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Discovering the deep blue: My first ever open water dive

From the fear of sharks to being face-to-face with one, here’s how diving changed my life.
Scuba Diving Maldives

Pighle neelam sa behta ye sama,
Neeli neeli si khamoshiyan,
Na kahin hai zameen na kahin aasmaan,
Sarsaraati hui tehniyaan pattiyaan,
Keh raheen hai bas ek tum ho yahan,
Bas main hoon,
Meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein,
Aisi gehraiyaan, aisi tanhaiyaan,
Aur main sirf main.
Apne hone par mujhko yakeen aa gaya

-Javed Akhtar, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara


It all began back in 2010 during a family vacation in Bali. While my dad decided to take the plunge and pursue his open water diving certification, eight-year-old me was more preoccupied with the looming threat of being devoured by a shark. Without a second thought, I dismissed the offer. I’m also pretty sure being eight isn’t the ideal age for any kind of deep-sea adventures.

Since that fateful vacation, the ocean has been a source of surreal stories, sparking a deep-seated curiosity to uncover the mysteries beneath the waves. The spark to attain my own diving certification was kindled then, fueled further by evenings spent engrossed in underwater documentaries on Netflix.

Fast forward 13 years, and there I was, practically giddy at the prospect of jetting off to the Maldives for the sole purpose of undertaking my open water diving certification. After two flights and a gruelling 11-hour journey to Dharavandhoo, I arrived at a place that, unknowingly to me, would change my entire life. Turquoise blue water, white sandy beaches and the smell of salty ocean water, it all reeked of optimism to me.

Dharavandhoo, Maldives

Image: Manya Makhija

The morning of my first training dive, nerves mingled with excitement. I went prepared having completed PADI’s theoretical courses and gaining a 98% on the Open Water Certification theory exam. My dive master Risshi guided me through the essentials—breathing underwater, assembling and disassembling the scuba kit, and underwater gestures.

As we headed to a confined beach area, the technicality of diving hit me, but the thrill prevailed. Underwater, the currents pushed me around making me lose my balance, it was difficult to remain neutrally buoyant, and even more complicated to constantly breathe using my mouth. However, six hours later, I was somewhat ready for my inaugural open water dive the next day.

Dharavandhoo Divers, Maldives

Image: Manya Makhija

Walking to the boat, my anxiety peaked, my palms were sweaty, and nerves on edge. Dive site briefings, donning gear—it all felt like a blur. Standing on the boat’s edge with my air tank, I took a breath, leapt, and descended into the blue abyss. As I equalised, sank, and became buoyant, it began sinking in, I was diving, underwater, surrounded by unbothered fish, and the initial anxiety evaporated. I felt calm, at peace, and strangely safe in this underwater realm.

Following my dive master into a reef cave in pursuit of Manta Rays and Nurse Sharks (yes, I was looking for Nurse Sharks, funny, I know). The first 20 minutes of the dive yielded no shark sightings, until we reached another reef cave. My vision blurred, but a few feet away lay two sharks, peacefully asleep on the sandy floor. Fear gripped me, my body froze in fear as I was convinced, if I made any movement I was going to the next meal for the sharks. As I snapped back to reality, I swam away slowly. Convinced that this was my last shark encounter, we returned to the previous reef cave, in search of Manta’s. Entering, I assumed it was empty until I found myself face-to-face with a sleeping Nurse Shark. I stood still, peaceful, and the shark continued its slumber, unbothered by my presence or the sound of bubbles my regulator was releasing. 

As I ascended slowly to the surface to end my first dive, I’d fallen in love with the ocean and I will keep coming back any chance I get. How do you get enough of turtles almost flying across? Everything underwater is dramatically beautiful: The coral reefs bustling with marine life almost as busy as the street of Mumbai, hiding secrets with cracks and crevices, hearing the whistles of a distant pod of dolphins, or even just the calming silence of being underwater.

Discovering a thriving world beneath the surface, one untouched by daily life, is almost life-changing. As you gaze at the surface above, a Manta Ray glides overhead, and the vibrant colours of the underwater world make the outside seem dull.

There’s a wealth of knowledge gained when you confront fears and immerse yourself in experiences that challenge you. Witnessing the beauty of the ocean firsthand, acknowledging its gradual deterioration due to climate change, instils a profound sense of purpose and underscores the integral role the ocean plays in our survival.