Monday, 8 August 2011

Volcanic Islands... Indonesia

There are greens from yellow to black
and solid blues to translucent glimmers,
Rich brown soil meets the playfully golden sand
while the waters dance, winking at land
the breeze blows because she is energy
and melody sings the energy of sound,
the mountain stands to catch a breath
because energy too must rest.
so that the greens may be green
and the blues may be blue
so that the dance may have a stage
Until once more, the fire burns
it all away.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Crow that was(not) my ancestor

When I left the islands to come home this time, I came to an empty nest. I didn’t mind so much. I was only for 2 weeks, the perfect amount of time to have a house to yourself. The first few days passed by in a whirl - I had friends in and out of the house constantly and I was delighting in all the wonders that only a city affords. During those first few days I was enjoying my pseudo-solitude so much, that I had forgotten the one thing I just can’t do alone. Eat. I had always found eating alone to be a most dull, unappetising experience. 
A body needs food though - and at about 3 in the afternoon on a particularly quiet day - I grabbed a box of Pringles that was to be my first meal of the day. I settled down with it, looking out at the balcony and down came a visitor. My visitor was a crow. The same one that I had often caught my mum feeding. 
“Why” I had asked her “are you always feeding that crow? Of all the beautiful birds in the world, why a manky looking crow??” A mother’s eccentricities are sometimes the hardest to understand. 
She looked at me sheepishly, like she didn’t quite understand it herself. “A crow that visits everyday... they say it carries the spirit of an ancestor.”
“Who is ‘they’ mamma?? And anyway, do you actually believe that?” I had asked her with fond, yet condescending, amusement.
“No... But, well, just in case, you know...” she had replied sheepishly, and we had left it at that. So he came, everyday, that partaker of our family meals. 

And here he was again, months after there had been no family in the family house, staring at me. Cocking his head quizzically - an expression that birds have perfected - at my strange idea of a meal. 
“Are you my ancestor?” I asked aloud.
With a couple of hops on his skinny black legs he settled his ruffled feathers, perched himself on the balcony’s iron beams and looked at me with an expression familiar to me of fond, yet condescending, amusement.
“Alright” I said, “you will have your meal...”
I brought out some rice for him, unwilling to share with him my Pringle treat. And then I figured, if he was going to eat a proper Mamma kind of meal, I might as well eat properly too. 
So there we sat, the crow busy with his rice in a plastic bowl, me with mine in a respectable plate, eating just the way we would have done if mamma was feeding us. And that’s how we continued to eat for the rest of my stay, before once more I abandoned the nest. 
I don’t know whether he carries the spirit of my ancestors. Guiltily I am aware of not being terribly moved by those faceless nameless beings anyway. But I am sure he carries a technique or two of my mother’s, for he saved me from a week of grazing on varied versions of fried processed potatoes, making me feel as if I was eating for him, with him, and not alone. 
“Well, good bye then” I had said to him on my last day, laughing at myself for adopting mamma’s oddness. I know I saw him laughing too. These crazy ladies, he must be thinking, for believing I might be an ancestor. These crazy ladies, he might be thinking, for not knowing that I am an ancestor. Then again, maybe he’s just happy to be fed.  

Monday, 21 February 2011

Kadmat - I'm sharing a secret

You do not have to go far to dive, but if you can it is often magical. ‘Magical’ is not the most original word in talking of India. Many have found magic there - in its yogic wisdom, in its ayurvedic potions, in its multiple Gods and Demons. Many have found magic in its billion bustling people, smoke, colour and chaos. But few, very few, have found a little piece of India that lies far out in the Western waters. This little piece of land is called Kadmat, and it is magical not for stories born of the time and tides of history, but for the vibrance of the blue waters surrounding it, the life-supporting coral reef fringing it and its secluded, fiercely protected existence. 
Kadmat is a long, narrow island - 11 kilometres from North to South and a mere 400 metres wide from East to West - and it is a part of the Lakshadweep, literally translating into ‘A hundred thousand islands’. A two and half hour flight from the port city of Cochin followed by a two hour speed boat ride will get you there just in time for a spectacular sunset.
The sight of the wooden jetty extending out of white sand and coconut trees is welcoming enough, but you are here to dive and so to welcome you come the smiles of the dive team and fresh coconut water. Remember this as you walk further inland, when you are taken to your room which will be comfortable but not luxurious. Remember when you eat the food which is filling but not original, and interact with resort staff that are stubborn service providers, that you are here to dive. The luxury of Kadmat lies in its waters - diving, swimming, bathing alternatively in the sea and the sun - not on land. 
So settle into your room, put away your shoes and put your bare feet on, and head over to the dive shop. The dive team will have you sign the requisite papers, size you up for equipment and then talk you through the plan for the next day. Whether you are here for a PADI dive certification or looking for some fun dives to add to your log book, you will soon be sure that you have chosen your destination well. Turtle town, they will say, Sting Ray City, Shark Alley, the Cave, the Wall, and you won’t be disappointed. Sleep early, rest well, for the next day the diving begins. 


