Monday, May 9, 2011

The Andaman Memories - From the Pen of a Diver

stethoscope in airport X-ray machines. It's because officials genuinely wonder which reabid dog bit you into wanting to plummet into the depths of our unpalatably into the depths of our unpalatably grey seas. B everything changes once you arrievs in Port Blair, where they consider you utterly insane if you don't intend to do at least one dive in their emerald green waters.
As we approached Havelock Island, there appeared a distinct break in the water. The inky blue tansformed into an emerald green and then a light aqua. Some flying fish skimmed over the water eliciting a chorus of "aaah" from all the passengers on deck. A louder collective "aaaah" turned my attention to a pod of dolphins bobbing in and out alongside the vessel. Fortunately, our ferry ride concluded in about four hours (or, in sun-stroke time, four years). We docked at Havelock Island, te most popular dive destination in the Andamans - or rather, the only luxury dive destination (apart from the odd budget operators around Port Blair and some ilegal live-aboards playing fro Thailand).
Getting off at the main jetty. I was greeted with warm enthusiasm by two dive instructors. Beaches in the Andamans have been named with brilliant creativity: there is Beah #1,3,5,7. You see the pattern? The dive instructors seemed to be products of a solitary lifestyle, carefree and possessed of a particular sense of humor. I guess if you were stuck here for eight months of the year, a sense of humor would help. 
A lazy amble got me through the main centre of town in about three seconds. I realised that I hadn't caten anything since the morning, aside from a King coconut, aptly named, bacause it's the size of a small country. At a restaurant, the waiter looked at me with disgust when I admitted that I had never eaten barracuda before. Fortunately, the barbecued barracuda turned out to be delicious springy and moist. My waiter was pleased Nights on the island were beautiful. I took moonlit walks on the beach, peering into lagoons as they mirrored the shimmering stars. The tranquillity was tangible; I remember thinking on that first night that there was truly nowhere else I would rather have been. Reluctantly. I strolled back to my room and fell into a sweet slumber once I realised thatthe dinosaur-sized lizard in my room would keep the collection of disease distributing insects at by.
One thing I did not need in Havelock was a map. There's one main road that runs through its pristine rainforest and lush paddy fields, ending at the famous Beach #7 (Radhangar Beach). There were parts where little roadlets branched out, but I discovered that asking for directions and flipping a coin amounted to the same thing. Renting a bike became my preferred mode of transport. I could have embarked on some interesting treks through the lush and very humid rainforest across the island, but I had come here for just one thing, the Big Blue.
The belly of the ocean exploded with life. Millions of neon blue fusiliers formed a swirling cocoon aroud us. Then, suddenly, a robust White-tip reef shark sprung out from behind the coral head in front of us, scattering the fusiliers in all directions. Dolphins glided over us, their whistling audible. Some flipped around to get a closer look at us clumsy creatures with oversized tanks on our back. Wescaled down a reed wall, and a large Greenback turtle curiously swam into my mask. What more could I have asked for? The bed was resplendent with life.; but my tank was on reserve.
After Havelock, I dived off various islands from Neil, all the way to Cinque Islands, further south and everything in between and across. Something we'd drift one way on caught in strong crosscurrents middescent. Other times the surface current would change during the dive, and we'd ascend to find out boat not quite where we expected. If ot for the experienced boat-boy and instructorss, I could have easily ended up in Thailand.
A memorable dive around a protruding rock emerging out of the water near Passage Island revealed serveral small, green mushroom like tips. Back on the boat, I discovered that these were bullets. (The boat-boy explained how the navy would often spray Fish Rock wit a healthy amount of ammo for target practice.) I came to know a diverse fish population native to the Andamans: wrasses, angelfish, exotic Ribbon ecls, frogfish, and Purple Dart Gobies. Andaman damselfish and sweetlips were spotted frequently. And then, on good days there were the mighty pelagics and graceful mantas and large reef sharks.
It is rawness of the Andamans that makes this such an attractive destination - the dungis (dug-out boats) are ear-splittingly loud; the locals are suspiciously friendly; the countryside boast authentic rainforest; the dives are blue and magnificent. You can't put a price tage on something that's Made in Kinara - and in the Andamans, everything seems to be.

Andaman & Nicobar Islands Video