Being a working woman, along with being a family woman, surely is difficult. While balancing the lives of both, a woman can often sideline their ambitions and passion. After all, life is not all about money or family. Sometimes, you have to do something for yourself, to know that you have lived and seen the beauty of life that you are provided. Travelling becomes an essential part of a woman’s life; especially a married Indian woman. In a society where women are looked to as a mother, wife and just a woman, there are women out there exploring the world of their own and others. One such story is of Pavithra Paulraj who embarked on a solo trip the Andaman and Nicobar to get Scuba Diving certification.
Apart from the amusing videos of the strangely vibrant world under the sea, it is the experience that leaves a mark in your heart. When a friend couldn’t stop ogling about his scuba dive, it got to Pavithra that she had to try it for herself. Then, she had quit her job and had over two weeks to herself, hence decided to make the best use of it by making a solo trip to the islands.
Day 1: Beginning Her Solo Trip From Port Blair
It wouldn’t be surprising to understand how blended her feelings must have been about travelling alone. Leaving the years of a job that had got her going, this was her first step of taking an adventure of her that included earning scuba diving certification too.
Leaving home at about 3 in the morning, Pavithra took a flight from Mumbai to Port Blair in the islands with a layover at Chennai. It was about 10 am when she landed. With that, she hopped on to an airport cab and headed straight to her hotel, Aashiaana Residency. The first fascination of her solo trip came when she caught herself in conversation with a couple from New Zealand at the reception. Perks of being a solo traveller, people are often easier to talk to. The idea of taking an extended break from work for a holiday had always seemed a little odd for Indians yet seemed so simple for outsiders.
Dumping her bags in the room, she went out for a good meal. Being a Tamilian herself, she had no problem guiding through the roads and lanes. Her first stop in Port Blair was the Chatham Saw Mill. During WWII, Japan had struck a bomb there. Furthermore, her curiosity took her to the infamous Cellular Jail known for tormenting the prisoners during the Indian Independence movement. However, by the time it was time to return, there were no autos insight. At the moment, fear was creeping into her at the late hour of the night. Travelling solo comes with different kinds of fear of not being able to go through it; a new city and no daylight; it must have been a worrisome experience. To her luck, a helpful auto driver found her and took her to the hotel. With a few snacks to eat, she went off to sleep.
Day 2: Exploring Ross Island
The second day of the trip started at 9:30 am when she visited the Ross Island. It was a 10 minutes boat ride from Port Blair. Just as she had begun questioning her choices, she met a couple from Delhi. The delight in their faces to see Pavithra solo travel gave her a strange upliftment. Upon reaching the island, she had spent 1.5 hours exploring the old colonial bungalows and a lifestyle luxurious to even the Indian population today.
Moreover, there were even bunkers from the WW2 time. With that, it was time to head back to Port Blair. With 3-4 hours of break and meal, it was time to head for an evening tour of Chidyatapu.
At Chidiya Tapu, an agent picked her up from Port Blair and drove her to the airport. Along the one hour journey, Pavithra came to discover intriguing facts about the Sentinal Islands of Andaman and Nicobar. These islands are known to be inhabited by a tribal group of hunter-gatherers, apprehensive to the outer world.
Finally, she reached Chidiya Tapu known to have been hit with a tsunami in 2004. While many uprooted trees lay in the same wild conditions and clouds hid the sun, the sky was still as refreshing. With a sip of a steaming cup of tea, it was time to head back.
Day 3: Gearing Up For a Dive in Havelock Island
The third day of the trip was the day Pavithra had been waiting for. It was the day to enrol for the scuba diving certification course. A ferry took her across the island at 6 am. The view of the vast sea, various fishes skidding across the water and the gala celebrations kept her occupied. Moreover, the stories from the people she met were never-ending.
Upon reaching the Havelock Island in Andaman and Nicobar, she quickly checked into her stay – Gold Star Beach Resort and headed for the diving institute, DIVE India. The next steps involved signing some applications and declarations. With the health conditions that prevented one from taking the course were too many, and it was terrifying for a moment. After an assurance that cold or cough wouldn’t hamper the course, Pavithra along with three buddies that she had made tagged along for a snorkelling session.
