Fleeting memories were jostling for space as the ferry reached closer to Havelock island jetty. In 2006, on my last trip here, the island had felt like a far-away exotic destination, not quite India. The reality on descending from the ferry, was a bit different from my memories. Were there so many cafes and restaurants hugging the shore?
I had sold the dream of pristine island, blue waters, balmy air and slow life to my friend when we signed up for our Open Water Diving (OWD) Certification course. We fought the chaos of taxis turning and horns blaring, while looking for our pick-up vehicle. Soon, we got away from the jetty and passed green open paddy fields and coconut trees and I calmed enough to realise that the dream hadn't completely vanished.
My friend and I were staying at the Barefoot Scuba Dive Centre - a neat and clean space with a restaurant on the premises, fully equipped for courses and diving spots around the islands. While going for the first skills course in the sea near Beach No.2 with my Dive instructor, I noticed large groups splashing about in the sea. The Dive instructor said that Havelock has a booming business with several operators taking large groups to try fun dives - these are at a depth of upto 6m, require no swimming skills, and the person is held at all times by an experienced diver. Short fun dives near the shore are increasingly getting popular, but the fact remained that warm water, a huge variety of marine life and good visibility make Andamans a serious diving destination.
There are a handful of outfits like Barefoot Scuba and DIVE India that focus only on certification courses and certified divers. Diving in the Andamans is a thrilling experience, there are dive spots both for beginners and competent divers and a heck of a lot of marine life to see. However, the corals that I saw at Nemo Reef and couple of other sites during the course, were nowhere as colourful and varied as the one in Vietnam Sea off the pristine Con Dao islands. An Israeli diver, who had logged in more than 1000 dives around the world and had been visiting Andamans for the past 20 years mentioned that he has noticed a steady de-generation of the coral reef year-by-year.