The first dive of the day leaves at 7:30 in the morning in a quaint little wooden boat with a thatched roof. You don’t have to be there much earlier than that as your equipment has already been assembled and waiting for you. Tide permitting, the first dive is on the East side. Kadmat is protected by a large, shallow light blue lagoon, with three gates in the reef from which you enter and exit it. The main gate on the North side is usable at all times, but the East and the Small Gates cannot be used at the lowest of tides. The life in the reef surrounding the island is very rich though, and short journeys of about twenty minutes take you to dive sites worth traveling hours for.  
Sting Ray City is an East-side favourite, perfect for beginners as well as experienced divers. Just looking down from the surface reveals the promise as you see schools of large snappers and the occasional ray resting in the sand. It is about 8 am when you deflate the jacket and descend into your dive, and the early morning sunshine is just beginning to bring activity to the reef below. You start your dive in mysterious, misty visibility, but on most days it does not take long for the tropical sunshine to penetrate the depths and allow you to see anywhere from 15 to 40 metres. The dive begins at a shallow shelf, but right away your dive leader begins to point out the misunderstood moray eels, skulking octopus, minute sea slugs and playful clownfish. You might be quite content to spend the entire hour nose-down in the coral, but the fusiliers won’t have that. As you find your depth they come raining down on you in their thousands of electric blue bodies and sun-kissed backs, obscuring your vision so entirely that it is impossible to see anything beyond the curtain of fish. Look up and you will see the occasional giant puffer fish hovering up by the surface. 
Most of your dive will be at 18 metres, and this unique dive site takes you through alternating strips of coral reef and sand patches. The sand patches are a stark white disappearing into the deep, and they provide a stunning contrast to the bright blue of the water. Here as the dive leader would have already briefed you to, you look for resting rays and turtles. As you are scanning the distance you notice a shimmer in the water. You train your eyes towards a flash here and a flash there and you realise you are swimming to a huge school of silver sides. They cross the sand with you, and looking up towards the reef ahead you see a group of sleek and cruel-bodies trevallies cutting their way through the water. Atop the reef now, you find yourself in the midst of a feeding frenzy - silver sides dancing, trevallies attacking - neither paying much mind to you. And then from the distance she comes, the elegant eagle ray with her full mouth and her long tail, sweeping into the scene, swooping into the fish, spinning and twirling until she spreads her spotted wings to fly off again. 
You swim on to see schools of five-lined snappers, standing still in the current, bright yellow like a pool of sunshine. You see orange chromis sprinkled above boulder coral, oriental sweetlips perched on table coral, and a heartwarming plentitude of live soft coral with purple and blue and green branches swaying.
Sting Ray City, from 8 to 9 am is morning rush hour at its best and most colourful. 


