Starting from where I left…
Accustomed to hitting the snooze button multiple times before finally getting down from the bed, the previous night I had cautioned my brain not to repeat that practice in the morning. So at the very first ring of the alarm, instead of going for the mobile, I jumped out of the bed, made sure my eyes were wide open, and then turned off the alarm! If I miss the ferry to Havelock, the whole itinerary would be a chunk of junk!
The ferry was to depart at 6.45 am and although my lodge was 10 minutes walk from the quay, the extra cautious me marked my attendance at the gates around 6.00 am. I guess all the passengers shared the same dread of missing the ferry – the waiting room was full by 6.15 am!
The check in counter still sticks to hard copy of the ticket. I didn’t carry the same and had to pay Rs 50 for the print out. By then, my tummy was making all sorts of noises in hunger but the only thing available at the quay was tea. So I rummaged through my stock and helped myself with some cookies.
Boarding started around 6.30 and left the dock right on time. Now about the Cruise/Ferry options available – Government Ferries are hard to book online, mine was a private one named Green Ocean. My return was booked in Makruzz (which is the best among the all). The ferry has AC seating rooms with closed glass panels. Passengers are not allowed to move out to the deck during the journey. They have decent cafeteria facility for snacks and drinks. Videos sharing information on the different islands and what to do where are played on a screen, which are really helpful, especially if you have not done much research before your trip.
We docked at Havelock port around at 9 am. Rickshaws and porters are available in case you have a lot of luggage. Getting down from the ferry and looking around, I could immediately feel the difference from Port Blair – the half drowned mangrove trees near the shore with calm emerald waters. The crowd got so absorbed in clicking photographs of the serene location that the coastal security guards had to intercept and make everyone move towards the exit.
I had done some prior research on the resorts in Havelock (wanted to be sure the resort was on the side towards the beach!) and had finally decided to go for one in Govind Nagar beach. For the knowledge of my readers – Govind Nagar beach lies in the centre of Havelock and is at a walk-able distance from the main market. Most of the Scuba Diving institutes are in this area.
Auto and cab drivers wait outside the Jetty gate so transportation is never a worry. I got into a cab after a small bargaining. Scuba diving being the first pick on my bucket list, I gathered all the info I could from the chauffeur on my way to the resort. I was told that there are two options for Scuba – through institutes which are members of an association (recently formed locally) or private institutes. The only difference I could grasp was that the ones not a part of the association came at a marginally cheaper rate. 15 minutes later he dropped me at the resort, which I must say was quite nice. You had all individual cottages (duplex cottages as well), well maintained, clean and surrounded by coconut trees.
Now, every trip cannot possibly be so good-to-hear and without any trouble. So let me share the only negative incident which I faced during this trip – since scooter was a must here for exploring the island, I accepted my driver’s offer of delivering a scooter at my resort. He said it was his friend’s agency and I agreed (Port Blair’s experience being so pleasant). When asked if I would like a liter of petrol being provided (Petrol Pumps remain close on Sundays) I said yes without giving a second thought.
10 minutes later a young smiling kid came with a new Activa and a receipt. He told me to check if the scooter is working fine and so I did. I paid the security deposit + petrol charge of Rs 80, started the engine, checked the brakes, indicators and headlamp – everything but the oil tank!
And that’s where I went wrong. After a quick shower I decided to go for my Scuba diving registration. Starting the scooter, I realized the oil fuel meter was at reserve! I immediately called up the agency and informed but the person on the other side was adamant and just kept repeating “the meter stays at reserve for 1 litre.” Dejected on being cheated, I called up my cab driver and complained. He told the agency is 2 minutes ride from my resort and I should go there and clarify. And that only worsened the situation as the 3 guys who were sitting in the garage started bellowing upon me that I was the one who’s trying to milk petrol out of them! One even said return the scooter and go back. Realizing there was nothing I could do, I resigned to the situation and gave them a thanks and said “everything is online nowadays.’ I heard them blabbering behind while I walked away – Roy Tours, Beach no 5. Yes, everything is online today! It never was about the 80 Rs, but the way they treated and threatened me instead of even listening.
Very much in shock (because everything actually felt beautiful till that incident), I gave myself some time to recover and got determined not to let this incident affect my plans.
Scuba Adventures! (This should have been one dedicated post all together!)
Had come across many positive reviews about Bare Foot Scuba Diving agency and decided to register with them for my diving. The association’s office is in the jetty area and you have to make the payment there (Rs 4,135.00). From what I understood, diving timings are from 6.00 in the morning till 11 am.
