The PADI Growth Chart
Diving in India
Netrani Island, Murudeshwar
The start of the New year, 2012, waiting expectantly for the results of the Best Dive Job 2012, and there was my first opportunity to dive as a professional…yup, travel, accommodation, food and best of all… diving!!! Thanks to Planet Scuba India, I was on board to take the trip to Netrani island, also called Pigeon island, some 16 nautical miles off the coastal town of Murudeshwar. The town is a flourishing religious tourist center, the attraction is the large statue of Shiva, for some odd reason not looking out into the sea, but looking inland. The statue looks to be metal based or could be just the paint too, hard to tell unless you get close enough.
The trip from Bangalore to Murudeshwar was quite comfortable thanks to the concept of ‘sleeper’ buses, full beds where you can enjoy a comfortable sleep, well, as much as a moving vehicle on a hilly road can be, but definitely better than sitting it out. Driving overnight, we reached the town early next day around 7am and were out, ready to dive by 9am. And that’s when I came face-to-face with the diving scenario in India. Netrani is supposed to be one of the better dive locations on the west coast, as compared to Goa. Having dived in Goa before, I was looking forward to better visibility and interesting dives. Of course I knew it cannot be compared to Malaysia, but this was diving in your backyard. Unfortunately, the industry or rather the infra-structure is not that developed, not even as much as Goa, which had better facilities. Standing on what I would say is not certainly a beach where I would like to lay down, we looked at what the ‘official transport vehicle’ to take us to Netrani island, a good 90 minute ride away, was… behold, the Indian Dhoni. To us Indians, no, not MSD, our famous cricket captain, but the famous Indian fishing boat. Yup, that’s the way diving is done in India, a fishing boat by night, is converted to a dive boat by day! Came complete with detachable outboard motor and ladder, and not to forget the ‘convertible’ type overhead roof blanket!
Looking at it, it was not that disheartening, roughly 6-8 meters in length and about 1.5 meters wide at its broadest; it had pretty sturdy fiberglass body with ribs for seating. Practically, it was a quite uncomfortable, moving all the gear and tanks from one end to another, without proper setup area or dive platform, everything was just piled up here and there, as we set off with the smell of kerosene on our noses. I was already missing the big boat back in Tioman, where you actually even had a tiny loo, or in sea terms, ‘head’ on the boat with a boat captain turning the wheels, a nice big compass on the dashboard, and the nice chugging of the motor underneath.
The first day diving was quite uncomfortable, with most of us, me included, being seasick due to the lack of sleep and proper rest from the overnight bus journey. Added to that was the unfamiliarity with the dive location, being our first time there. Approaching Netrani, there are actually 2 islands, adjacent to each other with about a 200 meter gap in-between. The smaller of the islands apparently had been reduced to what it is now due to the target practice carried out by the Indian Navy! Yeah, they just bombed it to bits, and there is supposedly quite a bit of unexploded shells lying at the bottom. Though Netrani is uninhabited, we were surprised to see goats on the rock faces on the island, left behind to appease the Gods by the local folk. The story goes that every year one goat is left as an offering to the Gods on the island or so.
Most of the diving is usually on the leeward side of the island, i.e. the side facing the mainland to avoid the currents. Unfortunately, there are no beaches anywhere around, mostly sheer rocky cliffs or huge boulders, though there is a small area with pebbles, aptly called “Pebble beach”. But just that the smallest of these pebbles are more than a handful! The sea is quite calm, occasionally there are small swells. The depth varies from around 12 meters and gradually slopes down to more than 25 meters out into the open sea. Sadly, there is no clear spot anywhere around and ‘sandy bottom’ seems to be stuff of dreams. This is quite a problem if there are students and its really difficult for them to try out the skills required to certify as open water divers. There is no flat area, or at least some clear space with smaller rocks, so this would not be an ideal location for new students to get certified. The first day dives were mostly exploratory, just trying to see what the area was like, and most of us were just waiting to get back, exhausted from the travel, and the boat ride.
A hearty dinner at the only non-vegetarian restaurant in town did raise our spirits a lot, and that was followed by a good nights sleep. Next day, everything was a bit more organized, we had a bit more control over the tanks and gear logistics on the boat, and the diving was better, everyone was happy, shown by the fact that the great chicken sandwiches and fruits were disappearing quickly… and without being fed to the fish. Dives on the second day were more fun, the students had also got a hang of things, skills were being performed and Mritunjai, our instructor was making good headway into their certifications. By the end of the day’s diving, most of them were certified or almost there, with the option of some fun diving on the third day. There were 2 groups diving, Jai with the students and myself with the fun divers, exploring the area around. On the third day, we ventured out onto the seaward side as the water was quite choppy on the leeward side. The bottom was more or less the same, full of boulders and about 15 meters average depth. Swimming across to the adjacent smaller island had the bottom floor gradually sloping down to 20 meters, and the marine life much lesser. There was a lot of life only around the bigger island, a lot of blue trigger fishes were around, though not aggressive at all, as is commonly thought of them. Also spotted were large and very colourful parrot fish, angel fish, cardinal fish, moray eel and even a lion fish.
As a fun dive, it was very interesting to explore the area around the island. Though there are no wrecks, walls, swim-throughs or drop-offs etc. it’s a good dive experience with the limited visibility. The gap between the islands had a slightly more than normal current and could be a good area to try out drift diving. While visibility is still a limiting factor, as compared to the diving locations in South East Asia, Netrani has a lot to improve in terms of infra structure for the diving industry to develop and to do that there has to be more dive shops coming up as a permanent location to drive more tourists. At present there is quite a lot of water adventure activities like water scooters, banana boats, small boat taxis and even para-sailing on the beach side for the tourists, so diving is not really far away; and if some dive shops do take the step forward, it can be a lot more enjoyable and pleasant experience than going through dirty beaches and ‘convertible’ fishing boats. Hope to see some development in the future!