A reminder, one has to carry their swimsuits and should have necessary swimming skills, unlike shown in the larger than life movie – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. With the last swimming test, they headed for lunch before meeting the instructor in the video room. They viewed six videos on the course. Furthermore, the video sessions last for over two hours and in the end, they got study materials and assignment to complete before the course finished. To an uncommon knowledge, the course opted involved four dives, two shallow water dives, theory sessions, 1 test, and last for about four days. Pavithra headed back to her resort to do some assignment, calling it a day with her friends.
Day 4: Training for the Dive in Havelock Island
On the fourth day, Pavithra had shifted to the DIVE resort. Reporting to the instructor at 6:45 am, they learnt to techniques to communicate underwater, assembling of the equipment, wearing the gear, plunging into the water and ways to manoeuvre when you are within. In addition to that, the depth limit was 18 metres while in the advanced course, one could go up to 30 metres.
Soon, they went for their two shallow water dives in a boat. Wearing their equipment and plunged into the sea. However, once in the water, the situation got uncomfortable in the foreign environment for Pavithra. Compression of anything within seemed impossible. With the zeal that this was the ultimate goal, she went on to complete the course. After the two dives, they headed for their official dives to the NEMO reef.
The beach was covered with white sands fading into the green waters of the sea. While one of the divers panicked and rested on the boat, the others went ahead. Once in the water, the training session started. It was getting tougher by the moment when Pavithra started to lose control over her movements within the water. She started having second thoughts about completing the course. The dives lasted for about an hour each.
After lunch, she strolled about the resort, lied down in the hammock as the images within the water flashbacked through the mind. It was a serene moment without any hustle as Pavithra lay with her newly made friends. Post sunset, they got back for dinner.
Day 5: The First Dive in Havelock island
All of them went to Peel Island and Slope for two dives. No sessions, but dives. After a small communication class, four of them dived inside. In between the dive, however, Pavithra had to remove her mask as the water went inside and she couldn’t put it back without it seeping inside again. A genuinely terrifying moment as she started losing control of her movements. As she started thrashing about and went up to the surface, it took a minute for the instructor to calm her down. Making her wear the mask again, the instructor dived inside with her.
Soon, Pavithra was enjoying her dive. Through the journey inside the waters, she witnessed a whole new world of corals, octopus, starfish, stingrays, flounders, and so much more. With the sunlight shimmering through the green waters, it was undoubtedly an overwhelming experience.
Once out of the water, they had their snacks and headed for a theory session with their instructor. Right after, along with her diving buddies, Pavithra headed to the beach. It was the most stunning beach; she had come across. White sand beaches with red leaves with the sunset was a perfect view. Just behind the beach was a thick green patch of trees. The picture in the front, back, sides, and on the sky – was mesmerising. As the night started to fall, the ride back through the road canopied with trees was an adventure.
Looking up at the starry night sky, she realised that she was living the present and for once, nothing else seemed to matter.
Day 6: Shipwreck Dive in Havelock Island
The sixth day was about shipwreck dive, and the excitement in the girl could not be contained. The stop was Pilot Reef for two dives. Under the water, they witnessed the MV Mars Vessel covered in the rotting sand of the sea. The vessel hand sunk in 2008 when a storm had hit. Could you imagine coming as close to a Titanic experience such as this?
Further on, they went about the second dive, which was a normal one but with a different variety of species – parrotfish, electric clam, feather stars, fusiliers and lobsters.
Day 7: Neil Island
The seventh day on the Andaman and Nicobar islands, they headed to the Neil Island up north. Now that they were done with the dives, all that was left was the assignment. After half an hour test, she went ahead with her diving friends to a cafe. A few hours of chilling and she had to say goodbye to the rest soon. It was a gloomy prefall of being back to her old life. Back in her resort, she took a ferry ride alone across Neil Island. After a bit of exploration, it was time to head back to Port Blair and mark the conclusion of her solo trip.
Day 8 : Concluding Her Solo Trip
Last day on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Pavithra started to reminisce her journey. With the trip coming to an end, it had taught her a lot and given her confidence to face any dire situations. Through the solo trip, not only she had befriended people from various walks of life and countries, but she had also managed to tick off three things off her bucket list.
She visited the Andaman, did a solo trip and last but not the least, completed a Scuba Diving certification course. For Pavithra Paulraj, it was a well-deserved break before entering into a new phase of professional life. It made her realise so much about herself and after a long time, she felt alive.
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