Havelock, Andaman Islands | Into the blue
We are out, exploring the night life in Havelock in the Andamans. It is different. In complete darkness, the powerful shaft of silver from our flashlights picks out the creatures of the night: a languorous lobster here, a bunch of spindly shrimps looking like rock stars, a squid there, spiky sea urchins littered across the ocean floor, a brilliantly hued parrot fish in slumber under a massive rock.
The next day, as I go diving in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, I am about to experience the meaning of “million” all over again. Welcome to Havelock, the dive capital of India in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
There are just eight of us diving here. As we begin to descend, a school of some 400 barracuda swirls gracefully around us. Immediately we sense why divers want to be on the first boat to Johnny’s Gorge. By the time we are at a depth of 27m, we are amidst a stunning 360-degree panorama of ocean life: brilliantly hued corals, barrel sponges, thousands of yellow-striped snappers, a gazillion neon fusiliers, spotted Clown triggers, Bluefin Trevally, a Marble Ray the size of a car, feather stars. The ocean floor is alive with a million and more fish around us. My wife spots a whitetip shark. It is surreal. No, it is like being on the inside of a 360-degree hyperreal HDMI transmission.
On the way back from Johnny’s Gorge, I ask Todd McMichael, a South African who is on the boat with us and who has logged more than 900 dives all over the world, what brings him to Havelock. He admits that he has seen better dive sites in Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands. “But, where can you find a better balance of diving, white beaches, yoga and low budgets than here?” he asks.
Jenny Cullen from Ireland, out on her first dive holiday, says she waited seven years to come to Havelock (she had read about the Andamans) and is now so spoilt here that she doubts if future holidays will live up to her expectations. Biresh Banerjee, a journalist with CCTV, China, and his Austrian partner Viktoria Rieder, on his fourth visit to the island, puts it well. “Havelock still preserves the way Indians used to be honest, uncomplicated, friendly,” he says. “But more importantly, it is remote, unexplored, and I guess it is the distance that will continue to dissuade people from coming here.”
Banerjee is wrong and he is right.Read | An Ocean of Opportunity ). Dive traffic too has grown. Peak traffic at the height of the diving season (January-April) used to be about 45 divers a day. It is now 170-180 divers a day.
But can the infrastructure keep pace with the demand? Is it possible to set up and run small world-class hotels on remote islands?
Sunil Bakshi, an engineer in the oil and gas industry and a diving enthusiast, didn’t wait to find the answer. Instead, with wife Vismaya, he invested close to $2 million in a 40m, eight-room luxury yacht, the MV Infiniti, custom-designed for diving. He went through the entire process of getting the yacht designed and built in Thailand, tested and certified according to global safety standards, and operational in Indian waters.
Bakshi says that everyone in the Indian diving industry could see the coming growth but has not been able to convert the opportunity. Infiniti has managed to do so. It has been completely booked back-to-back in its first year of operations, providing world-class diving in magical waters.
One day, over lunch, Todd tells me that he couldn’t resist signing up for seven days aboard the Infiniti, starting early March. I am not surprised. In the coming years, there are going to be thousands like him opting to dive in India simply because diving here has moved into a new league.
Arun Katiyar is a content and communication consultant with a focus on technology companies. He is a published author with HarperCollins. He is a Scuba Schools International certified advanced diver.