Scuba Diving has long since been on my bucket list of sorts, it is the kind of dare I have given myself since ages but never came around to do it. But in 2017, I made up my mind that it was really high time I did it. So, did my research, booked my tickets, packed my bags and just made my way to the paradise.
This paradise is Tarkarli-Devbaug on the Malvan coast of Maharashtra (District – Sindhudurg). This place is where the Karli river meets the Arabian sea and it forms for a very picturesque delta. It also houses India’s only Institute of Scuba Diving – the Indian Institute of Scuba Diving & Aquatic Sports (IISDA).
IISDA is a state-of-the-art PADI diving center, which is also associated with the Maharashtra Tourism Department. They offer professional diving instruction and have great infrastructure to go with it. They have a 20m long, 8m deep pool for training, air-conditioned classrooms as well as comfortable accommodation quarters for enthusiasts.
For my trip, I opted to stay at the Mahalaxmi Beach Resort which is located literally at land’s end, where the Karli river meets the sea. The place is pure paradise, but more on that in another post. You can find regular State Transport buses from Malvan (the nearest town) to reach this place. The same buses would also help you get to the IISDA from here as it is all on the same route, IISDA is further up north, while the resort is the southernmost tip of this thin strip of land sandwiched between the Karli river on side and the Arabian sea on the other. The land is really narrow, you can take a walk and see both the majestic water bodies on your either sides.
Research revealed a lot of good things about opting to pursue Scuba Diving through IISDA (the Scuba Diving Institute) – they offer a good two hour training before taking you to the sea, the location they take you to is awesome, the staff is very professional and reliable (safety first, obviously) and so much more. Almost every hotel and resort in this region offers scuba diving and other water sports adventures through their own folks and organizers. They cost a throwaway price, way, way cheaper than what IISDA has to offer. But what they don’t tell you about is the quality of the experience. The local providers take you to a different spot, do not offer any much training, and there is nobody sincerely trying to make sure you thoroughly enjoy the experience underwater. Instead, IISDA trains you thoroughly for every possible contingency in its amazing gigantic huge pool so you have a total hang of what is going to happen the next day. All the instructors make a very sincere effort to make sure you have the most enjoyable experience.
I can confidently say that IISDA is one place I would go to even if I had only one day to spend in Tarkali, because nobody else offers the kind of experience that they do. I enrolled for the Discover Scuba Diving course, which spans two days. They also offer certification courses in accordance with PADI.
On my first day, my training began by viewing a detailed video about PADI, the basic instruction and giving me an idea of what I was getting into. And it was exciting. The 20 minute video makes you realize the beauty of marine life and how exciting it would really be to feel it all first hand with your senses. After that, you get into your Scuba Diving suit (which they provide, complete with booties and all) and climb up the stairs to the terrace where they have the training pool. This is the practical training for the different signs you use to communicate with your instructors under water as well as preparing for every, I repeat, every possible contingency that could happen with you or your diving gear under water. A good one to one and a half hours go into that. This terrace pool is a breathtaking beautiful location too. You have so much greenery around and the sea right across. One of the most important things to learn is equalizing. There is nothing like too much equalizing. When you go underwater, you descend below the sea level, so the atmospheric pressure increases with every meter you go downwards. Your ears feel this pressure the most, especially the eardrums, and if you do not listen to your instructors and equalize properly, you will end up with very, very painful ears. Equalize, equalize, equalize! Also, learn how to throw out water from your eye mask and your regulator. And they would also teach you what to do if your regulator falls off, or if you run out of air, etc.
The next day, its time to take the early morning boat to go out into the sea and take the real dive and go down to the sea floor. This diving site is about an hour’s boat ride away from the Sangam point where the Karli river meets the sea. This diving site is unique because IISDA is one of the only two agencies allowed to take their divers there. Plus, on this journey you get to see the old Portuguese lighthouse as well as the new lighthouse. Do wave up to the lighthouse staff as you pass by and they do wave back! This diving site is a sheltered area due to the presence of stone islands around, so it protects the divers from strong undercurrents and the other problems that divers often face. Please do apply sunblock lotion generously before and after the dive. Wear the suit over your clothes so you can take off the suit in the boat once the dive is done.
The dive itself is a surreal experience, the water is crystal clear and offers amazing visibility underwater. The best of the best instructors are around you, and you can rest assured that they do their best not just to make sure you are safe and fine, but also to make sure you enjoy every minute of your experience. Once you reach the diving site, you prepare yourself with all the diving gear clipped up on you, and the instructors with push you backwards into the water while your life jacket is fully inflated so the moment you hit the sea surface you will rise back up. That moment could be a little scary, but it will be fine in a minute. Take it in step by step and you will be fine. Don’t panic, just don’t panic. The instructors then ask you to hold onto a rope and then adjust the air in the jacket. Then bit by bit, you can go descend into the sea, and equalize every step of the way. Don’t hesitate to stop the instructors if you have a problem, or if you need to equalize more, or if you are just scared and need one more minute before you can descend further.
Take your time, relish the ride. Once you reach the sea floor, you can see amazing marine life. The fishes and corals and all the life out there is so, so colorful that you will overwhelmed. Here’s a tip, don’t smile, if you smile, you get water into your eye mask and regulator. Be patient, you can talk all about what you saw after you get to the surface. You could see red and yellow grouper fishes, barracudas, angel fishes, and so many more species of fishes, sea urchins, corals and all. It is honestly like real life ‘Finding Nemo’ happening around you. The instructors also take awesome pictures of you as you dive and go around below water, so you can carry and share those memories. Moreover, since you have practiced and gotten a hang of what happens underwater, you don’t need to fret about your gear or your breathing and movements, and instead can focus on the sights around you. Don’t touch any of the marine life, you wouldn’t like somebody poking and prodding you either, would you now?
You can stay underwater for about 20-30 minutes comfortably with the training you got the previous day. You can go down to a depth of about 11-12 meters after the training you have. And if you fell in love with scuba diving after your first dive, you can return and pursue the four day certification IISDA offer which enables you dive anywhere in the world without an instructor for I think about 45 minutes. They also offer other more advanced certifications all the way up to becoming a full fledged instructor.
The biggest kudos goes to the instructors of IISDA who worked non-stop to ensure I was comfortable and enjoyed my scuba diving trip. They are really very caring, patient and humble. Their level of knowledge and skills is something I have not found in any instructors anywhere ever. Their able guidance and support helped me learn so much, and take in the amazing views underwater that will stay in my memory forever.
IISDA gets a 10 on 10 from me for everything they did during my trip there and made me fall in love with scuba diving.
Would I do it again? Most definitely.
Would I still go to them if I visited Tarkarli again? Obviously, yes.
Would I recommend IISDA to anybody and everybody who wants to take a shot at Scuba Diving? Yes, without a doubt.
Was it worth the money I spent? More than worth it. Loved it.
For anybody who wants to know more about my experience, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you want to get in touch with the Institute (IISDA), you can reach them on the phone at +91-2365-248790.