‘Turtle Town’ at the North-West side of the island is a Kadmat classic. What India calls a village most would call a town, what India calls a small town is for many a capital city, and Indian cities have populations of mid-sized countries. It is fantastic to see that the populations are not of people alone. For turtle-lovers this Town is pure indulgence. 
As you begin your descent down the gradual sloping reef, you might be disappointed. The waters are often murky and the coral looks depressingly dead in its dark browns and greens. The increasingly frequent El-ninos have not been kind. But nature, you learn, has a quiet resilience and none epitomise this more than the slow, wise old turtles.
You look at the topography around, the round heads of boulder coral cascading down the slope, and as you get close one lifts off and swims away. You stare, surprised, but now start to examine more carefully and find that many of the coral are in fact turtles slumbering in a way only the old and cold-blooded do. Some lie in the several sheltering alcoves and rock out-croppings, their necks arched up in pleasure as the tiny blue and black cleaner wrasse nibble away on their sensitive shells, freeing them of salt and sand in a beautifully symbiotic relationship. Occasionally you come upon a giant green, quite possibly a century old, and feel small and young and inexperienced under her patient majestic gaze. The hawksbill turtle is more playful, and will sometimes swim to you, investigating your alien self. He might nudge at your equipment with his sharp beak and in return allow you to stroke his shell, and before you start to feel too special turn his head casually towards the next diver in the group, dismissing you with a flick of his hind leg. 
Look ahead at your dive leader and you notice her hand is perpetually in the sign for ‘turtle’, pointing this way and that. After a while though, when you have had your fill of the turtles, you start to look out for other creatures. You search in the blue and see graceful silver tunas, shiny rainbow runners and the lumbering bodies of Napoleon Wrasse. Looking now not just at the boulders but also the space between them you may see extravagant lionfish, long white antennae belonging to lobsters lying below, nudibranchs, sponge snails and scorpion fish. Blotched fantail rays rest on the coral too, and if you approach them with steadiness and calm they will let you run your fingers along their sides to join the wrasse in cleaning their wings. 
After 60 minutes you ascend to 5 metres for the safety stop and watch turtles swim up through the snappers and fusiliers to get their breath of air, then arms and legs splayed they turn and flap head-first back into Turtle Town leaving you wishing you could do the same. 


Most dive sites of Kadmat are just off the reef, in the periphery of the lagoon. Shark Alley is the exception, it is reserved for experienced divers alone and it truly is as exciting and darkly enticing as it sounds. This dive takes you away from the reef, and out into the open ocean. When the island is no larger than a speck on the horizon, the boat captain throws down his anchor. The currents are usually strong and the anchor does not always catch. If its does, the anchor line can be used as a reference for descent. If not you kit up on the boat, back roll together at the count of three with buoyancy jackets deflated and immediately begin a free descent into the blue. 
You descend head first, exhaling deeper and deeper with your eyes on the dive leader. For several moments you see only a dark indigo blue lit up intermittently by glowing specks of plankton. With no view of the surface or the sea bed these glowing specks become your only natural reference of depth. Then at about 35 metres beneath the surface you spot an oasis of life, a coral patch sheltered in the deep that you must fin towards. Before you arrive there though you pass by a school of a hundred ephemeral batfish. Flat but wide like sheets of paper, their ghostly grey and white bodies flit around. They hover in place, while you continue to descend. 
Finally you arrive at the base of the site, and there under the rock outcropping is Shark Alley. This is where, on a good day you see remoras and white tips and large grey reef sharks hunting. You are at depth now and though there is plenty of action to keep you there, your dive computer will soon beep at you to ascend. So you comply, a little, and ascend a few metres to the top of the coral. You look out into the blue edging into darkness and out come the strong vicious looking bodies of dog-tooth tunas. They swim swiftly and menacingly towards you, cutting a sharp turn just milimetres before you in defence of their territory. Sometimes in the distance you also spot an army of giant barracudas, still against the currents and prepared for attack. As you go along the top of the coral you see groupers, Napoleons, lionfish and the bizarrely out of place clownfish. 
Unfairly soon it is time to ascend, the currents are pushing you resolutely out of this secret spot, but as you rise keep an eye on the ocean floor for you may see sharks sleeping on the sand. Look far into the blue too, for dolphins are known to be playing around in the area. Look around you, and you see the most shapeless yet graceful iridescent bodies of jellyfish suspended mid-water like works of abstract art. 
Shark Alley can be a difficult dive, with currents, with poor visibility and at the very edge of no-deco diving, but it is a thrilling one, exciting for all experienced divers. 


Surprisingly for a group of islands so close to the famous dive destination of the Maldives, most of Lakshadweep’s waters remain unexplored by divers. There are less than a handful of dive operations and most use wooden fishing boats that do not allow distant exploration. Luckily for those visiting now though, Lacadives has very recently acquired a new speed boat specifically designed for dive safaris and allow for diving around near by islands including Chetlat, Kiltan, Bitra and others. Ranging between 45 minute to 3 hour journeys, this boat allows for twin-tank diving and one day expeditions to these pristine, virgin areas. 
Not many in this day and age have the opportunity dive into waters yet unseen. This is particularly so for casual recreational divers on vacation, making Kadmat and its dive safaris a rare and temporary opportunity. The night before is spent scouring marine maps of the area the chosen area, and the excitement of discovering a new site coordinates onto the GPS is palpable amongst the staff and guests alike. The last such dive trip found groups of great manta rays, another found areas of reef where coral seemed to be thriving despite recent trends. Who knows what might be found in the next - whale sharks? Guitarfish? Brooder whales? Considering the area’s richness and habitat in its surrounding regions, these are real possibilities. 
The expedition departs early in the morning with a packed breakfast and lunch, plenty of tanks and a few expectant divers. The boat is comfortable and well stocked with fresh water and gear with lots of space to spare. You can choose to gamble with a new site, or go to one of the recently discovered ones if you are uncomfortable with the unknown underwater. Either way you can be assured of a good day of diving away from the island when you’ve been in Kadmat long enough to get an itch in your feet.


