Diving in Andamans
Diving in Andamans
Having dived all over the world – from North Atlantic deep-sea wrecks to Florida to the Mediterranean to Red Sea to Maldives – we have always been drawn to a particular type of dive operation: one offering professional quality service, but in a flexible and relaxed manner - a shop where you feel like hanging out after the dive, having a refreshing post-dive beverage (we recommend “scuba libres”) and swapping travel/dive stories.
We'd like to think that our dive shop offers just that. Every single one here is here because we have a passion for diving, and a passion for the Andamans. All of us here at DIVEIndia – instructors, divemasters, staff, 2 boisterous not-quite-puppies & 1 grouchy cat – look forward to sharing that passion with you, not just as our customers but also as our friends.
DIVEIndia is the oldest dive center in the Andamans, and was founded by Vandit Kalia, aka Vinnie. A former management consulting drone, a very early midlife crisis (at the ripe old age of 28) made him take a year off as a sabbatical. He spent 6 months out of that year in Havelock, back in 2000 before returning to the corporate world. However, he was unable to resist the call of the islands and decided to walk away from the rat race to start DIVEIndia in the Andamans in December 2003.
The early days were interesting going. No one on the islands had any idea what diving was about, nothing was available in India, there were no reliable boats, boat staff or dive professionals. From a universe of 6 existing dive sites - Wall, Lighthouse, Aquarium, Barracuda City, Pilot Reef and Minerva Ledge, Vinnie started exploring and added South Button, Elephant Beach, the Inchkett, I-95 and later, Johnny's Gorge, Jackson's Bar and Dixon's Pinnacle (named after local staff who worked at Diveindia & trained under Vinnie to become the first dive professionals from the Andaman Islands). And thus, diving started to grow, other dive centers started and an industry was born.
Today, we have come a long way from those early days (when a fancy boat was a dunghie with a cover, the fast boat from Port Blair to Havelock took 4 hours and connecting to the internet meant plugging a laptop into the phone cable at a public call booth) - with fleet of customized dive boats, 14-15 dive professionals covering 2 islands, Havelock and Neil and customers from all over the world.
However, a few things haven't changed. We feel diving should be fun, safe and accessible. Everything we do is based on this. That’s why we’ve never adopted a premium pricing strategy, despite offering premium extras like small groups, unlimited shallow water training if needed, highly experienced guides, etc. And our primary goal is, as always, to make sure our guests have a great time here. We are not a big corporation, we don't have a fancy PR machine, we dont offer everything under the sun - we focus on one thing only, and we like to think we do it better than anyone else.
As a SSI Dive Taining center, we offer scuba training all the way from Open Water to Instructor
We pride ourselves on our overall ethical practices: we dive responsibly and promote marine conservation; we help the Zoology and Forest departments; we have various reef monitoring programs ongoing; and we try to give back to the island that has given us a home, by training & employing local dive professionals.
We have found all the top dive sites of Havelock and Neil Island that you dive, and even now, continue to discover new sites each year.
Our goal is to provide our customers with more options for their training – so rather than limiting ourselves to just one agency (and reaping the cost benefits of an exclusive arrangement), we offer training with multiple agencies so as to give our divers more choices for their training. And all training is backed up by our quality guarantee – if you dont feel happy with your training, we will provide additional sessions at no extra cost.
Our eclectic group of dive professionals all share one thing in common - they've all quit other (read: better paying) jobs to do this. The reason is that they love to dive. And thats why no big corporations back us, we dont offer fishing-snorkeling-seawalks-Indian-Chinese-continental. All we do is dive (and we like to think we do it well!)
The Unusual Suspects
aka: Persona Fictitious
Vinnie is a SSI Instructor Trainer, a PADI Staff Instructor and NAUI Instructor. In addition, he is an experienced cold-water trimix/technical diver. He claims to be a wreck diver, but spends more time shaving his legs (supposedly for cycling/triathlons, although we suspect it is simply because he likes his legs to be silky smooth) than actually diving. No one has ever seem him in scuba gear. And actually, many people haven’t seen him at all. We refuse to confirm or deny whether he really exists.
aka: Fearless Leader
Vikas used to teach in Goa and consequently, goes into raptures every time he sees his own fin in the water. There is a popular theory that Vikas only learned to wear clothes a few years ago, but we can neither confirm or deny these rumors – best to ask him. Formerly the Chief Instructor/Dive Center Manager/General Terror At Large of Havelock, Vikas now runs DIVEInda Explorer, our freediving and premium diver training operation, out of the mainland, and spends his free time taking photos.
aka: The Tamil Heart-throb
After Vikas, Sayeed is the longest-tenured member of our team. He came in, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and bloodied Vinnie’s nose with his tank on a night dive during his Advanced course – from there, he has grown into an SSI Instructor Trainer (how quickly they grow!). He has a mortal fear of dehydration and can usually be seen ambling from his man cave, a place of legend and lore, to the water fountain in the cafe to ensure that his bottle is full. Sayeed now runs DIVEIndia Outbound, our travel wing.
aka: Mr Cool
Have you watched John Rambo? Us neither. But the Karens are the tribe that Rambo helps. Our Karens have been settled in the Andamans since WW2, and are not nearly as militant, unless you are a fish. In addition to being a Divemaster, Ivan also handles the back end of our operations – boat maintenance, crewing, supplies, etc. We would come to a halt without him!
aka: Shirtless Sahil
Sahil used to be a fitness trainer before coming to the Andamans, and for some inexplicable and completely unrelated reason, keeps misplacing his tee shirt and is forced to walk around shirtless. If you see him shirtless, do offer to help him find his shirt. He’s also become a very good underwater photographer these days.
aka: Who Needs Google
A long-standing instructor with DIVEIndia, Juja keeps up the proud Karen tradition of being all smiles and very good in the water as well. Having trouble translating complex diving terminology into Hindi? Or do you need a history lesson about the Karen community of the Andamans? Look no further than our in-house encyclopedia, Juju. If he wasn’t a dive instructor at DIVEIndia, Juju would probably be a history teacher in a school, working undercover for New Zealand tourism.
