TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
THE LURE OF THE SEA
“Hands Up, baby hands up- give me your heart, give me, give me your heart” sing a group of tourists, waving arms about in gay abandon. The infinity pool rings with laughter and the turquoise waters of the lagoon shimmers in sunny delight. “That’s our Club-med anthem, here in Maldives, says Lorenzo, our G.O., or “gracious organizers”. The G.O.’s are not quiet formal employees, they are more like guests, whose responsibility is “that you have a Fun Holiday” declares Lorenzo.
The Club-Med at the Farukolufushi Island is a romantic paradise of silver coral and coconut trees, set within the peacock blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It is an inclusive resort, with everything prepaid, except for what you tot up at the bar. The accommodation is basic, clean and there is no room- service, carpeting, television or telephones. All the emphasis is on the outdoor activities organized in chunks, by the G.O.’s. There’s a scuba shack, a water sport, dock, pool tables, a health club, a crafts center where you can paint your own T-shirts, volleyball, wind surfing catamaran sailing etc. But, of course, you can always opt to laze on the beach and soak up some of the shimmery sun, sand and surf! Every night after dinner, there is some form of entertainment- skits, dances, songs and stunts- after which most guests find their way back to the bar, where the disco and live music comes on.
After filming, I decide to stay back an extra week and learn scuba diving. It’s a 2 day course with practical training after which will have a Club Med license. You can do 2 dives a day upto 20m with an instructor. But, first you have to pass the tests, says Ken the dive instructor. After a swimming test, 12 of us sat through the theory part and quickly learn the basics of diving, the equipment, how it works, rules, safety procedures and about the creatures of the deep- the friendly and the dangerous. The practicals are conducted under 8ft water. This is the first time I have the oxygen tank and weights strapped on, flippers on feet and mask. The equipment is cumbersome; I find it difficult to breathe through my nose, and its tough figuring out how to get my balance right. “Is this worth it?” I think, feeling panicky and claustrophobic. Somehow, I grit my teeth and force myself to breathe under the water through my mouth and pass all the tests of “what to do when your face mask leaks and water comes into it” and “how to share your oxygen tank with another person” et.al. Ken is a tough dive master, loud and brutally direct. “Diving is not for the faint hearted. You must learn and know it properly or you could die.” In the end, only four of us make it through and tomorrow will be our first dive in the open sea.
The boat chugs across the turquoise water, sparkling sunlight into my eyes. I take a deep breadth of the warm salty air to dampen the butterflies in my tummy. “O.K. we’ve reached the dive site,” yells Ken. The motor switches off and the divers begin jumping off the side of the boat. I struggle to the side, weighed down by the dive gear, oxygen tank and weights. Another deep breadth and I clumsily jump off. Six of us group together soon, brobbing in the warm water. The instructor actions “thumbs-up” and I press the button to deflate and begin descending in the water- 5m, 10m, 15m and soon join the other in the depths of the ocean. We begin flapping and floating together like aliens in an unknown land.
My anxiety slowly dissolves as I gain confidence in my ability to glide. Soon, excitement and visual delight take over, as I float through a silent sea, hypnotic coral formations and schools of tiny jewelfish. Ken keeps coming around to signal a “R u OK?” through the mask. He points towards a velvet pinkish formation, waving like wheat grass in the wind. He touches it and asks us to do the same. It feels like jelly with tiny yellow fish weaving and out of its stalks, like sparks of fire. We dance with them gliding, and circling, like a crazy ballet in the water. A turtle floats by, and an eel suspiciously pokes his head out of a coral, multicolored fish beckon. Suddenly, some pulls my leg urgently. I swing around to see a huge manta ray of about 8-10 ft across, flying by in slow motion. Its grace and beauty took my breath away and I fall in love with this awesome planet under the sea.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
- The Male Intrantional Airport is the only international gateway to the Maldives Islands. There are regular flights from Delhi to Mumbai to Male via Thiruvananthapuram or Colombo. Contact a reliable travel agent or the Maldives agency to plan your trip. (email@example.com)
- The best time to visit Maldives is between December and early paper, when it’s dry with occasional showers.
- They are plenty of staying options to suit all budgets. It is best to contact a reliable travel agent, who can organize your trip or contact the main reservation office at 66-0-76254766/88.
- You can visit Male, the capital of Maldives. Check out the local and imported handicrafts, souvenirs are good buys.
- For further details, log onto Club Med, Maldives at www.clubmed.com.au or call Hello Maldives Holiday at 1800-258263 (toll-free)