It’s hard to describe the beauty of the Andamans. Before I begin this story I would recommend every single person to take off. Go. Unwind and relax at paradise which will leave you truly speechless and a bit mystified… trust me these vacations are worth our time, effort and travel.
They say that Diving changes the way you see things. I say it blows you away.
I decided I wanted to dive in November 09. I told myself its time to take a break from life and work and felt this would be a perfect opportunity to do so. After making all my travel plans I was on the train and off to Chennai where I would be catching my flight to Port Blair the next day.
My trip was for 7 days – the 20th to 27th of January 2010 and since I was travelling alone, I made sure I carried reading books, paper and pen and lots of music on my Ipod to keep myself occupied. Chennai was a one night stop and I caught my plane to Port Blair at 5 am the next morning.
On the flight I was exhausted since I had been awake from 2am in the morning, the only time I opened my eyes was to take a quick bite and fall asleep again. Minutes before the plane landed I looked outside at the ocean and smiled, as I was looking down I see two crests forming on the water, I peer as hard as I can not believing what I just saw. Whatever had surfaced quickly disappeared making it not a boat or a ship that I had first thought. I was told later that I saw whales. I took this as a lucky sign from the ocean and couldn’t wait to land.
I was promptly received at the by ‘DiveIndia’ whom I was going to be diving as well as staying with and was soon on the ferry that would be taking me to the Havelock island.
Sitting on the roof of the ferry was refreshing, enjoying the cool breeze and seeing flying fish darting away in the water. I soaked up the sight of island after island and water on all four sides scarcely believing that I was here and at the same time wishing to always be near sea.
Once I reached the jetty I was off to the ‘Island Vinnie’ also Dive India and happily chatting with the auto driver. I learnt that Havelock is a tiny island about 40 km in length and there is only one main road. Passing small houses and acres of landscape, jungle, tilled land I felt like I went back in time where civilization was still testing waters. I heard that Havelock is largely untouched by commercialization, I had to agree that it was true.
Finally I reach DiveIndia. As I entered, massive tents on either side greet me and a small pathway in the middle lead to the beach and a charming restaurant. I look up and sigh the beautiful blue ocean in full view from the gate!. I was here at last.
I quickly check in, and settle my luggage into a hut and after freshening up head to the dive centre. I am taken through the courses which I opt for PADI which stands for ‘Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ which I ask if I may start right away and am told that my course will start only the next day. At the moment being wide eyes and slightly excited at the prospect of starting my course immediately I told myself to be patient. The first thing I do is run down to the beach and stand in the salty water with the tide coming in and out and take in the smell and sight of a beautiful blue sea, salt and seaweed, and sigh. This is what I have come for.
The next day I was up by 8 and dressed quickly and after breakfast my Dive Instructor ushered me into the video room and left me to watching videos on PADI for the next 3 hours. After completing some quizzes, I was told at noon to take a break and come back later for the briefing.
In the time that I had in the afternoon, I walked along the beach, taking in the ocean sight, picking small shells on the shore and admiring tiny mangroves while clicking pictures along the way and watched amusingly as crabs scuttled away from me. Complete and total solitude, just me and the ocean.
The briefing for my Open water course took place next morning, on the boat which was taking us to a shallow area to practice our first dive. The water was wonderful, with just our snorkels we were taught how to ‘skin dive’ without the scuba equipment which we learnt in no time. We were just off the shore and soon had our dive equipment on our backs, I took my first breathe with the regulator underwater. Adrenaline coursing through my veins we sank under water further till our knees touched the seabed and we were there for the next 20 minutes learning the different techniques of breathing and coping in a dive.
Then our dive instructor decided that we were ready to go for our first dive. I was excited as I had not sighted any marine life as yet and was eager and impatient to start. We came across a lot of kinds of fish and a bit of coral. Tiny fish with yellow and blue markings on them darted past us in a huge shoal I learnt these were fusilier fish and were one of the most sighted, the endearing looking clown fish peeped at us through coral and a huge blue starfish got me transfixed.
