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ISSUE OF MARCH 2006 
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A walk on the Sea bed

Not as exciting as walking on the moon, but it comes close. Bhavika Jhaveri takes you through a underwater excursion on the virgin Baina beach in Goa

Hippie culture has always fascinated me and my previous visits to Goa, a haven for bohemian raves, have usually revolved around parties, psy trance, sun, sea and sand. But this time, my trip was not about being on Goan sands but rather under its waters. I was invited to go for a walk on the sea bed at the picturesque Baina Beach near Vasco, a red light area at one time. This ‘sea walk’ sounded completely trippy to me and my mind raced in anticipation.

H2O Water Sports, part of Drishtii Adventure Sports Pvt Ltd, introduced the sport for the first time in India and I couldn't wait to take the plunge. For all its reputation, I fell in love with the beach at first sight. It was a magnificent transformation - from an unsavoury place full of slums to a clean and virgin-like beach. Here we were briefed about the concept by Commander Arun Patil, chief officer, H2O, Goa and when he mentioned that one did not need to be a swimmer to walk on the sea bed I heaved a sigh of relief.

Underwater World

Finally it was time to change into an appropriate outfit (I was a tad disappointed that a diving suit was not necessary) and board the motorboat for the makeshift platform off the beach near Piccanye Island, a five-minute ride away. The densely forested island is uninhabited - a beautiful place that reminded me of the movie, The Beach. Perhaps the excitement of the adventure at hand made me think rather romantically.

Once on the platform, we received another set of detailed instructions on how the walk takes place, how one feels when underwater and a crash course in sign language to communicate down under. Some of the signs were quite funny. All the preparation certainly got my heart throbbing out of sheer excitement with a tinge of nervousness.

To start with, a four kilogram lead belt was attached to my waist to keep me steady underwater, and stop me from getting swayed by waves. Dressed to hit the bottom I was ready to walk the ladder. As soon as I was neck deep into water,a heavy helmet made of fiberglass, weighing around 30 to 35 kilograms, was placed on my head by two men, who thankfully added, "no need to panic, underwater it weighs just two-three kgs. I was relieved, as believe me, one can't hold on to the helmet without assistance. The tube attached to the helmet brings in air, thereby creating enough pressure to keep the water out, allowing you to breathe normally. And your head remains absolutely dry. There is no chance of water seeping in, because the escaping air keeps it out. And if you need to rub your eyes in disbelief or scratch your head in wonder you can go ahead and do just that as there's ample room for your hand to slip inside the helmet.

At last I was ready to walk the sea bed and on descending the ladder with only my head above water, I got cold feet. I mustered my confidence and took the big leap. But to my disappointment the depth was just three meters.

Once you are in, it takes few seconds to come to terms with the atmosphere underwater. Stepping off the ladder and the first few tentative steps had me thrilled and amazed. The sunrays pierced through the clear water and it soon became apparent why this particular beach was chosen. The clarity was quite amazing and I soon spotted a school of small fish. Apart from a few assorted fish and sparsely grown seaweed there was nothing exciting on view. But the feel of soft sand gently rubbing against my feet and that incredible feeling of weightlessness was simply fascinating and made me want to dance, jump around and move like a mermaid. How often does one get the feeling of weightlessness? Wish the team leader could have allowed me to do that.

The company also makes provisions for feeding the fish, to add to the overall experience. Well, that could be done even in your small fish tank at home. The wonders you associate with underwater existence of flora and fauna was missing, because that is only possible in lagoons. In fact, sea walks largely take place in lagoons in islands like Maldives, Lakshadweep, etc. Just when I had started to enjoy the walk, the instructor signalled to go back on the platform and my moments of 'walking in space' came to an inevitable end. Believe me, no matter how long the walk is, it will always seem short. The 20-minute walk is being offered at Rs 1,500, which I reckon is a good one-time investment.

According to instructors the sea walk is a zero risk activity, however it is not advisable for heart patients or those suffering from claustrophobia. Children above 12 years are allowed as well to indulge into sea walking. The company has elaborate safety measures in place. A professional diver keeps hovering on the surface, in case of any unforeseen events and he also holds the helmet while descending. A sea walk instructor goes in first and waits for the group at the bottom of the ladder and directs them. The group, with a limit of five helmets at one time, covers an area of around 30 meters. Other fun activities offered here include: kayaking, para-sailing, jet-skiing, sailing, banana boat ride and pump ride.

Bewildering Baina

Baina being a virgin destination does not have a full infrastructure in place. The first phase of the project taken up by H2O to develop the beach involved an investment of Rs one crore and a equal sum is required for the second phase. According to Patil, it took them six weeks to transform the beach into an elaborate adventure sports destination. "Goa is where the numbers are, tourists come here in thousands. So we decided to adopt the sea walk to conditions of Goa. We are the pioneers in this sport, so we had to devise our own safety guidelines based on mandatory guidelines for water sports. The experience takes a tourist to a totally different dimension and environment. This activity requires minimum of fuss and training, unlike other water sports, " states Patil. He also mentioned that many were unaware about the fact that the beach was completely reformed. He informed that in order to shed the ill-famous image, the authorities plan to rename the beach as Vasco. Whatever the name of the beach, it has a serene and calm feel to it, which makes you want to surrender yourself to its beauty.

Reaching There

By Air: Dabolim 10 kms away is the nearest airport
By Road: Panjim is 35 kms away.
By Rail: Madgaon station is 35 kms away.

Water Sports
Kayaking Rs 150 for 30 minutes
Para-sailing Rs 900 for one round
Jet-skiing Rs 250 for 5 to 7 minutes
Sail boat Rs 750 for 45 minutes
Banana ride Rs 150 for 5 to 7 minutes
Pump ride Rs 150 for 5 to 7 minutes

Contact:
1st floor, Dourada House,
Dona paula, Goa 403004
Tel: 0832-3094666
e-mail: h2ogoa@gmail.com

On The Cards

Though it’s open to the public, H2O is in the process of getting the shower rooms and other infrastructure in place. They are expected to have a reception centre soon, where the tourists will have to sign an insurance policy worth Rs 1 crore (in case of any mishap), and then would be taken to a briefing room. There will also be a photographer to capture the incredible experience underwater, which can be printed on a T-shirt - for posterity! After you’ve done with the sporting activities, you can chill with a drink on the beach or in an open-air restaurant likely to come up on the beach before the next season begins.

Targeting the up-market clients, H20 is planning to devise packages in conjunction with 15 odd five-star hotels in and around Goa, to offer adventure activities along with their stay. H2O is also looking to offer the sport in Malpe Beach (Karnataka). "We will duplicate this concept in a different shape there," adds Patil. And I shall certainly look forward to a repeat excursion.

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