My next destination was "Auroville Beach" around 8kms from Visitor's centre. This beach is popularly known as Auro beach - as the name suggests is close to Auroville. Actually it was a bad idea to go to the beach at this time but I did not wish to come back cycling down here again the following day or wait for the temperature to fall. The roads were very unsteady and unfinished which was taking a toll on my legs. But I had company as there were many alike cyclists whom I met on my way. After the hectic ride and the directions by Google Map, I reached the white sand narrow lane heading towards the beach. It was scorching out there and I still wanted to touch the hot waves while I started walking by the shore. I wasn't alone there, Indians love beaches irrespective of what time it is or the climate was. It was like a Sunday afternoon at Juhu Beach, Mumbai. Families, friends, kids everyone was enjoying their beach time. And I was just trying to protect my face from the heat.
Whenever I go to the beaches I do this typical thing just to preserve the moment for years to come. Some may find it girly but I find it cool. Well the beach person knows what a beach can offer every single time.
It was 5pm, I waved goodbye to the beach and went back to the hotel. After riding for around 30 minutes, I reached my hotel. I wanted to have a cold shower as I was tired and exhausted. After I freshened up and I went straight to the most awaited destination of this trip via the beach road. The beach road is never dull. It is always crowded and it gives positive vibes every single time I went through it. But where was I going? After missing out my way couple of times (Thanks to Google Maps), I finally reached the diving school "Temple Adventures". At the entrance I saw few representatives having tea and talking in Tamil. I was greeted and invited at thier reception area and was asked to wait for a while till someone attends me. The diving school was a chill out place to be in, there were proper seating arrangement in all rooms. It gave me a feeling of a hostel, with young adults taking this adventure sports very seriously. They were a bunch of professional scuba enthusiasts running this school for all kinds of divers and armateurs. I was quickly introduced to the packages and I was thrilled, as it was a dream come true experience for me. The packages included Discover Scuba (pool only), Discover Scuba Diving (pool and sea), Open Water + Advanced diving etc. All were PADI Certification Courses. I had already researched about the school and their association with PADI and the course which I signed up for was "Discover Scuba Diving" as it was my first ever dive in the ocean. I completed the formalities for the program and also paid for the course in advance as I wanted to experience this ASAP. I chose to take the training session the very next day and the slot allotted was 3pm and the deep sea diving was on 12th Feb, Sunday morning 6:30am. I was damn excited for this and was eagerly looking for the day to come. The Scuba guys were very friendly and I was also acquainted with the diving gears - the wetsuit, the oxygen cylinder, mask, fins, diving shoes, BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), weight system, regulator, SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge). It was too exciting!
I left the diving school around 7:45pm and headed back to my hotel. On my way I grabbed few beers and fish tacos as I wasn't hungry, I skipped my dinner. The Tacos were okish but the beers did the trick. I was on bed reading the scuba diving manual and sipping beers. By 10pm I concluded my day 2.
I got up around 6:30am, yeah I had turned to be an early riser. I quickly freshened up and went for a ride to the white town and captured few beautiful landmarks. The streets around here has interesting names like "Romain Rolland Street", "La Bourbonnais Street", "Suffren Street", "Goubert Ave" and so many more. “Rue" is used instead of "street". Then I came across the Café des Arts on Suffren Street. An old yellow colored cafe with some funny artwork on the walls totally living up to the name.
The streets were empty and I enjoyed my morning ride with cold breeze and the freshness in the air. The architecture is simple yet elegant and it did made worthwhile for the travelers to capture these moments. The smell of freshness was gushing out there!
I went to my hotel room, had my regular breakfast and started towards my next beach destination the Serenity Beach, located around 5kms from my hotel, around twenty minutes’ ride from my place to the north of the town. On reaching the beach, I saw lots of fishing boats parked on the shore. The fishermen were preparing their fishing net and yet another time the beach was deserted; only few school students were playing football on the beach. But this time I came to the beach to watch a different water sport - Surfing. I had read about a surfing school conducting surfing lessons on this beach. Its called the Kallialay Surfing School, located just at the entrance of the beach - a Spanish-run school with few surfing boards stationed at the door, offering everything from beginner sessions to intensive 'surf camps'. I had plans to take the lessons but when I reached the door I saw a small hanging wooden surfboard saying "Closed. Gone Surfing". I saw an number on the board and tried calling the same but wasn't able to get through. I waited for a while but later after clicking a selfie with surfboard I left the beach.