Michael went from beginner to divemaster while being called Charlie. Don’t ask how it happened. It just did, and no one figured it out. Until one day, we did. Packed with an arsenal of cool hand shakes and trendy street talk, Michael can often be heard in the corridors of DIVEIndia, passionately singing the latest english songs to himself or talking about his deep dislike for thermoclines.
aka: King of the Gorge
Our senior-most dive master, Montu earned his nickname by consistently having greater-than-usual dives on Johnny’s Gorge. In addition, he is fantastic at spotting turtles and recently, he has acquired an amazing eye for macro as well, spotting a lot of exotic species on Nemo Reef! For some strange reason, his favorite marine animal is actually the trevally.
aka: High Mage
Another of our longer-tenured Karen DMs in the Andamans, Dannis focuses mainly on Discover Scuba Diving programs these days, and also handles all the gear maintenance and servicing work for us. Whenever any of us have a problem with any gear, we go running to him and have him perform his sorcery to fix the problem. All hail, the sorceror.
Don’t let the innocent exterior fool you. She is one of the toughest staff members here at DIVEIndia. She is ferocious, hard working, responsible and loads of fun all at once. Some of us also call her Mother Earth because of her larger than life attitude and ability to strike fear in the hearts of unsuspecting members of staff (namely Shirtless Sahil). She is also our first female Karen dive professional. More power to her!
aka: Other Ajay
One of our new generation of DMs, Ajay spent several years working as boat crew before deciding to push onwards and complete his DM course. And we are lucky, because we have gained a great new DM.
aka: Skill (not 25-17)
Another one fresh off the press, Skill is quickly learning the ropes of being a dive professional here at DIVEIndia, with dreams of someday becoming a course director. He also sports the funkiest hairstyles in DIVEIndia and quotes Bollywood dialogues at the drop of a hat.
Kappa is a natural in the water, with a keen eye for macro life. He is our newest underwater naturalist expert in the making. Kapawmu is part of the new breed of Karen divemasters at DIVEIndia. Armed with expert volleyball skills and a wicked sense of humor, Kappa is a natural in the water and a keen eye for macro life.
aka: Ladies Man
Never too far from the action, Jaivick is a ball of energy. Also one our new divemasters from the Andamans, his good looks and charm have island girls swooning over him in Havelock, Neil and Mayabundar. But don’t let that smile of his fool you. He is also one of the sharpest guys around, with a great understanding of a diver need and safety.
aka: The guys that make it work
You only see the couple of them that are on the boat with you. You don’t see the guys that come in at 5:30am to ready the boats, to load up the gear, spares, safety kit, etc. or the guys that are working in the evening filling tanks, or sorting our gear. They are the foundation upon which we run – without them, nothing would get done.
Frodo Waggins, Bossdog
A FEW WORDS ON RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
The number of tourists to the Andamans is starting to increase. This is a good thing overall, as it helps improve the local economy and provides a better livelihood to the people of the islands.
However, increased tourist volumes, especially in developing economies, are accompanied by their own ills: increase in pollution/wastes, degradation of the environment and negative social impact on local culture. As an avid traveler myself, I am disheartened by the changes for the worse that have occurred in other “undiscovered gems” after their discovery. Ask anyone who has been to the Himalayas, to Goa, to Sharm El Sheikh or to Kenya over the past 15 years or so, and inevitably, the answer is: “it isn’t the same anymore.”
To prevent the Andamans from going down the same path, we request you to consider our suggestions below:
– Please be environmentally conscious. Solid waste is one of the biggest urban problems today, especially in developing countries which lack the waste management. Where possible, please avoid the use of plastics and disposables. Where unavoidable, please ensure that the trash is properly handled, not thrown out in the back.
– Limit the amount of water you use for showers. The fresh water table in Havelock has been decreasing every year, as tourist volumes increase.
– Do not touch or break coral, whether you are diving, snorkeling or swimming. Coral growth is very slow – taking years to grow each inch. Even a touch can remove the protective mucous covering on them, leaving them vulnerable to attacsk by other organisms. The old diving maxim – “ take nothing but memories, leave nothing but bubbles.” – holds true here.
– Do not give money, sweets or gifts to local children. Gifts are perfectly ok to people you know or who have helped you in some way. However, distribution of pens or candy to children builds dependency and leads to association of tourists with “freebies.” If you would like to contribute and give back to the Andamans, please donate to one of the many welfare organizations and NGOs working there.
– Please do not support businesses that operate in an eco-unfriendly manner. This includes resorts that throw their trash in the sea, snorkeling boats that throw their anchor on coral beds, shops that sell coral, turtle shells, tiger skins or similar prohibited items, restaurants that sell shark-fin soup, etc. If possible, let the person know why they have lost your business and in the event of illegal items for sale, please inform the local authorities.
– Raise your voice against shark-finning. This barbaric practice involves cutting off the fins of a shark while it is still alive, and dumping it back in the sea where it slowly bleeds to death. Charming, isn’t it?
– Please refrain from nudity in public places. We never expected that we would have to write this, but this is happening more often. Please keep local sentiments in mind – while swimsuits and bikinis are ok on the beach, nudity is most certainly not acceptable in India, and especially so in traditional Andamans.
– Do not engage or attempt to engage anyone to take you on a tribal tour. That is exploitation, pure and simple. We will call the police on anyone we learn is trying to do this.