So often we have seen the dream-like underwater world on the television hardly believing that everything being shown can actually exist! The very weird flora and fauna of the underworld is elusive to us unless we decide to dive in and take a look for ourselves. Now you can't just dive in anywhere and expect to find corals, and sponges, and schools of peculiarly beautiful fishes. Well established reefs are discovered by marine biologists who are looking to study the unfathomable secrets of the sea. These reefs take hundreds of years to form and are extremely crucial for evolutionary studies. But you don't need to be a marine expert to sneak into the seas and get a glimpse of the magnificence that thrives around islands. All you need is a guide to a place where these reefs thrive and a thorough knowledge of diving and its equipments.
India being a tropical country is home to many varieties of flora and fauna. It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. There are many places where one can go for scuba diving off mainland India like the Andaman Islands, the Lakshadweep islands, and Netrani Island.
While Andaman and Lakshadweep are hard to reach, the Netrani Island is quite accessible and boasts of underwater treasures rivalling those of Lakshadweep. You can even form a plan for scuba diving in a jiffy, there's no need of future planning if you want to go diving at this small island off the coast of Murudeshwar. It is a temple town in the state of Karnataka in southern India situated on the NH-17. The port city of Mangalore is 160km away south of it while the capital city of Goa, Panjim is 230km towards the north.
An enormous statue of Lord Shiva looks over the small town and behind it is the island of Netrani or Netragodu, also called as the Pigeon Island, which is uninhabited save for pigeons and goats. According to mythology Murudeshwar is the land where the cloth, which was used to cover
the Atmalinga, fell when Ravana flung it away in anger. The story goes that he was awarded the Atmalinga by Shiva himself for his rigorous prayers to appease him. This linga made the possessor immortal on the condition that it was never to be kept down. Gods feared Ravana becoming invincible and thus deceived him into putting it down at Gokarna (78km from Murudeshwar).
The expeditions for Netrani commence from here and ferry divers near the heart-shaped islands 10 nautical miles (19km) off the coast. No one really goes onto the island due to rugged and unfavourable terrain but station the boats near the coast. This coral island is a great site for scuba diving and snorkelling majorly due to the very clear water around it. There's an island near Netrani which is used as target practice by the naval forces. Empty shells can be seen strewn around and hence the expeditions are undertaken only after a clearance by the naval guard.
It's a great place for professional as well as amateurs as well as first time divers. The coral reef is house to many colonies of coelenterates like the plate corals, branching corals, brain corals, etc. These reefs are hosts to many schools of exotic fishes as well. And these aren't your regular fishes, you will get a treat of your lifetime as you observe the antics of fishes like the butterfly fish, angel fish, groupers, snappers, lion fish, scorpion fish, flounders, puffers, bat fishes, and many, many more. You will be amused by the bat fish which follows you around to hog up camera time! There are also slugs, urchins, and conches which add to the beauty of the underwater treasure that Netrani guards. Together all these organisms and more form a close knit, delicate ecosystem which should not be disturbed by our activities as responsible divers.
Some divers have also reported sightings of humpbacks, minke whales, orcas on their migratory routes. Also whale sharks, reef sharks, barracudas, etc. are also seen and the divers should be bewaring of them.
The weather gets rough during the time when monsoon hits the Western Ghats, the months from June to September see a rough Arabian Sea and all diving excursions are put on hold. The best month for heading ashore towards the island is from December to January when it's pleasant weather in the peninsular India.
HOW TO GET THERE
With the awareness about scuba diving and the increasing interest in new adventure sports Murudeshwar has become well known. Add to that is the mythological appeal of this small town in Upper Kannada, which attracts even more tourism. Hence, getting to Murudeshwar for a fun trip is pretty easy. The closest airports are located in Goa and Mangalore. Drive from Goa to Murudeshwar is a 250km journey undertaken in 4-5 hours. Bus from Panjim, Goa's capital, departs at 3:30pm and stops at Murudeshwar on its way to Mysore.
Buses from Bangalore leave during the evening/night and drop you off at your destination by morning. You can also board a bus from Hydrabad, Mumbai, and Pune and reach Murudeshwar for your scuba diving experience.
Trains from Magalore, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. are another mode of conveyance which will bring you to this temple town.