I quickly called up the Scuba school and reschedule my training session as I didn't wanted to waste any time at this part of the town. They agreed to reschedule and I was asked to reach by 12 noon. It was 10:30 am and I was riding my way back. On my way I came across this workshop of wooden artifacts. I am an art lover and I do appreciate these stuff a lot. I had to stop by to check a beautiful piece if I can buy. It was filled with awesomeness and I was getting confused with my pick.
I tried bargaining with the artist but he was adamant to reduced any price, but honestly I was getting a good deal as it was anyways a wholesale rate as the produce was from a workshop. I finally chose one of the artifacts and asked him to wrap it properly so that it doesn't get damaged during travelling. He surfaced its base properly and polished it using honey wax and it was shining!
I continued cycling my way to the Scuba school and reached there by 12 noon. When I reached the school, I met the scuba team who had just returned from a morning dive. I saw them unloading the scuba gears from the vehicle back into the big tubs for cleaning purposes. I went inside and was greeted by one of the instructors. Along with me there were two cousin sisters Dr. Parvati and Dr. Laxmi who were also signing up for the dive. We introduced each other as we finished the final formalities followed by a theoretical session with one of the instructors. The Instructor had a wild adventurous look but was very good with his work. He communicated well and I was impressed by his knowledge. He showed us different signs to be used underwater as we would not be able to communicate without the sign language. It made me recall the scene from "Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara" and we were totally ready for the training session to begin. We changed ourselves to the wetsuits and I was happy to get the size M for myself. I was looking quite fit in my suit.
As we got inside the pool fully loaded with our scuba gears, ready for the session to commence. The first thing which we learnt was to trust the instructor and honestly that is the key for smooth dive. Our instructor Mr. Infent Rini taught us how to use the mouth regulator for breathing. Initially it was bit difficult but once we got a hold of the process we started enjoying it. Apart from breathing, we were taught how to clear water from the mask, how to exhale water from the mouth using the regulator, if water gets inside the mouth, how to get hold of the regulator if you miss the regulator beneath the water during the dive and finally how to equalize to help release the water pressure. It was a fun session but more informative and we really got a sense that it was really risky and now that we had signed the waiver, it was no going back!
After the refreshing session, we freshened up and we were giving our feedback to the team about the training session as we confirmed the time for the dive the following morning. Reporting time was 6am! Wooo that was too early! I was famished as the water session made me hungry (happens every single time to me after swimming or being in water). I left the place around 1:45 pm and headed straight for my lunch. I wanted to have one of my best dishes and I knew exactly where I found find it - "The Pasta Bar Veneto" . As I reached the cafe it gave me an impression of an old Italian restaurant. The ambience was good, seating arrangement were comfy and the aroma was awesome. I saw a few beautiful crockery paintings on the wall giving a homely decor to the place. I ordered for "Ravioli di pollo con pesto" and Caffe Americano. I wanted to get energized and what else can help other than a black coffee and a delicious cheesy pasta? The place was surprisingly vacant and I was totally enjoying it. Light music, perfectly lit ambience and a hot meal - My definition of pleasure cannot be anything else! Actually at that moment I did thought to live my life in the same way for next 50 years to come. The feeling was amazing! Travelling solo in a new city is like tasting life raw!
I had just tasted one of the best pastas in recent times. It tasted perfect and the flavours and aroma was absolutely brilliant! A good place to spend a lazy afternoon. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 3/5, Service: 3/5.
