Scuba diving in India is still at a nascent stage. This is mostly because only a small percentage of Indians have taken that giant leap and joined the dive club. That said, most non-divers are as intrigued by the underwater world. As a scuba diver, you have definitely been asked some, or most, of these questions: What does scuba mean? Do you breathe oxygen underwater? Are corals as colorful in reality as they are in pictures? Have they really found the lost city of Dwarka, and can you dive there?
You can find the answer to all these questions here, along with some more fun facts about scuba diving in India. Also we have interesting tidbits about diving in general, which you may not have known.
Scuba is an acronym.
It stands for ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’.
In 1943, the first scuba gear was invented.
Divers breathe compressed air underwater.
No, not oxygen. In fact, breathing oxygen under pressure is toxic. The scuba diving cylinder contains the normal air you breathe on land, which is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen.
Colors fade underwater.
This is because water absorbs light. Water absorbs different wavelengths of light to different degrees. The first to fade is red. Next to follow is orange, then yellow… This is why your blood looks greenish-black underwater. It is also why corals don’t appear as colorful as they are in pictures. Well, until you point the light from your dive torch at them.
Only 5% of the oceans have been explored.
The final frontier is not just space, but also our own oceans. Approximately 95% of the world’s oceans still remains a mystery to us.
The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the deepest point in the ocean.
It is about 10,944 metres below sea level. No chance of scuba diving there. But it was first explored in 1960 by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh.
The world’s deepest scuba dive is at 332.35 metres.
Or 1,090 feet and 4.5 inches to be exact. Ahmed Gabr broke the Guinness World Record for the deepest scuba dive in 2014. Then 41-year-old, he set this world record in the Red Sea, off the coast of Dahab, Egypt.
For scuba diving in India, only a fraction of our 7,500-kilometre coastline has been explored.
Scuba diving in India at Dwarka has been on every avid diver’s bucket list.
Ever since marine scientists discovered archaeological remains underwater, off the Gulf of Khambhat, on the west coast of India. Rumor has it that the discovery might change history as we know it. And that the remains lying underwater here are allegedly 9,000 years old.
You can begin your scuba training at age 10.
The PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification allows young divers to dive with a PADI professional or certified parent or guardian to the depth of 12 metres.
Myths that are preventing people from learning scuba diving in India. From fear of shark attacks to having to travel to international waters. We debunk the top five diving myths.
#1: You have to travel to international waters to scuba dive
There are some great sites for scuba diving in India. In fact, for some time now, scuba diving has been available right at your doorstep. For city dwellers, inland dive centers in India are a dream come true. You can complete the theory and confined water sessions of the PADI Open Water Diver Course in your city, over a weekend. (No point being stuck in a classroom on your holiday.) And then head out to the sea to complete your open water dives. Scuba diving in India is available at Goa, Andaman Islands, Lakshadweep, Netrani, Gujarat, Chennai, Pondicherry, Kerala and Kovalam. With new dive centres are opening up in different places across the country.
#2: You need to be an Olympic-level swimmer to scuba dive
You need to have basic swimming skills to learn scuba diving. The PADI Open Water Diver Course needs you to swim 200 meters without stopping. But it’s not a race. There is no time limit. The swim and 10 minutes of floating or treading water is just so that your instructor knows you are comfortable in the water.
Still have apprehensions about scuba diving? Ask your dive center about the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience, before you take the plunge.
#3: You have to shell out a lot of money for diving gear
While scuba diving is a sport that needs equipment, it doesn’t mean to have to rush out and buy it. Most centers for scuba diving in India and internationally rent out gear. To begin with, you should start with the three basic items: mask, snorkel and fins. Wetsuits are the next on the to-buy list. Start buying gear only once you’re sure you are going to be diving regularly. Besides, renting gear initially will give you a good idea of which brand you should invest in.
#4: Snorkeling gives you the same experience as scuba diving
We love snorkeling, especially when there are whale sharks or mantas close to the water’s surface. But nothing compares to the immersive experience that scuba diving gives. Why squint at the colorful reef way down below, when you can strap on your diving gear and descend for a closer look. Besides all that swimming on the surface is bound to tire you out. You can stay down much longer and explore more of the ocean when you scuba dive. Think turtles hiding below overhangs. Pygmy seahorses clinging to soft corals. Moray eels peeking out of reefs.
#5: You will get attacked by a shark
The theme song of Jaws hums in the heads of those who have developed a fear of sharks. It is the one of the main reasons why people are apprehensive about scuba diving in India, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. But as most divers will tell you, sharks are the most amazing creatures to see up close. In fact, you should count your lucky stars if you see one during a dive. Sharks are not in the least bit interested in divers. It’s just Bollywood and Hollywood fantastical blockbusters which have given them a bad rep.
