Scuba Diving in Havelock (Andaman)
Long awaited vacation since I joined the corporate world (IBM Watson). You come to a new place, settle down and by the time you know 6 months are already over. Scuba diving was pending from a long time to be ticked off from my adventure list. For 10 days I would just be with my kindle & camera (no laptop). I like traveling solo because I don’t want to restrict myself to the ideas of others. My friends and colleagues were kind of surprised when I said I was traveling alone. My family is almost used to my ideas & experiments. Will write a detailed post on “Why I like traveling solo?”. I love traveling in groups too but sometimes you just feel you want time with yourself to get some perspective.
The day before my travel I wrapped up my work and packed my backpack & camera kit. It was a long journey from Bangalore -> Chennai (1 hr) -> Portblair (2 hrs) -> Havelock (2.5 hrs). DiveIndia arranged for local journey & ferry tickets. On a busy day (Peak season) it is difficult to get tickets but you can always arrange for your travel to save some money. The journey on the MV North (Jetty) to Havelock was interesting. I was sitting in this AC room with all the passengers. The crowd was too much and a guy occupied my seat which was in front of a fan. He was of my dad’s age so didn’t want to get into a fight with him just at the start of a lovely vacation. I just chucked it and went to the deck to sit for a while in the fresh air. There was nice breeze outside and surprisingly I slept on the deck for 2 hrs.
I reached DiveIndia resort checked in my luggage and got started with some snorkeling just to get the feel. I always liked water and swimming so I was quite comfortable with it. The only difference was that the eye mask blocks your nose and you have to breathe through your mouth. It took me a few minutes to get used to the snorkel, mask and fins but yeah after that I was just having fun.
Next day I was to report at 6:45 am for equipment setup and meet my Instructor (Tanuj Sharma), Dive Master (Niti) and my buddy (Peter). Tanuj explained us the details and some skills that we would be practicing during our confided water dive (1-7m). These included regulator recovery, mask removal, underwater signs etc. When you do anything for the first time you are always a bit nervous, it was the same with me. When you do the mask removal or remove the regulator underwater the idea itself scares the shit out of you. But then once you practice for a while you just do it without any hassle. I still remember when Tanuj asked me to do a mask removal on my second day and I was posing like a film star putting on the shades :D.
Dive buddy plays an important role in diving he is your life savior, so you need to be good friends with him :D. Peter (Slovak) was traveling in India for a couple of months and has been in Havelock for 2 weeks without any plan on doing Scuba diving. So what was he doing in here? I had the same question. He was just traveling with his backpack, hammock, snorkel and a pink camera :P. As I had been to Czech for a couple of times I started of the conversation with few Czech words & my experiences from Europe. I was keen to know more about his travels in India. We became good buddies & were having our meals at a powerful place called the POWERFUL restaurant. Yes that was the name of the restaurant it took 1 hr to serve the food. Interesting marketing strategy we used to order 2 glasses of coconut water & mango juice meanwhile. We went there most of the time because it was way cheaper (1/3rd) than other places.
Sometimes we also had our meals in the Moon Cafe in DiveIndia when we didn’t have time for a powerful one. We met Dean (UK) who was a dive master trainee in the process to become a Dive Master. Nice fun guy, we got to know different diving stories and used to revise our Fish signs. It was on the second day that he was mentioning about a Night dive. We were like seriously, you must be kidding??? Peter & I were just imagining how it would be inside water without the lights. Then Dean mentioned that it was part of the Advanced course. I was quite excited because anyway I was doing it next. Peter was shocked because he didn’t know I was doing two courses together. It didn’t take time for him to go and book for the Advanced course. After some suspense and drama he got the booking because DiveIndia was fully booked that week.
So we finished with our Open Water course and we had to write an exam. After some serious studying (yes I was studying on vacation) we finished our exam and passed. After correcting my answer sheet Tanuj realized I gave a wrong exam. I booked for PADI and I gave SSI exam :(. So yet another day of studying and exam. Meanwhile someone gave a good tip for DiveIndia and they bought a crate of beer. So we were just talking to the instructors sharing our experiences having a beer & most importantly celebrating our Open Water graduation (You are not advised to drink and dive but we just had one mug). I went back and finished off my exam and yes PADI exam was more fun.