I left the cafe around 3:15pm and went straight to the New Lighthouse located around 1.5 kms from the the cafe. I was not permitted a day prior because I had reached the place after 5pm. The premises had security guards and it was beautifully maintained. I realised that the new lighthouse was taller than the old one. Finally I was in after getting a ticket to the top of the lighthouse. It was a task to reach the top of the lighthouse as we know generally Lighthouses in India do not have lifts.The stairways was nice, wide and clean. The stairways has windows thus helping the natural lights and breeze to get in. After climbing the never ending steps, I finally reached to the top of the Lighthouse. There was one more guard at the top to check the tickets of the visitors. The top floor has a Lantern room, which has all the electrical units to control the navigations. Lots of indicators and machinery were installed which looked quite complicated. When I entered the top gallery I was overwhelmed looking at the beautiful skyline. It was worth the climb! The air was so fresh up there and it felt like the purity pouring out from the heaven.
I didn't wanted to come down yet I started walking down the stairs after spending some silent time. I took my bicycle and went to have my evening snacks. I wanted to visit this place everyday but I was able to get there only on Day 3, I regret it badly. The place is the French Delicacies Concept Store - "Baker Street". This place is located on the Bussy street which is very near to the beach. Once inside, the place is plain sinful. They serve croissants, pizzas, pastas, pita sandwiches, burgers, croissants with chicken fillings, handmade chocolates, muffins and other desserts. The list is never ending! On the right you can see all the food items placed on the glass display and on the left side there were seats arranged in artistic way. The ambience was good and the bakery aroma was in the air. I ordered for Pork Burger, French Chicken Quiche and a Coffee. “It was deliciously savory.” I was lost in the #foodgasmmode ignoring everyone in the bakery, enjoying my food in my own sweet little world. Food: 4.5/5, Ambience: 4/5, Service: 3.5/5.
When I got off the table I was full and I knew I have had my dinner. It was so heavy. It was 7:00 pm and was moving back to my hotel. It was time for a well deserved hot shower, I was tired to move out so I got dressed up and went to the top floor of my hotel. I was sipping my beer under the stars and it was getting cold too. It was bit dark yet everything was visible because it was a full moon night. The atmosphere was really good which made me more happy as I wasn't expecting the climate to be humid in the night too. After a while I went back to my room and made few calls to my family and friends. At this point no one knew about my following morning's adventure. and I had not shared about it except couple of friends. I was getting anxious and excited at the same time. The feeling was strange but I was fighting with hundreds of thoughts! I tried sleeping but couldn't sleep more than few minutes. I kept chatting with friends till they fell asleep and I was still up throughout the night. I never slept!
I got off my bed before the alarm rang. It was 5:30am. I had to reach the scuba school by 6am sharp. I quickly freshened up and got ready to leave. I greeted my hotel Mr. Raja and also informed him that I will not be up for breakfast today. As I was supposed to check-out on Day 4, I had already packed up my stuff and had also requested the hotel manager to make some adjustments on the check-out time as I was not sure about by return time after the dive. I started from by hotel, it was a pleasant cold morning and I was totally thrilled for the adventure. On my way to the school, I stopped at the gate of Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. It looked like a 100 years old historical Gothic style church, located very close to the scuba school. It was 5:50am and the Sunday morning mass was about to start. I went inside the church and it was christmas inside with so many lights and candles. I prayed for a while as I sat on the wooden bench. Then I moved out of the church and reached Temple Adventures by 6:15am. I thought I was late as I parked my bicycle and went straight upstairs as someone from the school asked me get some breakfast which was served on the first floor. On the staircase, I saw a bunch of certificates hanging on the wall all credited to Temple Adventures and I couldn't resist capturing it.
I entered the room and saw few guys having breakfast, I too joined them. The guys were friendly and we were talking about the scuba diving, advanced diving, scuba pro license, residing cities, work, things to do in pondi, and other adventure sports. Although I was not keen to have breakfast yet we were asked to have something light. I had 2 idlis, 2 boiled eggs and a coffee. And slowly all the scuba enthusiasts joined for the breakfast. Later we got into our scuba suits and diving shoes and helped the organisers to get the scuba gears loaded on the cars. We were all set for the marine expedition as we reached the harbour. So a total of 14 people had signed up for discover scuba diving and around 6 had enrolled for the pro course. As we reached the harbour we were briefed by the directors of Temple Adventures Mr. Aravind and Mr. Rob. It was a fun and relaxed briefing session as we revised the underwater signs. Both the directors were professionals and fun loving at the same time. Appreciate their sense of humour as we discussed Sharks attacks but it was just a hoax situation as the Sharks do not like Bay of Bengal.