Scuba diving in India has explored less than one per cent of the country’s more than 8,000 km coastline. By virtue of their geography, the archipelagos of Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar are the gems of world class diving. Followed close on their heels by Dwarka. The lost city of legend that could well rewrite history as we know it! And then, there is the heart-shaped island in Karnataka. Adored by divers for its tranquil waters and rich marine life.
From whale shark sightings to macro photography, scuba diving in India offers a plethora of options, for both beginners as well as advanced divers. And while we explore the oceans for new dive sites waiting to be discovered, here are seven of the best sites for scuba diving in India that should be on your bucket list this year.
1. Narcondam Island, Andamans
Ooh La La—a quirky name for a site for scuba diving in India. But then, everything about Narcondam prompts the expression. Located around 256 km to the northeast of Port Blair, this volcanic island in the Andamans is covered in dense forests. Its lush green peak that rises from brilliant blue waters forms a rather picturesque contrast. But it is the panorama below the waves that interests scuba diving enthusiasts. Especially since it was none other than the father of scuba diving, Jacques Cousteau, who put this island on the diving map.
Scuba diving sites: Ooh La La and Lighthouse Reef. These scuba diving sites at Narcondam feature rocky ledges and steep slopes. These are replete with colorful hard and soft coral, huge barrel sponges and large sea fans. The clear waters offer visibility of up to 25 meters. Depths here exceed 30 meters.
Marine attractions: Schools of bumphead parrotfish, surgeonfish, fusiliers, snappers, angelfish and a variety of brightly hued reef fish. The deep waters also increase sightings of pelagics. Yes, one can expect to see manta rays, eagle rays, Napoleon wrasses, tunas, big-eyed travellies and grey reef and whitetip sharks.
2. Barren Island, Andamans
Scuba diving near an active volcano! The mere thought is enough to give you an adrenaline rush. Now couple that with the fact that the volcano dates back 1.6 million years. Packed your diving gear yet?! Barren Island in the Andamans lies on the edge of the India-Burma tectonic plates. And has earned a reputation worldwide for having some of the best sites for scuba diving in India. The underwater world here is a series of juxtapositions: clear blue waters, dark black soil and colorful reef life. Not to forget that surface intervals offer splendid sights of a smoking volcano.
Scuba diving sites: Purple Haze. Thus named to reflect a 50-meter-wide area covered in soft purple corals. Black Magic has sand divers and moray eels peeking out of a bed of black sand. Other scuba diving sites here include Manta Point, Coral Garden, Auditorium & Gallery and Manta Bay. You can spot that manta ray circling 25 meters away. Most dive sites have depths of more than 30 meters.
Marine attractions: Manta rays! Yes, we know we mentioned them already. Moray eels, turtles, octopus, whitetip and blacktip sharks. Also, barracudas, travellies, dogtooth tuna, needlefish, parrotfish, and a multitude of reef fish. Oh, and whale sharks are occasionally spotted at some of the dive sites here too.
3. Passage Island, Andamans
High on our list of best sites for scuba diving in India is the uninhabited Passage Island. Here the waters attract pelagics aplenty! Located about 53 km south of Port Blair, this island boasts an offshore pinnacle called Fish Rock. A scuba diving site that, true to its name, is teeming with fish life.
Scuba diving sites: Barrel sponges, large orange fan corals and clusters of soft corals cling to the rocky reef of Fish Rock. This dive site slopes down to more than 30 meters.
Marine attractions: Bumphead parrotfish crunch on corals. While barracudas and surgeonfish swirl around in schools. Yellowback fusiliers, bluestripe snappers and bannerfish paint the waters in their vibrant hues. Moray eels peek out from under rocks. The bolder ones, at times, can be seen draping themselves on fan corals. Also making an appearance are groupers, turtles, rays, Napoleon wrasses and dogtooth tuna.
4. Minicoy, Lakshadweep
Every diver we know of gets all dreamy-eyed about scuba diving in the Maldives. Enter Minicoy, the island located at the southernmost tip of the Lakshadweep archipelago. Which is just an Eight Degree Channel separation from the Maldives, as per the Admiralty Charts. Minicoy offers the most spectacular sites for scuba diving in India. Not least of which are the three large shipwrecks at around 8 meters depth on the island reef. Allegedly, it was these shipwrecks that lead to the construction of the lighthouse on the island in 1885. Other tourist attractions on this crescent-shaped island include the large lagoon on the western side and the tiny islet on the southern tip called Viringili.
Scuba diving sites: The SS Hoechst and other shipwrecks are best described as underwater museums. Not least because they are home to a large number of fish species. Manta rays can be spotted at dive sites like Ragganmathi, Mulimatti and Rabberufarai during September and October. While Bose Point, Murambu and Boduhavaligang offer great marine biodiversity.
