India, a mystical country of saris, swamis, sunshine, and spices, has attracted travellers for millennia. But in recent times, India has become a scuba diving destination too. At 3.3 million square kilometres and a coastline stretching almost 8,000 kilometres, this vast country has plenty to offer above and below sea level.
India’s dive sites are found in four main areas: Goa on the west coast, Pondicherry on the east coast, the Andaman Islands far to the east of India towards the Thai coast, and the Lakshadweep Islands, a remote archipelago to the south-west of the mainland towards Mauritius.
With dive sites mostly around the southern half of the country, divers can expect tropical conditions for the most part. The best diving takes place in the dry season from November to March, when water temperatures range from 26-30 degrees Celsius around the main dive sites and visibility improves significantly. Depending on your tolerance levels, you will be able to dive in your swimsuit or perhaps a half-suit.
It’s easier to get to the Goa and Pondicherry dive locations, as they are relatively close to large international airports, but the visibility is often limited to less than ten meters, even during the dry season. The extra effort required in planning your trip to the Andamans or Lakshadweep will reward you with some of the most spectacular diving in the world, with visibility up to 50 metres on a good day. There is a reason that both of these archipelagos are on the bucket list of many divers around the world.
Traveling around India is easy and cheap, and many- if not most- Indian people speak English well. If you are tight on time, local flights will get you around quickly and cheaply. If you have a little more time to spare, using public transport between your international hub and your ultimate destination will give you a brief insight into this country of many contradictions. Added to which, the Indian booking systems are amazingly efficient and reliable! Strangely, the Andaman Islands may be easier and cheaper to get to from Thailand and not mainland India, so factor that in when booking travel, especially long-haul journeys that may require you to transit through a south-east Asian hub like Bangkok.
The best diving in India is the hardest to get to, in Andaman and Lakshadweep. However, for those a bit tight on time, Goa and Pondy are perfectly good fun, and both are really affordable places to do your open water certification.
Goa’s main dive sites are a fairly short boat trip away from the city of Panaji. Don’t expect still, tropical waters and infinite visibility here. The Arabian Sea is not a millpond, and dive locations here are more fun than unforgettable experiences. That said, there are a few decent Spanish and Portuguese wrecks and other sites to entertain you in between historic tours of Old Goa and sinking a few Kingfisher beers at a sunny beach shack.
Similarly, Pondicherry’s sites are fun dives with plenty to see, but visibility under ten metres for the most part. As well as a decent array of tropical marine life, it is also possible to see sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and manta rays.
The two most popular dive destinations in the Andaman Islands are Narcondam and the live volcanic Barren Islands. You will be rewarded with an amazingly rich array of soft corals and many marine species found only in this part of the world, including the Andaman damselfish and the Andaman sweetlips. Whilst you can get decent diving on day trips, the best way to see the best of the Andamans is on a liveaboard, which can take you to the more remote waters of the archipelago.
Cryptically, only two Lakshadweep islands are open to tourists, Kavaratti and Kadmat, but this is all you need to access some world class diving. Geologically, Lakshadweep is an extension of the Maldives, and the diving is just as good. The array of marine life is spectacular, with well over 600 species of fish and 78 species of coral. Above the water, Pitti Island also boasts an impressive sea turtle colony, and it is also a declared bird sanctuary, with most of the 100 or so Lakshadweep bird species represented here. There are a couple of good wreck dives and the novelty of black coral to seek out.
Anywhere you dive, keep an eye out for local species such as the Andaman Damselfish, Andaman Sweetlips, or the Indian Yellow-fin Grouper.
India is easy to get to from the Middle East and Far East hubs, with plenty of value-for-money connections to Mumbai (Bombay) on the west coast and Chennai (Madras) on the east coast. From Mumbai or Chennai, you can catch internal flights to Goa and Kochi (for Lakshadweep), whilst the Andamans are best reached from Chennai.
Pondicherry is just a couple of easy hours from Chennai by road or rail. An old French colony, Pondicherry’s graceful town centre is reminiscent of France itself, with leafy boulevards and pretty good French food too. You can hire mopeds to get around, and the main dive shop is right in the town centre near the railway station.
In Pondicherry, Temple Sports dive shop is right in the centre of the town near the railway station. They will come and pick you up for your dives.
Goa has its own local airport, well serviced by Indian Airlines and Jet Airways. Goa is a huge tourist destination so you can book a fixed price taxi at the airport, and local accommodation is plentiful. You will want to stay fairly close to the city of Panaji (Panjim), although the dive shops will normally come and pick you up. The northern Goa beaches of Candolim and Sinquerim are most convenient.
In Goa, the most convenient dive shops are going to be Barracuda Diving in Baga, and Goa Aquatic Sports in Calangute, both around an hour’s drive north of Panjim and right in the tourist centre. If you stay relatively close by, you will get plenty of cheap accommodation and entertainment, and experience the “real” Goa, far away from the polished marble of South Goa’s more expensive resorts.
A protected marine park surrounds the volcanic and sparsely populated Andaman Islands, and the marine life is spectacular. The Andaman Islands are best reached via Chennai, with regular flights to the capital Port Blair. It’s best to book flights well in advance, as these are small planes, which get booked up quickly. There is also additional documentation to obtain before you are permitted to travel to the Andamans. For this reason, it may be best to arrange your trip to the Andamans through a travel agent who can guide you through the process. The other alternative for the Andamans is a liveaboard from Phuket in Thailand.
The Andamans have a number of well-respected dive shops, all located in “dive central”, Havelock Island, a small island about 30km north east of Port Blair, the capital of the Andamans. Dive Andamans, Andaman Bubbles and Dive India are all located on Havelock Island.
Lakshadweep means "100,000 islands" in Malayalam, the local language, but it could just as easily mean “100,000 fish”. Lakshadweep can be reached by air from the Keralan city of Kochi (Cochin) in an hour and a half. It’s worth breaking your journey in Kochi to take in some of the amazing culture of this historical town, not to mention savoring some of that south Indian food.
In Lakshadweep, the dive shop at Agatti Island Resort can organize dives off Agatti Island and Bangaram Island. Lacadives based out of Mumbai are specialists in Andamans and Lakshadweep dive trips.
There are hyperbaric chambers operational in Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad, as well as in Port Blair and Kochi. Again, with hyperbaric facilities coming on and off line frequently, it’s best to enquire with your government travel service ahead of time, and with the dive shop you plan to use. Also check your insurance to make sure you are covered and that there are no specific constraints.
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This dive center is owned and operated by a pervert who gropes ladies, leaves 14 year old open water student stranded floating at the surface for 45 min During dive 1 because he had equalization problems and generally breaks every standard in the book. It's amazing that they haven't killed people yet. This is an objective review as it was my son who was left stranded and he has admitted on video of inappropriate actions with a lady while underwater.