We started moving to the boat one by one and got settled. And the game was on! We started from the harbour around 7:30am and began the journey to the middle of the deep dark blue ocean. Tearing the waves at a speed of 60 kmph, we were forced to settle on the base of the boat. Although we were wearing the lifejacket but yet we did not wish to meet with accident as the waves were rapid and almost everyone were first timers. The climate was very much suitable for the dive as per Rob, as the sun had just come up with beautiful rays coming down to the seabed. The view from our boat was incredible. We were in middle of nowhere around 25kms from the harbour point. But the dark blue clear water was looking beautiful and wild at the same time.
Well have you heard about seasickness? Well we were about to witness it. Rob asked us "has anyone taken any seasickness tablet'? Well none of us were aware of it. Almost everyone started feeling sick. Whether it was fear, anxiety or mixed emotions playing its part, nobody had any clue. But it is a common thing, happens to the best of us. Luckily I was quite calm right from the beginning. Rob asked for the 1st 4 divers who would like to initiate the adventure and 4 of the guys quickly volunteered. Well even I wanted to but I gave it a pass as I wanted to experience the process of entire dive first before I get in. As the first 4 guys got into thier scuba gears, they were toppled upside down one by one into the ocean. Sounds scary? Yes, it was crazy! Imagine you are getting into the ocean during a somersault with the scuba gears. Don't be worried, each of the guys were personally handled by the scuba divers of the school. Initially each of the guys were asked to breathe normally with their face down in the water and only if they were comfortable they were taken down. Strangely none of the guys who went inside were comfortable breathing in the water. They were having serious issues with the water as they were continuously coughing, puking and breathing heavily . Well looking at them I realised I did made the right call of not rushing into it. They were asked to take rest as the next 4 guys geared up. The next 4 were 2 couples and they wanted to go next. I was calm and composed as I too had company with me, Parvati and Laxmi. But even they were feeling the seasick and were trying to cope with it. Just to get a feel of the water and to divert our minds we got into the water with our life jackets on. We were asked to be around the boat and to make way if someone come up after their dive. We were free floating and enjoying the cold water and splashing water at each other. After a while I came up on the boat as it was time for me to dive. I quickly got into my BCD, the oxygen cylinder, mask, fins, weight system, regulator, SPG and I was all set for the dive. The divers were clicking photos at regular intervals right from the beginning from the time we had reached the harbour. Including the most important thing "Underwater photographs"!
When I was toppled down into the water, I made sure my regulator is intact in my mouth and I knew if I do that one thing right my dive would be smooth because no one but me can help myself breathing. I was supervised by Mr. Aravind and I was lucky to have him as my scuba instructor. He is gem of a person with good sense of humour. As I signaled that everything was fine, we started going down meter by meter and after each meter we were supposed to equalize. After few meters I was able to see the reef made up of coconut tree branches, shrubs etc. The reefs attract the fishes and yes there they were. Hundreds of colourful fishes of different sizes and types. We clicked lots of photos including an underwater selfie. The water was very clear and all I can hear was bubbles. As I signalled down, we went down to see more fishes but this time there were few big beautiful shiny fishes. We went upto 18 meters as we proceeding upwards to the boat. I thoroughly enjoyed with my first ever dive. It was amazing! I got into the boat and went silent for few minutes as i was digesting my experience - I was speechless! I wanted to be inside the ocean for a longer time but it was already 45mins down there. Time runs too fast under water I guess.
As everyone completed their respective dives, we got back to the harbour with lots of memories and positivity. It was time to tick check the adventure sports: Scuba Diving - CHECK! It was simply an awesome lifetime experience. We returned to the scuba school and were discussing our thrilling experience. I got freshened up and collected my Discover Scuba Diving Program Completion certificate and a memento - Temple Adventures Scuba Tshirt. It was really a proud feeling!
