My short hiatus from the cyber world this time was not due to the mountains. My life has been a crazy mix of the heights and the depths, the mountains and the oceans. The former - my passion, and the latter - my profession. Obviously, given a choice, I chose passion over profession every time.
A professional matter recently found me in the vicinity to the sea and the marine wild life. Armed only with my camera and a sturdy floater sandal, off I went to explore the famed Narara Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch. It took around an hour’s drive from Jamnagar to reach the Marine Park entry point. Hussain, the resident keeper of the park met me. This was one of the places in our country, where being in the Navy helps. I needed no forest permit, no tickets. Hussain handed me over to his guide, who was a sprightly and spindly thin boy of 18. Full of stories and beans he led the way while I struggled to keep pace. It was early morning, the sun mellow and the breeze bellowing pleasantly. The tide was low, as it is a prerequisite to go deep into the coral reefs. After crossing the mangroves, my guide led me to the right into a shallow channel of clear water. Soon we stumbled across a huge Neptune Crab with its claws splayed for an attack. Its blue shell contrasted amazingly with its white underbelly. I toyed with snails and corals, bright and pulsating with life. Suddenly my guide hailed a fisherman at the horizon, bent under a heavy basket. On close scrutiny I discovered a massive cache of Neptune and Ghost Crabs. The crabs held each other with their claws. The fisherman revealed that his catch would fetch about a dollar for a kilo. He taught me two local recipes for crabs. He also told me a tale that I need to authenticate. Extracts of Neptune Crabs were used in cold and cough tablets!!! Leaving him to his design we waded forward.
My guide suddenly scooped into the muddy water with a cry of joy and came up with a moon coral. While a pair of flamingo spied us carefully from a distance, we explored further. A sea cucumber appeared next from nowhere, while crabs scooted all around us. My guide showed me how the crab’s claw bites into an object and then it sheds, simply detaches and falls off. The highlight of the day was definitely my mortal combat with an octopus that thoroughly drenched me black with its ink. When I let it go, it disappeared like a torpedo into the muddy water. We soon caught another one, embedded into the ground with only its eyes at the ground level. My guide revealed that octopus digs and lives in deep underground tunnels and no matter how much we try we would never be able to catch one that is already buried in the ground.
We traveled through exotic corals of blue, turquoise and orange, carefully stepping across so as not to damage any and to save our feet from any cuts. While I took pictures, my guide had scrambled forward. His loud triumphant cry made me look up. He was nearly 100 ft ahead of me towards the sea, standing on top of a sizeable rock and jumping up and down like a monkey. His smile could have split his face into two. I needed no more bidding. Shouldering my camera I raced too. What I saw made me stop on my track. Right at his feet, a strange looking fish with white belly and green top reposed like a beached whale. It was swollen like a balloon and remained completely immobile. Out of the water, I thought it would die. My guide confided this is a puffer fish, very poisonous. Only Japanese people eat them, after applying some 62 methods of cleaning and purging the poison. Having many Japanese friends, I did not doubt it. He lifted it in his palm and shook it like a bottle and right on, I heard the distinct shake of water inside its belly. Then he placed it on my palm. The fish felt exactly like a water balloon, ready to burst any minute. The fish looked at me with orange eyes. Soon it started belching water through the gills. The moment I dipped it in water, it swelled up again. Finally I left it in water and it zoomed away between the corals. After some more time, when the tides turned and begin to rise, we retraced our path and returned home.
This brief encounter with the marine world brought back memories of many islands, coral reefs and dives that I have visited and done around the world. Be it high up above the clouds or deep within the oceans, our world is beautiful as it is plentiful. All we need is to care and share. I forgot to tell you, as my car left the Narara beach, my car’s back seat was full of plastic and bottles that I had fished out from the corals. They were the only objects I carried back from my seaside sojourn on that day.