Marine attractions: Whitetip and blacktip sharks, rays, turtles, jacks, barracudas, tuna, sweetlips, large groupers, red snappers, black snappers, bigeye trevallies, Napoleon wrasse, humphead parrotfish… The list simply goes on and on.
5. Kadmat, Lakshadweep
This idyllic island in the Lakshadweep archipelago is just 8 km long and 550 m wide. That too at its broadest point! Kadmat promises one of the most memorable holidays for scuba diving in India. Thanks to its shallow calm lagoon, pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and rich marine life.
Scuba diving sites: The Wall, covered with soft corals, is one of the most beautiful reefs. Schools of tuna and barracuda vie for your attention. While sharks whiz past and turtles swim by at a languid pace. Other dive sites here are North Cave, Potato Patch and Shark Alley. Visibility in these waters ranges from 20 to 50 meters.
Marine attractions: Sharks, eagle rays, turtles, tunas, jacks, sweetlips, groupers, moray eels, lobsters, batfish, fusiliers, wrasses… The dive sites here are great for macro photography too.
6. Netrani island, Karnataka
The heart-shaped island is possibly one of the most adorable destinations for scuba diving in India. Netrani, located off the coast of Karnataka, is a small, uninhabited island. A rocky outcrop emerging from the Arabian Sea, approximately 10 nautical miles from Murudeshwar. The temple town that is home to the second largest Shiva statue in India. It is rated as one of the best places on the west coast for scuba diving in India. Mostly because the tranquil waters here are known to throw up unexpected surprises.
Scuba diving sites: The Nursery teems with juvenile fish of various species. While T55 is a great place to spot groupers, travellies, jacks and a sunken torpedo. Grand Central Station, The Abyss, Dini’s Delight, Cul de Sac and Aladdin’s Cave round up the list of scuba diving sites at Netrani. The clear waters offer visibility of 15 to 30 meters. Depths range from 10 to more than 30 meters.
Marine attractions: Butterflyfish, barracudas, batfish, groupers, parrotfish, surgeonfish and snappers dart into camera range. At The Abyss, cruising pelagics are a common sight. The seagrass at Cul de Sac is home to different species of goby and their cleaner shrimp.
7. Dwarka, Gujarat
Imagine scuba diving in India at a place that could rewrite world history. We are talking about the over 9,000-year-old lost city of Dwarka! The legendary dwelling place of Lord Krishna. For this reason, Dwarka finds its place on the our list of the best sites for scuba diving in India. While findings by the Underwater Archaeology Wing of the Archaeological Survey of India only reveal that ancient structures have been discovered, along with 30 copper coins. The exact date of the structures and coins are yet to be discerned.
Scuba diving sites: Tall sea sea fans, hydroids, sea anemones, the underwater city offers a varied collection of corals.
Marine attractions: To think that whale sharks can be spotted so close to home. Oh, and turtles and dolphins sightings are common in the Gulf of Kutch. You can also expect to spot octopus, pufferfish and other species during low tides at the marine sanctuary here.
What happens when on the initial day of your scuba diving holiday itself you see manta rays and dozens of white tip and grey reef sharks? Well, the stakes just get higher for the dive guides. But then again, this is the Maldives! The tropical paradise made up of 26 atolls, with some of the best scuba diving sites in the world. And every dive here is simply spectacular.
Scuba diving holiday in Magical Maldives
For Planet Scuba India, this was our third trip to the Maldives in 2018. And, come to think of it, it seemed like each diving holiday was trying to supersede the previous one. This time around, our liveaboard of choice was the Horizon 3. From October 7-13, this luxury liveaboard was home to 23 guests of different nationalities—Indians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Malaysians. Including two divers from India completing their PADI Open Water Diver course. They then went on to complete their PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course, along with three other scuba divers from India.
This diving holiday also had a couple of non-divers (who enjoyed themselves just as much, if not more) and some of the best photographers. You need only take a look at the pictures to nod in agreement.
It was six fun-filled days of eat, sleep and dive! And, of course, swapping of hilarious, unforgettable scuba diving adventures.
Here are some of the highlights of one of our best diving holidays in the Maldives.
The Manta show
First dive of the day at Lankan Manta point. This dive site, at the southeastern outer reef of Lankanfinolhu Island, is one of the most popular cleaning stations for manta rays in North Male Atoll. And, as luck would have it, on the day of our dive, the manta rays showed up in all their magnificent glory. We took a giant stride off the dive dhoni, descended a few meters, and gasped in awe (well, as much as one can gasp with regulator in mouth), as a manta ray elegantly swam past. Not knowing then that this was just a prelude of what was to come a few minutes later. Our dive guide led us to the coral blocks of the cleaning station. And, lo behold, heads swiveled in every direction as mantas glided in, out, and around in circles.
