As the sun prepared to set over Male' city last Thursday, a group of excited individuals were getting ready to embark on a visit to the tourist submarine, 'Whale Submarine' submerged west of Male' city. Myself included, the whole party was anticipating the visit to the submarine submerged 500m underwater to attend a special dinner being hosted on the vessel.
The special invitation to attend the dinner was extended to around 50 individuals by the owner of the submarine, Umar Naseer. This included around three or four families and some journalists. Although the submarine has been diving into Maldivian waters for the past 19 years, this was the first time I was given the opportunity to experience such a dive. It is entirely possible that I was so quick to say yes to attending this event because it involved food -- lol -- Some people said exactly that: Hameed was in it for the food.
But truth be told, I was more interested in seeing the natural underwater beauty while safely enclosed in this submarine. My heart was yearning to see the beautiful scenery that we would witness when the submarine dives and rests on the sea bed 120 ft below surface.
A dhoni carried us to the dock at which the magnificent submarine was moored. Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by Umar. What followed next were warm towels, refreshing lemonade and fancy chicken kebabs.
Umar jokingly said, "Hameed, you say you don't eat but you grab whatever is offered to you.. that doesn't happen to me. But I do break all my rules if I see a jalebi. It doesn't matter how many there are, I forget everything and eat all of it."
Umar then moved on to give a small briefing about the excursion to all gathered on the dock to board the submarine. Umar said we were about to embark on a historical dive in the history of the whale submarine. While the submarine has made 10,000 dives with over 350,000 people over the years, this is the submarine's first trip of 'this kind' where dinner was offered, said Umar. This meant the names of those taking part in this dive were about go down in the submarine's history.
The clock soon struck 6.30 pm - a happy moment for my rumbling tummy. Everyone eagerly boarded the vessel, and Captain Amira began her announcements and security instructions. The trip was off to a pleasant start, as a dolphin cruised along the submarine as it began its descend. I had an awesome seat, right next to Captain Amira.
A panel was visible near my seat that indicated the depth at which the vessel was cruising. According to the board, the submarine would descend to 120ft below surface before resting on the sea bed.
We reached the bed at 123 ft. The deep descend took only mere seconds. Okay, that may be an exaggeration. I suppose it must have taken about a minute and a half. By the time I had properly settled into my seat facing the view port, we had already reached the sea bed.
Umar's voice boomed through the speakers, informing us that scuba divers were about to swim out from the vessel. A few minutes later, there they were! The divers swam out and began emptying sacks of fish gut around the area to attract sharks and mantas.
"Before we begin our feast, let us first feed the shark and rays their dinner. You can view the scene through the view port. This is the dinner we offer to the shark, fish and other sea creatures we tame during our dives," said Umar.
As we watched the mesmerizing scenery, manta rays approached the floating food in groups, followed closely behind by huge sharks, eels, travellies and other fish. The creatures began to indulge in their food - their dinner has commenced.
"We ran behind schedule a little bit. Had we arrived by 6 pm, it would have been a sight to behold! Now, please enjoy your dinner while looking out your view ports. There is no better scenery to enjoy your dinner to", said Umar.
The seating arrangement of the submarine was changed up massively for tonight's dinner. While two seats were previously placed near each view port, a full dinner table with four seats each were set at each view port. A huge buffet table laden with food was set up, and the whole submarine now appears to have been transformed into a beautiful underwater restaurant. You can't get bored looking at it, lights flickering here and flickering there.
We tucked into our meal taking in the spectacular sight of the sea creatures greedily ravishing their food. Every time a shark appeared, the children aboard the submarine seemed to go into a frenzy, much like the sharks as they devoured their food. While every one else were enthralled by the fish, I piled my plate high with the scrumptious delicacies at the buffet, going back for two three servings. Yup, I needed my fill and I was going to eat till I dropped.
It turns out the event we were attending was actually the soft opening for whale submarine's brand new service, 'deep sea restaurant'.
Speaking at the dinner, Umar said he intended to introduce services that are not offered even in other countries on the whale submarine - the opportunity to dine 120ft underwater.
"We are attempting to introduce a service that is not offered elsewhere. That is to provide the opportunity for customers to dine 120ft below surface surrounded by sharks and other sea creatures while they go about in their natural habitat. This would be the first time a dinner is served at such a depth anywhere in the world. This is a brand new product. We believe this would become a 'world class' product", said Umar.
In order to create this product, multiple dives were made at a set times to tame the fish to gather at a specific time. The submarine gives a call indicating to the fish when they are about to be fed. The food offered to the fish are sourced from Male' and Villimale' under a contract basis. The stock are used in an environment friendly manner.
Umar said the newly introduced service is a plus point for Maldivian tourism. It would further promote Maldivian tourism, and encourage more tourists to visit the country, said Umar.
'We hope to offer the same service to locals', he added.
The only passenger submarine in Maldives, Whale Submarine is one of the largest capacity submarines in the world, and able to submerge to the deepest depth a submarine can dive. Able to carry 50 passengers at a time, and a tourist submarine by day, Whale Submarine will now be transformed into a restaurant that serves dinner 120 ft below surface by night.
Currently, each dinner is planned to last one hour. Umar considers lengthening the dinner to an hour and a half hours in future.
Tonight's special dinner is nearly at an end. The sharks and mantas are still cruising in the water. Had I known what a pleasant and exhilarating experience this would be, I would have visited the submarine much sooner. Truly, this new service being introduced by Umar will be historical, and of course, a huge success. After finishing our one hour long dinner, we are now about to resurface back to reality.
The prices of the deep sea restaurant service will be announced soon. While we await the prices, I can tell you this: The environment is incredible, the food is to die for. All in all, this experience is definitely one for the bucket list.