Kadmat, like any other diving destination, has its periods of quiet and its periods of extraordinary exciting sitings. The best time to visit is from late-December to mid-March. The ocean is calmer now, the water temperatures are ideal, the fish, the rays, the sharks, the turtles, though present through the season are at an abundance at this time. The visibility is clearer during this period and the rarer visitors come by too. This is the time when, if you are lucky, you will see the gigantic mantas coming in from the blue, as well as the singing dolphins who are seen often enough from the boat but occasionally underwater too. 
While all sorts of fish are welcome here, visitors of the human variety face an enormous struggle in accessing Kadmat. All tourists visiting the Lakshadweep, Indian and foreign, require permits that are issued in limited numbers. Flights go only as far as Agatti Island, and inter-island ferries are unreliable. The resort in Kadmat is Government run and making a booking can be a struggle. If you are a diving guest however, the most convenient way to circumvent the red tape is by booking through Lacadives - the dive shop - who will handle the permits, the accommodation bookings as well as the speed boat transfer for you. 
However you choose to handle the arrangements, once you do arrive here you will be grateful for all the inaccessibility of the place. Here you will find yourself in the only dive boat at the dive site. Sites that comparatively few people have had the privilege of diving at. You will be in a groups rarely greater than 6 people, and receive specialized individual attention whether you are a beginner, a veteran, an underwater photographer who likes to linger or a nervous one that wants a hand to hold. When you are done with your diving for the day you can find yourself a secluded spot on the south-tip to watch the sun dip below the horizon or a join the quiet communal gathering of divers and fishermen on the jetty. 
The children in the village might try to elicit from you your name, but never your money. Far from pandering their goods to you, you will struggle to buy an odd trinket to take home for the proud islanders spend their time harvesting the ocean and the coconut trees, and do not produce for tourists. So as you leave the island, waving once more to the dive staff standing on the jetty, your only souvenir from the holiday is a head full of vibrant underwater images and a heart full of peace. 

Coming up... Pictures!!!

The missed alarm, the loose anchor, it all adds up

In the midst of the wide ocean, with no visible reference to land or rock, the boatman threw down his anchor. The currents were strong, the coral below weak, and the anchor did not catch. Slowly but surely the boat was drifting away from the spot we were all gearing up to dive at. The captain changed the plan. He asked us to kit up on the boat, ready for our backroll into the water with our BCDs deflated. When we were all ready, masks defogged, fins on, regulators in our mouth, he made a small circle with the wooden boat and when we were directly above the secret spot he gave us a count of three and we tipped off the boat into the water... 
Upon touching the water we all flipped our position so we were now descending head first into the blue, each exhalation like a surrender to the great ocean, and each surrender opened her up to us more, accepting us deeper and deeper. For several minutes there was only a dark indigo blue lit up intermittently by glowing specks of plankton. With no view of the surface and none of the sea bed, the suspended dots of phosphorescence were our only reference of depth. There is no greater peace in the world, no silence more profound, no nirvana other than the stillness of the mind that comes with falling freely out of one world into rebirth in the deep. 

