead and recognized them as my guide’s. My guide circled his thumb and index finger into an ‘o’ while the rest of the 3 fingers pointed upwards. A sign to ask if I was ok. I signaled the same thing and he gave me a thumbs up sign. 

The parrot fish had finished their lunch and swimming in circles to burn their calories just like humans went for their walks after dinner. It was time to leave the coral city as we made our way up to the surface where our boat was docked. I glanced one last time at the resplendent follicles waving goodbye and they glistened in the pristine blue ripples, growing smaller and smaller as I went up further. It appeared like a distant dream. 

However, I realized it wasn’t one when I woke up the next morning to read the headlines that the great barrier reef was under the threat of the dreaded global warming. Coral city was in danger..

Monday, July 11, 2016

Far from the madding crowd

When one thinks of Mumbai city, the words traffic, crowds and mayhem immediately comes to one’s mind. Who would have thought that amidst the busy roads exists a gateway to an adventurous expedition of being amidst natures embrace? 

It was one random Saturday afternoon when I stumbled upon a Facebook post of a runner friend-Prerna, who had posted about her trek at Yogi Hills. The photos showcased a visual treat of the enchanting mountains which left me wondering if such a place actually existed in the city. “Where exactly is this?”, was my comment to which she replied saying, “In Mulund”.

Mulund is a suburb in the North Eastern part of Mumbai and a place where a lot of my runner friends resided. I had run a race there sometime in December 2015. Though it was quite far from my residence in town, it took just 45 minutes in the wee hours of morning. The prospect of exploring this little retreat was exciting enough for me to get in touch with the group which organised this trek every Saturday. The best part about this expedition was that one could get back home by 9:30 am, unlike those treks at the Western Ghats which practically robbed the entire day, sometimes even two. 

We landed at Vasant gardens at 5:20 am sharp as instructed by Arjun Virdi, a runner friend and the organiser of this trek.  After the initial warm up rounds and selfie clicks, we began our hike at 5:30 am. Considering the fact it was still dark, there was this initial trepidation about landing our foot in the right place. However with constant guidance and reassurance by Arjun, we slowly accustomed ourselves to the twilight hourOn the way up, we began to acquaint ourselves with our fellow trekkers, some of whom were runners and avid cyclists as well, dedicating their Saturday mornings to the hills. 
Daylight slowly seeped in, giving us a chance to bask in the beauty of our surroundings. Clambering up those rocks was certainly an uphill task literally. Considering it was the monsoon season, we had to ensure about finding the right footing which otherwise would have made us slip and fall as these steep inclines were moisture laden. However the rains seemed to be playing hide and seek with us that particular morning which in turn soared the humidity levels. 

As we were making our way to the top, I suddenly recollected my mother’s words of advice which she had doted out whilst I was in school. Her words were,Working ones way to the top involves immense amount of struggle but when they reach the top, they are so blown by the view that the initial struggles seem worth it.” Keeping these words in mind, I moved forward. Laughter and jokes floated around to ease the grim task we were accustomed to, making the upward journey a joyful one. 

We finally reached the top and as promised by Arjun, we were treated to a mesmerising sight. Whiffs of clouds zoomed by, making it seem like it was literally ‘a walk in the clouds’. Surrounded by greenery all around, it felt like Yogi Hills had given us a green carpet welcome. The view of the lakes in yonder took our breaths away. Squealing like little children, we posed like there was no tomorrow, our mobile phones clicking away furiously, anxious to ensure that our social media page caused our friends to go 'green' with envy. The newcomers like us were made to do push ups which was a mandatory custom to pay homage to Mother Nature for having guided us through these rocky pathways in a safe manner.


After basking in the view, we finally prepared ourselves for the descent. Climbing down was an arduous task, far more grueling than going up, once again drawing parallels to life’s philosophy of how coming down after reaching the pinnacle of success is a test of one’s character and grit during those turbulent times. However this gradual decline made it relatively easier to come back to earth, not to mention a fun filled one given the animated chatter by our easy going trek mates. The journey was even more delightful as we were privileged to bask in the company of an unexpected companion in the form of a dog. True to its nature, it faithfully followed us downhill, till we reached Vasant Gardens-our initial point of embark.  

 Its surprising how simple lessons of life were incorporated by nature. It was a test of our grit, determination and humility at every juncture. Aspects of leadership, team work and team building were vital elements while working towards a particular goal, in this case, reaching our destination in a safe and sound manner.

It was a satisfied and a wiser lot of us who went home that Saturday morning. No doubt, we had to give up our Friday night out which would have otherwise been spent in a dimly lit night club or sports bar over a drink or two. However waking up wee hours of the morning to conquer the hills nevertheless left us feeling on a high, only this one not being induced by a ‘spirited’ drink.

Thank you Arjun Virdi for this wonderful trek. It gave us a new found purpose, not to mention a adrenalin rush and an activity for life.