Here’s the thing about cleaning stations: they are a riot of colors. It is not just the mantas vying for attention but brightly hued cleaner fish, vibrant corals, and a motley of sea creatures. There is just so much to take in that you rue the fact that your neck isn’t able to turn more than 90 degrees. Just how are you supposed to see the cuttlefish whooshing past behind your back, when you eyes are so intensely trained on the spectacular subjects in front of you?!
Mantas come calling
Subjects that came to visit us later that night. Bang at dinnertime! Who cares about food when you can watch a manta ray circle around the back of your boat instead. Well, to be fair, it was dinnertime for the mantas too. And one somersaulted away, mouth agape, sieving marine organisms out of the water and into its stomach. Round and round it went, as 23 heads (more if you count the crew) stuck out of the sides of the boat watching in fascination. That is, till it had had its fill and glided away as surreptitiously as it had appeared.
Bathala Maaga Kanthila, North Ari Atoll. Even though this dive site, which we visited right after the underwater manta ray spectacle, had grey reef and white tip sharks. Not to forget, schools of yellowback fusiliers and a huge Napoleon wrasse that stole the show. It was the dive at Fish Head at North Ari Atoll that remains etched in our memory. Perhaps it was the story that did it for us. As our dive guide, Marko, told us during the briefing that at one time this was a famous fishing spot. But when the fishermen reeled in their catch, all they got was the heads of the fish. The sneaky sharks had eaten up the rest. Or perhaps it was the dive site itself. With its multiple ledges and picturesque overhangs replete with fan corals and abundant fish life.
Again, just a few meters and a few minutes into the dive, we spotted sharks right below us. Our dive guide took us on a detour, around one ledge and onto another below it. Having us swim stealthily to not disturb the unfolding drama. Sharks darted around, remoras in tow, while parrotfish hid in crevices in corals. And clownfish peeked out of anemones. Crustaceans moved a centimeter at a time to not be spotted.
It was 45 minutes of spying on sharks. Eyes wide in wonderment; cameras trained at the action. Grey reef sharks and white tip sharks, and also barracudas—all the predators at their A-game. Little wonder then that Fish Head, also known as Shark Point or Mushimasmingili Thila, is listed as one of the most famous dive sites in the world.
Night dive with nurse sharks
We just can’t get enough of sharks. Especially on night dives. Two months later, we were back during this diving holiday too to be bumped into by nurse sharks. Simply put, the dive at Alimatha Jetty, Vaavu Atoll, offers an adrenaline rush like no other. And to think that all you need to do is kneel on a sandy bottom. While nurse sharks, stingrays, travellies whip around you foraging for food. If we had to bet on a species, it would be the crafty travellies, who gulped down the food faster than the nurse sharks and stingrays could wonder: ‘where the heck did it go?’. It was a surreal experience that no amount of photographs or videos could do justice to. Though the ace photographers did manage to capture little snippets of the frenzy.
Back at the boat after the dive, and the nurse sharks came visiting. Who would have thought that after all the action underwater, there would still be so much excitement to see them. Cameras were whipped out. Facebook Lives were posted. Frantic video calls were made to friends to gloat about what they were missing.
Whale shark frenzy
There’s only one thing in the Maldives that can get divers into the water faster than you can blink. And that’s the much-awaited sound of someone screaming: ‘whale shark’! On this diving holiday, we snorkeled to see one just after our dive at Dhigurah Beyru, South Ari Atoll; a dive site that counts whale shark encounters as one of its highlights. It was a mad jumble of divers, cameras and fins, as a lonesome whale shark swam calmly, feeding its way through the waters. Seemingly oblivious to the mayhem unfolding above, for just a glance of it.
Colloquially, UMS, or usual Maldivian stuff, is a term used to describe everything from soft corals to giant turtles. That’s because every dive in the Maldives reveals spectacular sights and secrets. Marble rays hunting together. Octopuses, tentacles intertwined, in a sort of a love-hate dance. Mantis shrimp peeking out from its coral den. Scorpionfish in perfect camouflage waiting for its prey. Turtles gorging themselves silly on sponges. Sweetlips hanging out under overhangs. Moray eels getting spruced up by banded coral cleaner shrimps. Shoals of glassfish darting in and out of a wreck. Feather starfish climbing over hard corals. Stingrays swimming in and out of camera range. Schools of bannerfish, yellowback fusiliers, batfish, red snappers just going about their day underwater. And a liveabord full of happy divers. ‘Coz you just couldn’t ask for a better diving holiday destination than the Maldives.
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