Our orange and green boat, MV Belle made its way to the Jolly Buoy island cutting through the placid waters of the Wandoor jetty.
The reflections of the lush green mangrove forests imprinted on the dark green waters, looked picture perfect.
I was on my way to see corals so closely for the first time in my life. The Great Barrier Reef was always on my travel bucket list. But here in Andamans, they say Jolly Buoy is the best place in India to witness a plethora of corals.
The island is one of the fifteen islands forming the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National park, introduced with the purpose to educate citizens about marine life and its conservation.
Out of the fifteen islands, only two are open for tourists. Red Skin Island and Jolly Buoy, each of which is open for 6 months.
So while Jolly Buoy is open from November to May, Red Skin takes in tourists from May to November. This maintains a perfect equilibrium.
The visits are regulated of course. This keeps the island away from excessive tourist erosion. And one of the best measures to keep it eco friendly is the intense checking for plastics.
Enroute, as the boat moved, the water colour changed from dark green to a deep indigo to a mystical cyan, while Suresh, our guide briefed us about the island, the dos and dont’s and all the water activities at Jolly Buoy.
It was heartening to see Suresh immensely proud of the island, proud that it is crime free and proud of the marine life at Jolly Buoy. His eyes were filled with passion for his job as he urged all tourists to keep the island as it is.
At Jolly Buoy, visitors can go snorkelling or/ and opt for a glass boat ride to see the wide variety of corals. Scuba isn’t allowed in view to protect and preserve the corals.
As the boat reached the island the green waters glistened in the sun and I was left in awe.
Bigger boats aren’t allowed close to the shore lest they damage the corals, so we hop onto a platoon and then into a small boat.
One can clearly see the demarcation in the watercolour: At a distance, they are dark blue, then a blazing turquoise and then an absolute crystal clear green at the shore.
I cannot wait to snorkel here. The water is pristine and the marine life preservation is fantastic. Not a speck of plastic on the island and due to crowd regulations, very few tourists.
Water currents at Jolly Buoy are strong and within seconds the sand drifts beneath your feet. So it’s best to be close to the shore and not venture further even if you are an expert. Currents have a way with pushing you into the sea.
We had a near drowning incident and a double thumbs up to the life guard who was alert and the rescue boat which reached within a minute.
Snorkelling with Suresh was fun. He was patient and ever helpful, encouraging even the petrified ones to see the underwater world.
Snorkelling surely is the easiest way to see marine life, but doing it in Jolly Buoy is a delight. The endless spread of corals and the variety is mind blowing.
With an orange float around me, magnifying glasses and a breathing apparatus off we went. I dipped my head underwater and the scene was spectacular.
Crystal clear, undisturbed waters and a mystical environment.
Sea cucumbers lying aloof on the sea bed, star fishes perched on huge magnificent corals, tiny colourful fishes playing hide and seek: the underwater world just came alive.
Here was ‘Finding Nemo’ live in front of my eyes, magnified with glasses and 100% real. Suresh kept asking if I was okay. I struggled a little with the mouth piece, but the silence wasn’t because of the struggle. It was because this was my first ever intrusion in the underwater world.
Corals stood indifferently around me as we moved further watching a school of deer fish wade past.
The world’s best aquariums fail, when you see a live one. The sea is mysterious, oysters opening and closing, corals changing colours and sunlight gleaming through creating a magical effect. If there is magic, this is it.
One breath and you’re up above the water, breathing in the real world, one dip in the water and you’re living magic yet again.
And then I dip again, cupping my hands and forming a water pool in my hand, only to find the tiny orange ‘Nemo’ fish, swimming in and out of my hand. My heart danced. If there is one memory of snorkelling which is etched in my mind, it is this one. The flip of my heart when that tiny fish swam in and out of my hands.
An hour later I saw the same scene from the glass bottom boat. The ride, where you could sit in a boat and see the corals beneath through a glass bottom which is magnified.
The boat traverses over varieties of corals: boulder, finger, mushroom, cauliflower, with clear sightings of a variety of fishes too: the colourful parrot fish, deer fish, tiger fish and the likes.
I am amazed that the glass is surprisingly clean (Kudos to the boat man). The ride isn’t as exciting as snorkelling but a great way to study the corals.
My hair are wet, with sand all over, my skin burnt with the blazing sun, but I don’t want to leave the island.
The green waters are mesmerising and I wonder why people go gaga over ‘firangi’ waters, when India has so much to offer. The diversity is unbeatable.
MV Belle is here again and I board it back again, thanking Suresh for his efforts. He asks me if I’d like a picture on the deck. I agree wholeheartedly and climb the wooden stairs.
The view beyond the wheel is spectacular. Green forests on either side, a bright orange hull of the boat and deep blue waters.
The photo sessions were on, A la Titanic, when Doreen suddenly gasped “DOLPHIN!” I couldn’t even register it, when I saw a fin. More gasps, then I saw it, dancing underneath the clear blue waters, its grey body well defined.
And then it jumped. The excitement was inexplicable. We hooted and clapped, while another one joined and they led the boat, jumping in delight. Every time they jumped, we squealed in joy.
These Bottled nose dolphins are a very very rare sight here in Wandoor and I guess we were plain lucky to be on the deck when they swam to the boat, as eager to to see the boat as we were to see them.
Seeing them dancing and swimming freely in the wild was another memory etched in my mind.
There are days when you’re far away from cellular network, like really really far away. And you don’t miss the beep on your cell. Those are most often the happiest days, when you connect with a life so mystical that life on land appears mundane.
This was one such day.
A day of finding Nemo and being led by Dolphins!