Andaman and Nicobar islands are a set of nearly 575 tropical islands in the Bay of Bengal off the eastern coast of India. The islands are famous for their rich blue waters, full of colorful corals and a rich sea life.
Havelock is an island in the Andamans which has evolved as one of the best diving destinations, not only in India, but across the world. There are numerous dive sites near and far from Havelock, including 2 ship wrecks (one fairly shallow), India’s only active volcano (Barren Island) and numerous shallow and deep sites.
I spent few days in November 2013 diving in Havelock. There are many dive resorts in Havelock. I did my diving with DiveIndia, which was the first dive resort in Havelock. The resort is next to the excellent beach, from where dive boats depart. Below are some notes for prospective divers:
The facilities are fairly basic. Do not expect luxury. The ‘rooms’ are of 3 types – Huts with common bathrooms (cheapest), Huts with attached bathrooms (mid budget) and Tented Cabanas (most expensive). All 3 types are non-AC, with fans to quell the heat. Rooms have a double bed, fans and towels. All bathrooms have geysers for hot water. Rooms have no TVs. Every room has (thankfully) a mosquito net. Since the island is infested with lot of mosquitoes, be prepared with mosquito repellent.
There are power issues on the island, and as long as I was there (nearly a full week), every evening there was power outage for nearly half hour to 1 hour. This is not a big issue if not due to mosquitoes and heat inside the rooms. Due to heat it’s nearly impossible to remain inside the room when fans are not on (and this was November, one of the cooler months in India).
There’s a restaurant called ‘Full Moon Cafe’ inside the DiveIndia resort, but run by a different management. This restaurant is one of the best I have experienced in any resort. The food is varied, and excellent. It serves many dishes from traditional Indian dishes to Continental. The staff is helpful, and in case of power outages, this is the best place to sit and read/ eat. Even when the rooms are dissolved in darkness, the Full Moon Cafe is always lit, providing a respite from the stifling heat.
I had previously done PADI Open Water Diver course nearly 4 years ago, and had only 4 open water dives under my (weight)belt. So returning to diving after this long gap was bit intimidating at first. So I spent the first morning doing my refresher. And it was totally worth it! After the quick refresher, I did a 30 mins shallow dive with my instructor.
I was about to embark on a course of SSI Advanced Adventurer, which included the following dives:
1. Underwater Navigation (mandatory dive)
2. Deep dive (mandatory)
3. Peak performance buoyancy (optional)
4. Underwater photography (optional)
5. Night dive (optional)
Everyday, we would leave the resort on our dive boat by 7:30 am, after a sumptuous breakfast in the Full Moon Cafe. The dive boat was fairly basic Dinghy boat, which was very stable under even the worst currents (which we experienced on Day 3). Buscuits, samosas, babanas, water and tea/coffee was present on the boat for mid-dive refreshments.
Day 1 was spent in the refresher course and a shallow dive.
The first dive was at a shallow wreck site, M V Mars. This small vessel sank off Havelock island in 2004. The wreck is fairly intact. We were warned by our divemaster not to touch the wreck without looking carefully where we were placing our hands. The wreck has many scorpion fish present on it, and you don’t want to mess with them!
The visibility was poor due to a lot of mud and slit in the water, but the dive went on very smoothly, and we surfaced within 30-40 mins.
From M V Mars, we went to our next dive site, called ‘The Wall’. This is again a shallow site, with a wall or coral. Due to this unique structure, The Wall is teeming with many species of corals and varieties of fishes on both sides. The visibility was excellent, but there was a little current present where we were diving, and it was about to teach me some valuable lesson!
As we were about to complete the dive, my regulator came off, and salty water entered my mouth. Since this is not a pleasant sensation, I quickly put the regulator back in my mouth, and breathed. Then it came off again. Somehow I was not finding the grip on the regulator. So I straightened up in the water, and suddenly lifted off towards the surface due to a swift current.
I saw my buddies and divemaster many meters below me, and realized what had happened. I tried to fin back, but my fins were already above water. So I did the next best thing. I inflated by BCD and called the boat for help. They quickly came and grabbed me. By this time, I was flushed. My divemaster and buddies surfaced a couple of minutes after me. I was feeling like throwing up, and I was sick to the core because of fear of the bends. My divemaster and the boat crew assured me that I did not have bends, but the rest of the day was really bad for me. I slept through the noon and evening.
I started out the day still feeling sick. The first dive of the day was a deep dive, and I know if something like the previous day happened, I was in deep (pun intended) trouble! Fortunately, encouragement from my divemaster, and surviving some gritty moments and exertion did the job, and I came out of the deep dive hale and happy!
We went to another planned dive site, but the sea was really bumpy here, and many people started feeling sick. The dinghy was not able to hold anchor here, and we had to shift to a new dive site called ‘i95’.
In this dive site, I got my hands on a camera at last, and clicked some underwater photographs as well. It was a fun and different experience. This one too went smoothly.
In the evening came highlight of the day!
After only 1 hour of rest, I was back on the boat for my first night dive!
By the time we reached the dive site of ‘The Wall’, it was already pitch dark. As soon as I entered the water and looked below, it seemed like I was entering a bottomless abyss (when in fact it was only 15-16 m deep). For first few seconds, it totally freaked me out and it was only due to my divemaster’s insistance that I went in. And boy, what an experience it was!
Night underwater is alive with so many creatures that are rarely seen during the day. We saw eels, and so many lionfish. But the best part was when we came near the rope and taking our stop few feet below water. We all switched off our torches, and in the pitch blackness around us, we just waved our hands together. This caused the plankton in the water to emit light. Wherever we moved our hand, it was followed by a green bio-luminescence. It was one of the most surreal and magical experiences I ever had. If you want to do one dive, I will always advise you to do a night dive. It’s an experience to have for life!
Now I am looking forward to my next diving trip, and hundreds more to come in the next few years. Because there’s no such thing as a one time diver. If you are a diver, you are a diver for life. And I definitely am that diver!