This dive site is known as ‘Lighthouse’ as it’s a small reef situated near a Lighthouse close to the Jetty and is on a shallower side so the marine and coral life is not vast. The feeling of gliding through the water with so much buoyancy makes you feel like your ‘flying’. It’s so easy!
I kept floating up which my instructor told me to control through my breathing. Buoyancy control its called, I was like opps here I am getting excited and rising up.
On this day it was a kind of trial and error method to get used to breathing underwater and manoeuvring oneself and the next day we would be taken to 2 dive sites and go down to a depth of 12 meters.
The next day we were off to ‘The Wall’. This coral reef was a sight to behold. A fifty foot wall growing from the seabed which had coral life growing and thriving on it. From huge clams which shut their shells if you went too near, to the most massive groupers, to my first Barracuda fish sighting, astounding colours of fish – triggerfish the size of a small table with midnight blue and light green colours.. this was a dive indeed to remember. And the coral! These are sightings which one never forgets. The coral is the base of all life, without which the rest of life under the sea would be few and far. They protect, provide and let all the animals proliferate. Of all kinds, shapes, sizes and colours, and this was only the beginning.
Our next dive sight was called ‘MV Mars’ which was also done on the same day and was a shipwreck dive. The ship was a 5 year old boat which had sunk and the visibility was not as good as the previous dive. But snappers, groupers and tiny parrot fish all came to investigate us curiously as the same way as us. The ship here acted almost like a protective mother to a wide array of beautiful tiny fish inside which had made this huge vessel a home and peeping inside it was almost like a mirage effect of these shiny silvery fish, a pretty sight I said to myself peering through my mask.
That evening I sat with a book ‘The Kite Runner’ and dint put it down till late, but late was 9 pm since the sun sets at 4.30 and everyone’s usually asleep by 9! After a day of diving and having to wake up early the next day I grabbed a bite and hit the sack soon eager for morning.
I also realised that its wonderful travelling alone. You get to think, be alone which is good once in a way and also analyse things, people, situations without a second opinion or a distraction of any kind. No doubt that company is good, but procrastinating allows solitude and peace.
The next day, wading into the shallow waters and climbing onto the fisherman’s boats to take us out, I heard that we’re heading to SouthButton, which is quite far but diverse and awesome underwater sights. We pass mangroves and islands which are uninhabited and learn their all highly government controlled. Finally SouthButton looms ahead and we’re there soon. Everyone puts on their gear and dives right in.
Wow wow wow!! Was all I could say. I felt like dropping my jaw but I can’t do that otherwise I am in trouble. Barracuda shoals, lobsters, I saw my very first octopus and almost lost buoyancy control with excitement. Huge puffer fish, the most colourful triggerfish spanning a good foot and a half in length and my favourite the fusilier swim past happily.
On this dive I also saw a sea snake, lion fish, the most beautiful coral spanning out like enormous platform umbrellas in pink, aqua blue and yellow colours. The coral sighting at this dive site was by far the best I had ever seen and very exquisite. After a point you feel like its unreal and looking into a museum filled with a painters works.
The next day I took two extra dives since I had an extra day at the centre and did another shipwreck dive which is unforgettable. This ship was half a century year old and had coral growing and thriving all over it. The visibility was good, and we saw lobsters, shrimps, the dangerous scorpion fish. The coral here has spread through the entire ship so much that one can hardly identify the parts of this huge monster. I was amazed at how a life that usually takes millions of years to from has grown in a span of 50 years!
Too soon I realise my time is up and I would need to surface, as I climb and see a small wall of a red garden I tell myself that I need to do this as often as possible and as much.
On my return journey in the fancy Catamaran ferry, my thoughts kept going back to my dives, my stay and the charming people of Havelock. I was already missing my dives the next day at Port Blair and realised that when you take a holiday like mine, you realise the true meaning of money saving and that effort of going through various websites and deals and all you need to do is get on that plane and go.
You never look back after that.