For any beach loving person, Andaman Islands is a name on the bucket list you just have to cross off and even more when you’re based out of Chennai from where the islands are most accessible by air. So done and dusted with my MBA, I had way too much free time on my hands and a trip to Andaman and Nicobar was just what I needed!
An ad-hoc trip of sorts, we made our way to Port Blair in the middle of April. Though much more famous as a honeymoon destination, Andaman has enough and more to offer to a group of friends looking to have a good time. On reaching Port Blair, we wasted no time in getting from the airport to the point where you get the ferry to the Havelock Islands, we had our goal pretty much set. A journey of 3 hours in the boat with a view to die for all through the way. Clear waters spread across like a never ending oasis all around as far as your eyes can see in mesmerising hues of blue.
On reaching Havelock however, you are a little disappointed. It is not exactly the beach destination you have in mind, but it definitely does grow on you. We carried our luggage through to find autos and managed to reach our hotel just before the sun went down. We sourced bikes to roam around the town and looked around the nearby markets ensured we were stocked for the nights. One thing to note in Andaman is that the sun goes down really quick and the entire city shuts down by 8 and none open till 10 the next day morning. You just need to spend an evening in Andaman to totally get why people in the far east in India fight for different time zones. You can see just how badly working in a GMT+ 05:30 reduces productivity in a small town like Havelock as much of the sunlight is lost by the time the markets open at 10.
Moving on, we were all excited for the Scuba Diving part and opened our eyes in the first light that came in the morning to rush to the spot and get ready for an experience that we have all heard of is life changing. We get into this shady hut and quickly changed in to the suits they had kept aside before jumping into the water. No, much to many dismay, our trainer was no Katrina Kaif who takes a vacation every year to train people in Scuba, we were very much greeted by faces who had it written in their faces that they had no more in interest in taking you down underwater as much as they had in ensuring you were brought back alive so that they can get their money. Movies like zindagi na milegi dobara just make you terribly harsh towards professionals like this.
The trainers did a fine job of teaching you how to wear the mask, how to breathe in to your nose, how to keep flashing the okay symbol, how the thumbs up symbol means bring me up I am drowning and all the basic stuff. The trick as you go lower and lower underwater is to ensure your body adjusts to the altitude drop by breathing out through your ears, popping ever so often to ensure you are comfortable throughout. For your own sake, it is good to pay attention to the instructions as they definitely do ensure a seamless experience.
We were gradually taken deeper and deeper inside and with it every man-made noise dimmed lower and lower and suddenly we found ourselves completely cut off like you just plugged in a BOSE Quiet Comfort headphones. It was weird at first, the unusual quiet, surrounding you completely, leaving you with nothing but the sound of the bubbles your breath is making each time you inhale or exhale.
To be very honest, I was mortally afraid before going down below. On land, I am the person who freaks on anything creeping, crawling, flying apart from human beings, so you can imagine what the thought of swimming among fish could do to a person like me. But all those inhibitions just fade away to a void you do not recognize as you go underwater, it makes you feel one among the fauna there. It somehow feels like second skin and all you want to do is go further deeper, feel the corals and just soak it all in.
As we were on our way down, there were not many fish in sight, we could only see the beginning of the corals. I slowly brought myself to touch the corals, they were rough like rubbing a sandpaper against a stone, a sort of an unfriendly touch, like it was not meant for mankind to touch them. They were not sharp, just gave a funny sensation when you touch them, a sort of an alien experience.
And as we went lower below the corals, the bright colours of different schools of fish shined bright across the clear waters. They were suddenly everywhere, vivid colours, voracious patterns, umpteen sizes and shapes. Name an RGB and you would have found a fish with a minute pattern in that hue on its fins. It was like an all different universe. They moved around like they had a purpose and flocked left to right and right to left. There were plain ones, black from top to bottom with nothing more than scary brown eyes making their way among the other smaller fish like royalty and there were those cute little nemo fishes with bright patterns and eyes that shined like jewels in varied colours.
There was still no sound to be heard apart from our own breathing, and the visual treat was all consuming. I moved my head left, right, below, above wherever I could glance a glimpse of these species frolicking around like we did not even exist there. There was unseen of plants all around these corals, ones that bloomed at your touch and others that closed down as you went nearer. There were different sea animals all around this vegetation like a different breed of mankind with just about varied characteristics as humans. You could spot the friendly ones, the bullies, the bullied, the young, the old, it was a civilization in itself.
As we went lower the urge to live there among this new found civilization grew stronger. It was like time had stopped still and we took it all in as much as possible. Alas, reality stepped in and our guides pulled us up when the time was up. As we came back to our world, the simple noises around us were nothing close to jarring. All of us looked at each other and knew that something about our lives till date changed in those 45 minutes underwater, something that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
The rest of Andaman was excellent too, the pristine Radha Nagar Beach that deserves its place as one of the top beaches in Asia, the clear waters of Elephant Beach in Havelock where you can just walk a few feet and snorkel and spot just as many species of fish as you did in scuba. The white sand beaches had its own charm, however, Scuba stole a little piece of all of our hearts in that memorable trip to Andaman.