Then at about 35 metres beneath the surface we spot an oasis of life. Sheltered in the deep we sight the coral patch we were searching for. Our finning now has direction and we make our way to it. Steadily, until here comes a distraction. Attracted perhaps by our bubbles a school of more than a hundred curious batfish come into our vision. Flat but wide like sheets of paper, their ghostly grey and white bodies flit past us, we watch mesmerised. They ascend a little, hovering above us, while we continue descending deeper. Out of the darkness come the sleek cruel bodies of the dog-tooth tunas. They swim swiftly and menacingly towards us, before cutting a sharp turn just millimetres before us. We see an army of giant barracudas, still despite the current, prepared for attack. Simultaneously we feel threatened and sheepishly amused.  
The lack of anchor line reference meant that we landed directly above the coral head rather than on the side by the base of it. We are mildly disappointed for it means that we missed the alley below the outcropping, where the sharks and remoras rest. We try and swim out towards the side of the coral, but ocean currents at depth won’t let us. Today she will only allow us this far, but it the powerful sharks are defiant and want to see us too. Three large reef sharks come to make the inspection, circling us from a distance once, twice, three times before they are bored of our non-fishy selves and go back to their hunt. We are distracted too, only minutes left before our computers will start beeping at us to ascend, and we still want to soak in the splendor of the gigantic groupers, the majestically slow Napolean Wrasses, the thousands of jacks. 
Since we missed the usual beginning of our dive site and the currents are pushing us off it, our dive time is cut short and we begin our ascent that must be slow and interrupted with decompression stops at various depths in order to facilitate a controlled release of nitrogen accumulated in our blood streams. Diving is an experience that is at once most all encompassingly spiritual and most precisely scientific. 
We hit 5 metres for our last and final decompression stop of 3 minutes, but I must have made it there a minute later than the group, for while their computers give them an all clear for surfacing, mine asks me to remain 1 minute longer. The group leaves me, and the surface surge turns me to face away from them. I do not fight it for so near the surface I do not feel the need to keep the group in sight constantly. I am about to ascend too when in the distance I see the silhouettes of what appear to be large graceful bodies of something. In the pauses between my breaths I hear not the silence that I expect, but the musical high notes that I associate with dolphins after years of watching Discover Channel. I am excited like a child that hears the rustling of cellophane paper on Christmas Eve, and I frantically wave down the group without taking my eyes of the sight developing in front of me. 

Just metres away I see a group of about 15 to 20 dolphins. They must be a family, some are big, some small.  They seem to be perfectly at ease, playing lazily with each other engrossed just in the joy of being with each other rather than focussed upon getting anywhere or catching anything. I am laughing underwater, their joy is infectious. Spinning, rubbing their bellies against each other, they seem to be as entirely oblivious of me as I am oblivious to anything but them. They gradually, naturally, begin to move away from me. I’m over the moon, I’m about to move towards the surface. I turn my back to them, smiling up at the rest of my group and the boat man whom I can see peering over the surface from the edge of the bow when I see them motioning wildly for me to turn around. I do. A young one from the group comes right up to me. His body vertical to mirror mine, his head is centimetres away from mine, my wide eyes locked in his playful ones. He has come to say farewell. To say I was not ignored during their play but included in it. I am delighted. He flits his tail then, and I feel the water he has displaced with his powerful young body nudging me in a playful shove. Then he sinks a little and flips around to rejoin his pod. I resurface to join mine. 

Stillness - where I found it...

