SCUBA DOOBA DOO
Words: ALISHA WADIA
Photographs: HASHIM BADANI
GREAT FROM India
GREAT FOR Dolphins and diving
It’s hard not to like a pretty beach. Especially when it’s a perfect little wedge of buttery yellow sands, splashed with an emerald green sea. A place where there are stunningly clear waters you can dive right into, and gape at scores of colourful fish and coral reefs. Or snorkel with sharks! And when it’s close to home, it pretty much tops the list of fun holidays.
Pigeon Island might be off the coast of Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s once war-stricken east coast, but this easygoing region is very much open to visitors. So go now while you can, for it’s going to get very rainy here. Though ridiculously tiny and strewn with chalky white (and poky!) coral, Pigeon Island is a whopper in terms of beauty and marine life. A protected national park, it’s very secluded and one of Sri Lanka’s best surviving coral reefs with 300 species of coral fish and 100 species of coral. Little wonder then that it’s also one of the top diving spots on the island.
So get on a boat and test the waters – they’re deliciously warm and clear this time of year. Not only are the instructors at Poseidon Diving Station a friendly lot, they also know what they’re doing, so you’re in safe hands. Once you’ve learnt the ropes, off you go into the brilliant blue. However, you won’t be diving off a motorboat, you’ll simply walk into the water, till your flippers don’t touch the ground no more. Entering the water gradually, it’s pretty cool, especially for nervous first-timers.
Once you’re underwater, you’ll see the gleaming nudibranch, a tiny, brightly-coloured mollusk that quickly curls shut if you prod it (not that you should). Swim past schools of angelfish and butterflyfish darting about, trumpetfish that swim vertically to blend in with vertical coral, parrotfish solemnly chomping on algae on the coral, cobalt blue surgeonfish (Dory from Finding Nemo), the occasional stingray and adorably grumpy orange-and-white clownfish (Nemo himself!)!
If you prefer to watch marine life from a different perspective, the northern part of Pigeon Island has exceptionally shallow waters in which you can snorkel, and, aside from coral fish, you’ll also find blacktip reef sharks. These sharks, with their distinctive black fin markings, love shallow tropical waters and aren’t generally considered a threat to humans. Watch your flippers, though, and don’t trample the beds of staghorn coral here. There’s action above the surface too. Take a boat trip out to sea for Trinco’s also a major dolphin-watching spot. There are pods upon pods of these playful creatures leaping in and out of the waves.
Back on firm ground, walk along the waterfront to Fort Frederick, the quiet and imposing naval base in town. Walk up to the sacred Koneswaram Kovil Temple and the immense Swami Rock to pay your respects and check out the impressive views. Legend has it a distraught Dutch lady flung herself upon the rocks below when her lover sailed off. But if you’d rather immerse yourself in the water instead of culture, saunter down to the Nilaveli and Uppuveli beaches, and you won’t be disappointed. They’re jaw-droppingly beautiful and quiet, without noisy tourists, and with a smattering of shacks, rows of fishing boats and endless stretches of powder-soft sand and frothy blue seas. It’s a surprising little bit of paradise, and easily one of the best beaches this side of the world.