We finished off our basic skills of Advanced on the first day i.e. Navigation (use of compass). As usual I suck at compass and directions. I followed the instructions but I didn’t reach the place I started. I came to know about my mistakes and I am looking forward to improve this skill. On the next day we were going for our first 30m Deep dive with Vikram (instructor) and another student Claudius (Germany) aka Columbus (that’s what Peter used to call him). Claudius did his Open Water from Africa and he was joining us for the Advanced course. Three of us had great fun together inside the water as well as outside. We introduced Claudius to the Powerful restaurant and had long discussions on travel, cricket and the events of the day. We had this funny incident where Claudius was having an irritation on his ear because of the Jelly fish sting and then Vikram was really happy to piss on his ear. Piss helps to kill the irritation :D. Of course Claudius didn’t allow him to piss on him. Another funny discussion was when I shared the info from Discovery that pee attracts sharks and Peter was like dude I pee all the time but I don’t see a shark. We had a long discussion on how to attract sharks just to have a glimpse of them :D.
After the course I finished of all my dives and my buddies left the island. I was there for 2 more days, as I had one extra dive day (bonus). I met Amit and Seshmani the guys from Mumbai. We hired bikes and went to Elephant beach and had a long run to reach the beach before the sunset. Best sunset you could get on the Islands. On our way back too we had to run because it was getting dark and it was a forest. We all had some great fun together playing beach volleyball and defeating the locals.
The vacation was almost over and I was really sad to leave the island. I was playing volleyball even 1 hr before the departure of the ferry. On my way back to Portblair I met Neha (Microsoft), I saw her at DiveIndia and thought she was reserved. I interacted with her a bit and then boarded the ferry. This time I was well informed not to get into the AC room rather I decided to stay on the deck. I got a superb spot to see Sunset. Slowly people started to realize there was nothing inside and they came to the deck. Within a few minutes I realize it is too crowded and people are just spoiling the view. They encroached upon my lovely spot and I had to find another spot. I just checked the deck for a new place and saw Neha was reading a book on the opposite side of the deck. I disturbed her and conveyed her she was missing a lovely sunset on the other side. After few silent awkward moments we started a conversation and the reserved gal I thought was friendly & talkative. It was her first solo trip and she was sharing her experience. For all the gals who are just looking for that one starting point for a solo trip you just need to start it (it is not hard). Bows to all the solo woman travelers I admire you all a lot. Time just flew by & our journey was over.
I had to stay a night in Port blair. Initially I planned to stay in a dormitory in the Youth Hostel. Unfortunately they closed up the dormitories and it was far away from the city. Dive India driver Nagesh (Telugu guy) promised me to find a nice place for the night. I went to this SKB hotel and met Vijay (another Telugu guy) from Rajamundry. I spoke to him in my mother tongue and he gave me a decent room for 450 Rs (100 Rs discount). I told him I had to go to the jail in the morning and he gave me suspicious look. Then I clarified I just wanted to visit the Cellular jail :D.
The next day I went to the Cellular jail to refresh my history lessons. The jail opened at 8:45 am and I was the first person to enter. These places give a great deal of inspiration to strive for one’s dreams no matter how harsh the circumstances are. I wanted to attend the sound and light show but it was only in the evening.
I got to the airport and I knew that Peter and Neha were taking the same flight to Chennai. It wasn’t that difficult to find him (even though he got a hair cut). Peter and I were discussing about our seat numbers, Peter’s was 19 A and mine was 1 C. I was complaining to him “dude I got the front seat, there wouldn’t be space for my legs”. We got into the flight from the front entrance and saw lots of Indians sitting in the Premier class. I was like wow people are ready to spend some money to travel in Premier class. When I entered the economy class I checked the numbers started from 10. I was blank for couple of seconds until the air hostess came and told that my seat was in the Premier class. I was ecstatic to be upgraded to Premier class (first time). Definitely a sweet ending to my trip. Thanks Jet airways.
Every dive was a different experience for us. Thanks to DiveIndia, they make sure you experience various dive sites during your course.
Some of my favorite dive sites & experiences:
The Wall: There is a wall just like “The Wall” in the Game of Thrones and after that there is a 60m steep fall. Just imagine if you go a bit far from the wall at around 18m depth you don’t see anything. It is just blue water, nothing below you and nothing above you. It is definitely an outer space experience.
Dickson’s pinnacle: Crazy fish hunting, huge school of fishes, large Barracuda, the size of fishes was way bigger than our 18m dives. You just stay in the awe of the moment.
Ship Wrecks (MV Mars 2004 & SS Inchkeith 1956 Japanese):
Yet another different experience from all the other dives. Similar feeling to the underwater Discovery channel videos. A detective inside me was pumped up and I was so excited that I used up my oxygen quicker than others.