I am set free in the midst of nature. I love the trappings of the big city world. I’m a hippy at heart with Jimmy Choos on my feet. I believe in non-violence. I swat mosquitoes. I am a fitness freak who loves her cigarettes. 
I enjoy the practice of yoga in the confines of my gym class, I sweat the toxins right out of my body. I understand theoretically what the ancient and contemporary philosophers say about the holistic life of a yogi but I struggle in getting the intoxication out of my soul. I know my flaws lie in my contradictions. Somewhere I know that my ability to be the jack of many trades but the master of none lies not in the uninhibited interest I have in life, but the inability to bring serious commitment to any. Osho would tell me I lack oneness in my being. Krishnamurthy would tell me I need to bring about more awareness within myself. Coelho would tell me to listen to my heart. They would all be right and yet for all good purposes utterly useless until my worldly mind learnt how to process this beyond-the-world information. And sometimes, all one needs is an example. A real life experience that gathers all this outside information and wraps it up within. A window, for those who wish to see the same view as Osho and Krishnamurthy and Coelho, but don’t quite dare just yet to open the door and greet it by stepping outside. I found my window. The physical practice of yoga helps me reach my window, and the window in turn brings me closer to the wholeness of yoga. My window? Diving into the deep blue ocean off the idyllic island of Kadmat. 
The ability to live in the now is the true gift of yoga, and it is a gift we find very hard to make ours for a thousand distractions seduce and torment the mind. Being in the present moment, absolute awareness of one’s body, absolute awareness of one’s breath, complete reverence for life and the present moment becomes not just a choice, but indeed the singular reality when you are 20 metres below the surface of the ocean surrounded by life that is vibrant yet silent, so beautiful yet so unassuming.
As I sink down into the new world there is too much splendor to bring thoughts and memories and emotions from the world above. All I take down with me is a tankful of air, a supply of pure fresh prana. I watch mesmerised as a school of fusiliers rain down from above like arrows from medieval armies. I watch their electric blue bodies and yellow sun-kissed backs flitting their way across the water. I hold still as they pass and I see the wise round head of a Napoleon Wrasse, as peaceful as his namesake was violent, he captivates me not with colour or flamboyance but with sheer size and expression of infinite patience. I have a wall of coral on my right, the deep blue on my left. The wall extends deeper than I can see, I inhale and pause. An intense feeling of stillness comes over me, the silence is profound as I let go completely. The water holds my body, all around me is blue blue peace, as far as my eyes can see. I exhale slowly, letting out playful bubbles. It makes a deep sound, the only sound filling the silence, and I become completely aware of my breath. I play with it, stretching out my exhalations, cutting them short, creating pauses, making bubbles. I watch what a lungful of air does to my body in the water, lifting me up, setting me down, the power of breath, breathing, and pranayama come alive, going from wise advice in Patanjali’s Yogasutras to a moment of pure enlightenment spreading right through my mind, spirit, body and heart.  
The deep stillness in my mind seeps into my body as I hover next to the pointed stems of stag-horn coral on the wall. I do not worry about the pain of touching it for I now have complete control of my body and the space I want it to be in. I peer into it, noticing movement. Through it’s branches I see a salmon pink crab adorned with black polka dots. No larger than a thumb nail yet with intricate detail unmatched by even the most accomplished artisans of Mughal miniatures. Under the curve of a rock above I spy on two Dancing Shrimp. Again miniscule yet glorious in the design of red and white, like multi-limbed ballerinas moving to a silent song. I check my computer to realise I have been been at one spot for 10 minutes, seeing layers and layers of life in a lesser area than the size of the page these words are printed upon. I could stay here for the entire hour and still see something new every moment. I have the same revelation as the saints - the mind plays tricks on us. It stages plays of the past, projections of the future, but extinguish the raging fire of the mind and you behold the detail, the design, the delight of the now. 
I have fallen behind the other 4 divers, all I see of them are the bubbles in the distance, and I know that all I am to them now is the air I am expelling from my own breath. I am suspended in the blue, water above me, water below, weightless, thoughtless, free. Gravity does not dictate that I stay grounded. Friction does not make me rough edged. My movements are fluid as I make my way to the group. 
The dive leader indicates that it is time to surface. I have been under for 60 minutes, but the concept of time lost its meaning down here. Each moment is lived so fully and given so much attention that it feels as complete as the entirety of existence. I understand now that when the Buddha speaks of a life without desires, without emotions, without attachment - such a life is not bland as I otherwise feared. I have not lost myself without these, contrarily I have experienced that without the fleeting I am eternal. I have tasted this state for the past hour - I know now what true freedom feels like, released from the bonds of attachment as I watch one beautiful fish swim into my vision and then gracefully away, as unobscured for a moment the sun spotlights a soft coral and create a magical glow before passing behind the curtains again. I know how vibrant the world can be when I view it directly rather than through clouds of emotions and worries that dull the colours, smother the sounds, blur away any brilliance that might otherwise be. 
We ascend to 5 metres for a safety stop....
I sit at the bow of an old wooden boat, to return to the island. The floor is low, so I am almost level with the water, as the occasional spray reminds me. My being feels light, fleeting and soft, both in thought and body, happily blissful. Science might explain it away as the presence of extraneous nitrogen in my blood, but I am certain it is the magic of experiencing a new world. Finding a new space within me which is full of light and stillness. The boat docks by a simple, rickety jetty that extends about 50 metres out of the island. Diving, like yoga, fires up an appetite, and we are back just in time for breakfast - a simple fare of south indian idlis or upma, along with toast, butter and omelets for those with Western palates. 
The island is narrow, only 400 metres at its widest, and about 11 kilometres from North to South. White sand fringes the land where coconut trees outnumber the people by far. The waves break far away from the shore, creating a turquoise blue lagoon that acts as a natural infinity pool surrounding the land. The local people are too proud for servitude - they have their own inexplicable logic - and the tourists go home with a lesson or two about patience and surrender. 
And as I learn surrender, so I learn glory. Standing on the sand bar at the south tip, all alone staring out at sea feeling like a victorious king surveying my aqua kingdom. I see no one, hear nothing but the waves, and I know what it means to be with myself. I spend the day reading on the beach, kayaking into the lagoon, snorkeling over coral heads which are like oasis of life in the waves of white sand. I have the option of going for a further dive or two during the day. I can choose between being with my self or talking to local fisherman, spending time with the dive team, playing beach games or reading thoughts on stillness and spirit and finally, finally, understanding. 
In the evening I practice yoga on the West side watching the sun ease its way over the horizon, vibrant pink dissolving into translucent blue. I begin with suryanamaskaras, offering my salutation up to the sun as its orange sunset glow bathes the world. I am lit from within. Like when I am diving, the mind is still and my body is fluid. My practice flows from one posture to the next - inhabiting each one fully, and letting it go completely to move to the next pose. I recall the awareness of my limbs and muscles that diving commands from you, and bring it into my practice. I let go of all philosophy and instead bring attention to the sensations in every muscle and layer and fibre of my body in each asana, and the mind-body union itself becomes a religion. In my forward bends I surrender to the ground like I surrender to the currents to help me in my dive. In my twists I bring attention to the alignment of each vertebrae as I do to the formations of schools of little silver-sides. In my balancing postures I draw on the absolute stillness I found in the ocean - I picture the air around me supporting me as I felt the water holding me, making me weightless. In my backbends I experience the confident euphoria of being comfortable in a new world and a new sensation. And as I settle into savasana at the end of my practice I close my eyes and let go, just as everything on land fades into insignificance when I exhale and deflate to sink into a blue watery existence.
Evenings on Kadmat are relaxed and ease peacefully into the night. The island is alcohol free, though many choose to sneak in a bottle of grain or grape, and most nights are spent sitting on the jetty watching the stars above and the phosphorescent plankton glowing below, listening to travellers’ adventures or the music of gentle ripples kissing the sand. 
It is time to head back to the mainland. I leave the island still swatting mosquitoes, still ogling at Jimmy Choos. I’ve intensified my yoga, I still love my cigarettes. But amongst all the transient pleasures I have found a quiet space within myself. I’ve found meaning, I’ve found stillness. Removing myself entirely from my everyday life I have removed myself from everyday worries and everyday thrills, and I have glimpsed the beauty that Patanjali spoke about. Yama and Niyama - the goodness of the mind, asana - the strength of the body, pranayama - the power of breath, pratyahara - the practice of detachment. For a time the mind has stopped so that the soul can see. 

