It all started on a whim. I had a friend who went scuba diving in Thailand and came home raving about the experience. “It is a whole different world down there. It’s just incredible,” she gushed, as we shared travel stories over slices of pizza. I was sold – and so began my long time fascination with diving.
The next day, I began furiously researching on dive centres. South East Asia, though highly recommended, was too far for a weekend trip. That’s when I chanced across Netrani Island, a scenic diving destination off the west coast of India. Before I knew it, the dive was booked – and I was on my way!
The very next weekend, I boarded an overnight bus to Murudeshwar (the closest town to Netrani Island) and bumped my way down from Bangalore. Excited as I was about my imminent dive, several friends expressed safety concerns. I fell asleep dreaming of colourful fishes and menacing sharks, all mixed up together. The next morning, I awoke to the sight of the vast Arabian Sea. The waters were a deep blue, shining an invitation as the sun’s ray reflected off its calm surface. I could hardly believe that in a few hours, I would be discovering the hidden worlds that lay below those waters.
Diving in India is highly underrated
My diving experience at Netrani Island has led me to believe that diving in India is greatly underrated. Usually dismissed because of lack of underwater visibility or insufficient safety records, my experience with diving in India has been brilliant.
The islands of Lakshadweep and Andamans offer stunning diving locations – on par or better than most of the popular diving destinations abroad. In the mainland too, options are plenty, apart from Netrani Island. Goa is fast emerging as a diving locale. Pondicherry and Tarkali are other good options. Apart from being extremely cost effective, these destinations are easily accessible. This lets you go diving whenever the whim strikes – rather than planning flights, visas and more to travel to diving locations overseas.
1. Islands of Andaman and Nicobar
If you’re bored of life as you know it, take a week off and fly down to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to become a certified diver. The islands provide an idyllic setting with glistening turquoise waters of the Bay of Bengal, pearl white sand beaches and coconut trees swaying in the gentle breeze.
From a diving perspective, The Andamans gives you stunning marine life, beautiful coral reefs and sweeping beaches. Explore a capsized fishing boat or an underwater reef poised outside a scenic lighthouse—the choices are plenty. The Andamans offers numerous diving sites, with most located around Havelock Island and Port Blair. However, the best snorkelling site is believed to be at Havelock Island. The sea around displays an incredibly rich density and diversity of marine life.
Other places to experience the marine life include the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park near Wandoor, Jolly Bouy and the Red Skin Islands. Clouds of surgeons and barracuda gather in mid-water, snapper and sweetlips swarm over the rocky reef, and big fish like Giant Trevally and Bumphead Parrotfish are seen on nearly every dive. Giant Grouper and schooling Mobula Rays also make regular appearances. For those fascinated by corals (like I am), Cinque Island is a great option, home to some beautiful live coral formations.
Pristine, spectacularly beautiful and absolutely a world apart – the Lakshadweep Islands are blessed with white coral sands, clear water and rich marine flora. Even better, they are untouched by human civilization for the greater part, making it a fabulous medley of just you, the blue sky and the blue seas.
The adventure begins as you land into Lakshasdweep’s quaint Agatti Island airport. As you lose altitude and prepare to land, all you can see below are endless miles of clear blue seas. Just when you are sure that you are going to land on water (and the pilot has made a terrible mistake) a tiny landing strips crops up from nowhere amid the vast oceans.
There are countless splendid dive sites. Around Kadmat Island, The Wall is a popular site where divers can dive amid turtles and colourful corals. Cross Currents is home to schools of snapper fish and kingfish. Around Bangaram Island, divers can explore the wreck of the Princess Royal vessel, which sank over a century ago. Exquisite black coral formations and shoals of giant parrotfish make for great diving company too.
It’s impossible to think of the sea without Goa coming to mind – India’s favourite sunshine state is also evolving as a leading dive site on the mainland. Waters around Goa are resplendent with tinted corals, shells and schools of fish.
The popular locations include the Wreck of Suzy, a ruined World War II battleship moored in shallow waters. Today, colourful angelfish and parrotfish have made it their home. The Bay of Bounty, as its name suggests, boasts of an enviable range of marine diversity, with the cuttlefish and nurse shark most prominently seen. The Reef of Uma Goma, located off the bare rocks of Grand Island, is a perfect for expert divers.
Every time I visit Tarkarli, I wonder why more people don’t even know about it – let alone visit it. This spectacular piece of beach, nestled by the Arabian Sea, is located in the Sindhudurg District of Maharashtra. For the uninitiated, that’s just about 100 kilometres away from Goa.
The marine life in Tarkarli is awe inspiring. From flat cat fish to sea cucumbers, urchins, blue line groupers, parrot fish damsel fish and even red snappers, there’s so much to see underwater! Even better, Tarkarli is home to a beautiful, fairly clear beach (which regularly features on lists of the best unexplored beaches in India). Lounge about after your dive and treat yourself to a splendid sunset.
5. Netrani Island, Karnataka
Netrani hold a special place in my heart for being the site of my first diving attempt (which was rescheduled due to poor weather – what an anticlimax!) Netrani Island (also known as Pigeon Island) is a tiny heart-shaped island located 20 kilomtres off the coast of Murudeshwar, Karnataka is believed to be home to the clearest waters off mainland India. If you are lucky, you could spot whale sharks, reef sharks and killer whales as they go swim their migratory route. Divers can also visit the Bhatkal shipwreck which marks the spot where a Japanese iron ore carrier lies submerged.
After you finish diving, spend some time exploring the temple town of Murudeshwar – home to the world’s tallest Shiva statue. Alternately, drive away to Gokarna (loved as the offbeat alternative to Goa) and relax on its famous Om Beach.
Pondicherry’s claim to fame is that it is the only diving centre on the east coast of India. For the first 10 kilometres from the shore, the Bay of Bengal offers a sandy bottom ideal for macro-diving. Further into the sea, a rich coral seascape awaits. Explore the marine life amid corals, kingfish and manta rays. If you’re lucky, you could be swimming with white sharks, turtles and dolphins too! Interestingly enough, the same marine species are found in these waters as other world class dive zones such as South East Asia, the Caribbean and the Great Barrier Reef.
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