We were hungry so Parvati, Laxmi and I decided to meet for lunch after an hour. We headed to our respective hotels as I wanted to check-out and do my final packing of things.I reached my hotel, took a long hot shower, packed my stuff, did my check-out and asked the hotel manager to take care of my belongings as I was planning to pick the bag later in the evening. It was 1:30pm and we chose to go to Rendezvous restaurant for the lunch but to our surprise, when we reached there the restaurant was closed. Then we decided to go "Le Chateau" restaurant in White Town. Parvati's husband Dr. Vipin also joined us at the restaurant. I was in the company of three certified MBBS doctors. Well that's what I was saying earlier; you do meet some people who become a part of your travel by luck. We were destined to meet, hang out and explore!. We went directly to the first floor as the ground floor area was pretty normal without any interesting seatings. The restaurant's ambience on the first floor was good, they had a live bar counter with proper seatings, natural lights and proper ventilation. We ordered for 2 Beef steak and beers for myself and Vipin. Finally found someone who likes beef. Also we did ordered for chicken steak, pasta and some wine for the ladies. Food was good but we were disappointed with the service. It took a lot of time for the food to arrive also after we asked for the check they showed us another seating place available on level two with a seaview which was far more better. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 3/5, Service: 2/5.
It was 3:15pm as we left the restaurant and headed towards the Beach road as Vipin wanted to see the beach. I was earlier planning to go to Mahabalipuram but I dropped the plan as I was enjoying the doctors' company. Also it would have been very hectic for me to carry my heavy rucksack and travel and explore around. So, I decided to revisit few places with my new friends. Though the scenery was beautiful with the shades of blue meeting at the horizon, but the climate was very hot and humid; thanks to the breeze for helping us to sustain the heat.
We spent some time on the beach as we walked past by the landmarks, later we headed to the new lighthouse and finally the Baker Street by evening. Finally we reached the bicycle shop to return our bicycles. It was time to say goodbye to the folks as we said to stay in touch with firm handshakes! "Adios Amigos"!
I returned to my hotel, freshened up and picked my luggage as I moved out of the hotel waving bye to Ms. Jaya. I called for an auto to reach the Pondi bus stop. Once I reached the bus stop, I saw hundreds of passengers waiting for the bus. As it was a weekend, there were more than normal people travelling. After waiting for almost 30 minutes at the queue, I got the hold of my ticket and finally got into the bus. It was really a tiring journey back to Guindy Bus stop. But I was still enjoying and reliving the memories that I was carrying along with me. After almost 3hrs around 10:30pm I reached the Guindy bus stop. I called for an OLA and entered the Chennai Domestic Terminal T1 within 3o minutes.
I took my trolley to the check-in counter, deposited my bag and after my body scan, I headed to my departure gate. I was really hungry but strangely most of the food counters were either closed or getting closed. I was still scanning through the outlets to find something to eat. Finally I saw a Maggi Hotspot - a saviour indeed! I called for an masala maggi and a coffee. The coffee machine was not working so I had to settle just with the Maggi. It is the first ever Nestle's Hotspot Maggi installed in India and it was having maintenance problems. Amazing! I was disappointed :(
Also the maggi was not upto the mark. It was tasteless. I was still hungry and I badly needed something hot to drink. It was bit cold and I had to stay awake as my flight was at 2:45am. Finally The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf came to my rescue. I ordered for blueberry muffins and a hot chocolate. Yummies!!!! The midnight snack was very satisfying and I was refreshed. My phone battery was dying and also my travel charger was discharged. I had no option but to ask the Outlet guy for a charger. Luckily he lent me his portable charger. Well it was still a 2 hours wait time for my flight. I kept listening to music and speaking to my friends till the finally gate opened.
I got into the flight JET 7012 half sleepy and tired. My back was hurting real bad. I rested on my seat and went to sleep instantly. I didn't even know when the flight took off. I was woken up by the air hostess for my meals at 3:15am. I quickly had the sandwich and a black coffee as I didn't wanted to sleep again. Any finally the flight landed to Mumbai around 4:15am. I got off the flight straight to the luggage belt and booked a cab to Powai and then headed to the Ola cab stand. Got back home around 5:55am, dropped my bag, freshed up and went straight to the bed. On that note my solo expedition came to an end.
Well this is the hardest part about traveling, coming back to routine and it’s the very reason why we all run away again. So until next time - Salut!
This post was originally published on Kotian Sushant's Blog.