  1. Coming up... a yoga sequence I practice on the island, which always takes me deep into the still waters...


“Take me to the edge of the world”
I told the boatman.
Where no feet have trodden,
sights no eyes have seen.
Untouched by hands of men,
virgin winds, unpenetrated by engine or oar.
“But don’t you want to go, he said,
to the lighthouse on the rocks?”
To see the big green parrot fish
and the schools of yellow and blue,
they swim in and out of electric reefs
and in the distance you see rays and turtles too!
“But we went there just yesterday, I cried,
Mr.Boatman, show me something new!”
Everyday I go to the lighthouse
And see what you and everyone do.
Take me someplace I have not seen,
take me there, where no one’s been,
He looked at me with serious eyes,
little girl, I know of a secret place
but I do not trust your twitchy nose,
your trembling lips and your open book face,
So here, little girl, is my proposition:
You will stay blindfolded, eyes opened only in the ocean.
So I sealed my eyes, and held out my hand.
Heart beat wild, I leapt off the land.
Off on a journey to a place faraway
Darkness till I was soaked by the sea.
Under the surface I opened my eyes
and there it was, an unconquered kingdom in its watery glory.
For hours I gaped and searched in wonder
Unchartered territory I unpeeled, layer by layer.
Each coral was different here,
more hues and shades, opaque and sheer,
more light in the luminescence of delicate scales,
more grace in the swish of every tail.
“Boatman, boatman, I must ask now,
where have you brought me?” I pleaded hanging on the bow
I’ve never seen such colours galore,
I’ve never felt this way before.
Eyes crinkled in smile, he said “turn around, my dear”
And there I saw the lighthouse, old strong and familiar...
This place is only yours, little girl.
Other feet might tread it,
but let it leave on a mark on you, you are all yours.
Touched it might be by others,
but look each time anew, and it will touch you.
Only yours, little girl, 
the coral, the fish, the ocean, the world.