It is crazy. Just imagine you are under water with just your torch and suddenly all the lights go off. It is dark, calm and an out of the world experience. The underwater life at night is quite different compared to that of the day. I unfortunately lit my torch on a fish and suddenly a big one came and ate it :(. I gave my condolence and tried to follow the bigger one.
Sting ray, Octopus with baby ones, Nemo, Lion fish, Barakuda (2-3m ones), Neoplean, Big Eye Trivelies, Big school of fishes, Bat fish, Parrot fish, Shrimps, Hermit Crab, Snake, beautiful fresh coral, Small sea horse, Moray Eel and many more.
Last and final section of the post Tips and Tricks (my favorite section).
Tips and Tricks:
1) Don’t assume you know everything, when in doubt ask for it.
Well the only thing I knew before doing some research on Scuba diving was PADI. When one of the instructors asked me PADI/SSI straight away I just said PADI (Yo I have some knowledge about Scuba). Later what I figured out was that they are quite similar courses except PADI has good course material and you end up paying extra. (+2.5k for each course, Put Another Dollar In (PADI)). If you want to save some money go for SSI.
2) If an Adventure freak -> Go for Scuba straight away:
Easy, less risky & a lazy adventure sport. Bit expensive but really addictive. I am planning to get my Dive Master soon. It is quite a safe adventure sport, one needs to keep track of the safety guidelines and you can have fun underwater. If you are not comfortable in water then it might not be such a pleasure experience.
3) If you go for a package [Open + Advanced + Stay] at DiveIndia you get 1 extra day of diving.
4) Practice slow breathing 4 counts inhale and 6 counts exhale. This will help you to increase your dive time. I was usually the first person to finish up air. There was a time when I reached 30 bar of air in my tank and a girl had 120 left (full tank = 200 bar), guess what she had almost 20-25 mins extra dive time. Keep calm and continuous breathing you will have great time.
5) Rent a GoPro or if you have one nothing like it. 500 Rs for one dive and you can split it up among the group. This is the only way you can inspire, have some lovely memories & last but not least make people jealous. If you have a water proof camera it is also useful for some under water beach photography. My Olympus M-tough was quite a useful gadget to take photographs with the waves.
6) Don’t worry about the accommodation it is really nice. They cater all types from luxurious to budget ones. If you are like Petter you need not worry about accommodation at all. You can just sleep on public hammocks or resting places. Superb climate to sleep outside.
Best way to travel is to get a motor bike or bicycle. Ideally rent a scooter only when you are planning to visit far away places.
Bicycle: 80 Rs (Per day)
Scooty: 300 Rs (bargain till 250)
Hero Splender Bike: 400 Rs (bargained till 300)
Avenger: 800 Rs
Don’t buy too much petrol in advance it is a small island (25-30kms). 1 ltr is more than enough. Carry a spare bottle if you require. You will not get your money back if you put petrol in the tank and don’t use it up.
There is a bus from the market every 1 hr which takes you to the beach for 10 Rs but better don’t rely on them. We waited for almost an hour and realized there was some problem with the bus. Last bus from beach to market is at 4:00pm.
If you are in a large group hire a Taxi 300 Rs one way and 500 Rs to and fro. Surprisingly that is the charge for the auto as well. I still don’t understand how they are withstanding the competition.
8) Don’t miss Radhanagar beach and Elephant beach.
Radhanagar beach is one of the cleanest beach (no rocks at all) I had ever seen in my life. If you are lucky you get to see an Elephant (Rajan). To see Rajan the elephant, head to Neil’s Cove in the morning before breakfast. As per Lonely Planet you are supposed to see a nice sunset here but guess what you can see a perfect one in Elephant beach.
Elephant beach: Heard it is good for snorkeling. Nice trek inside the forest roughly around 35-45 mins walk. Of course if you are running out of time (like us) or enthusiastic you can run and reach in 15 mins.
9) Cellular Jail in Portblair:
“Cellular Jail” or famously known as “Kala Pani Jail”. The bio of the prisoners there touches your soul and you would feel how did they survive that. Don’t miss the sound and light show. If you get to a Hindi one be prepared for some archaic words.
10) Last but not the least make some great friends. Usually like minded people come here with some desire of adventure. You get to hear a lot of stories and you will always have a great story to tell. Thanks Peter, Claudius, Tanuj, Vikram, Amit, Seshmani and Neha for a lovely company.
Vacations are a must to rejuvenate yourself and to get back to your peek productivity. Well I sleep like a baby now and wake up early. I don’t remember when I last saw the sunrise before this. I am quite refreshed now and looking forward for more adventures ahead.
If you have a similar story or some tips, do share it in the comments section below.