KARACHI: In a city where there is little peace on land, a few minutes on the seabed can be a near spiritual experience. Karachi is at its most spectacular underwater but for most of its inhabitants this realm remains largely undiscovered.
In 2009, Pakistan’s first Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi) – certified dive centre, Indus Scuba, opened up. Padi is the world’s largest diver training organisation and dates to the 1960s.
The diving instructor at Indus Scuba, Aatif Malik, is passionate about bringing the sport closer to people. After diving in countries around the world, he still finds Karachi one of the most beautiful places to dive. Here you can see Moray Eels, Batfish, Stingrays, Barracudas and Stonefish, among other underwater species. “Our best moment was when we saw a Whale Shark in the shallow waters near Charna Island,” he says. “Beneath the water is my own time. That’s what I do when I want to get away from things.”
Just a short distance away, Balochistan has even more to show. “Diving in Balochistan is amazing as there are huge corals and lots of sea life. Even the road routes are beautiful, but the security risks are high,” he says.
Malik, 31, a banker by profession, says he would leave his job if his passion could be a source of income. But since Karachi hardly attracts tourists now, potential for this sport also takes a hit.
Malik started diving in Singapore in 2000 and has been to Dubai, Oman and Thailand, where he acquired certification for higher levels. “Every time you dive, you see a different terrain. You never know what you are going to see beneath the water.”
Women in Pakistan have inhibitions in trying the sport. “But they would do if they were in another country,” he argues. “Most women actually come through word of mouth, when someone tells them ‘these guys are okay’.”
When and where to go
The diving season in Karachi runs from October to March/April. Besides Charna Island, other dive sites include Cape Montze, Butchim Reef and French beach.
“Safety is of utmost importance. No matter how many dives you have had, each dive is new and you can never get too cocky,” says Malik.
Being a PADI-certified dive centre is a challenge for the team. “We have to follow PADI’s standards. All our equipment has to be imported from Italy and France, which really inflates costs.”
Anyone can lodge a complaint to PADI if they feel that Indus Scuba is not taking appropriate safety measures. “In Pakistan the risk of running a dive centre is higher, because if something happens to someone and they are influential, you might just get shot,” he says laughingly.
All courses from beginner level to dive master are offered in Pakistan. Most people start from ‘Discover Scuba Diving,’ a one-time experience of seeing marine life and move on to the ‘Open Water Diving Course’ whereby a trainee can go as deep as 18 metres. “It’s fun training people who think they cannot dive and seeing them able to conquer their fears,” he says.
Diving options for children
There are two courses available for children. The Junior Open Water Diver course is for anyone between the ages of 10 and 14 years. After getting the certification, children can dive anywhere in the world, as long they are accompanied by a professional. For more information visit www.indusscuba.com
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2012.