Minutes later, I sat in an open café signing the declaration that I would be entirely responsible for my death. When my instructor came to collect the form guess I was giving the impression of a wet kitten because he said “People who don’t even know how to swim go for scuba. At least you do.” Not that it gave me all the boost I needed to shrug off the fear, but well, it did make me think “ok I won’t die I suppose”. Once in my wetsuit, I was made to seat in a SUV and we drove for 5 minutes and got down in front of a hut – the diving spot was to be reached on foot from that point.
2 minutes walk through foliage and we reached a open space with clear turquoise water with mangroves floating upon it. The nearer I went to the water, the more panicky I became! I could see a few tourists being trained in the shallow waters. They put on the oxygen cylinder on my back and a belt with some weights around the waist.
The instructor quickly made me memorize the hand gestures for under water communication, the steps to be taken if water enters my mouth or nose or goggles (yes that happens and happened with me!). Then with the mouthpiece clamped between my teeth and putting on the goggles (more like a mask as it covers your nose as well), he instructed me take a dip below the surface and breathe. The sound when breathing through that hose was terrifying (just like that of Bane from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’!) as bubbles surrounded my face. A few seconds of breathing and I surrendered myself to someone who made me lie on my back and pulled me towards the depth.
Believe me when I say this – if you think you are swimmer and wont panic, darn you are wrong! The moment I realized I was far off from the shore (with no sound except for water entering my ears), staring blankly at the sky above and floating only because a stranger is holding on to my collar I started regretting my decision for signing up for this. Minutes later (which seemed like an eternity) we stopped and the stranger (never even got the chance to ask who he was, what was his name!) gestured to put on the mouth piece and dive.
I didn’t exactly comprehend how I dived or if he tugged me down, but once completely underwater – in an alien world completely unknown – panic struck with such a force that I started to struggle and immediately signaled my instructor ‘thumbs up’, that is you need to go above. Once back to the surface he asked what the issue was. Trying to hide my fear I said “I think the weight belt is lose and may come off”. Argghh! Still feel awkward for making up such a stupid-sounding excuse!
Now I surrendered my life to Mr. Stranger and we went down again. And this time was no different. Blank with fear, I tried to breathe though my nose and realized my mask doesn’t allow me to do that. I tried to suck in as much as air I could in quick heavy breaths but that didn’t seem to fill my lungs. For few seconds thought this is it – my oxygen cylinder doesn’t work and am dying in here where I can’t even shout. Guess Mr. Stranger read my mind, came in front of me and gestured with his hands to take deep long breath. And that was the moment I realised how important every single breathe we take is…few long deep breaths and I felt it – the silence surrounding me was eerie, but beautiful. I could see the dim daylight way above, the world I was familiar to seemed far away now, and the world I was in felt surreal…a feeling which I believe can never be described in words…
I trusted my equipment and now was the turn to trust Mr. Stranger and my luck. As we slowly sank down, the visibility got better and slowly signs of life under water came in to view. The world beneath doesn’t feel like what you see in videos, to feel it you have to be there. Surrounded by school of fishes, dead and live corals; can’t even recollect all the life forms I came across. Time seemed to slow down as I wandered where ever Mr. Stranger directed me to. From time to time he would adjust the buoyancy and we would go further down.
All of a sudden, my ruddy fear decided to revisit and I looked upwards to see how deep I was- another mistake! I could not see the daylight and another panic attack! Now the below questions popped up in my mind one after another:
1.”What if Mr. Stranger gets lost??”
2. “What if Mr. Stranger has a heart attack!!”
3.”What if my cylinder runs out of oxygen and I can’t surface in time????”
4.”Why did they send only one person with me? Who’ll keep an eye on both of us??”
As I struggled with the thoughts my instructor touched my shoulder and signalled me to look towards my right. Already frightened, I expected to see a shark coming straight for me (yes, I know how stupid I sound right now!!!). And behold – I see another human in the alien planet! That too holding a camera and directing me to strike a pose! All seem to be in place now. The company of another of Homo sapiens boosted my confidence to a whole new level and the next moments were all about striking poses while making sure I don’t smile or open my mouth!
Underwater, your ears pop from time to time and water enters the goggles, but that can be managed without any difficulty. And yes, your throat dries up and feels slightly uncomfortable. We kept on gliding further below, saw a broken anchor half buried in the sand and I thought we must be pretty deep now. But moments later I could see the sunlight above and in next few seconds we had surfaced.
That is when it struck me that I had been underwater for almost an hour. Time does seem to slow down when you are submerged…serene beauty of the underwater world can only be felt, words fall short for a narration…and most of all – you learn to respect each breath you take.
Was still in awe when I reached the resort. After a relaxing shower it was time for lunch. My meal for the day till then had been a lone plate of Sambad Vada which I had had at 8 am itself. Remembering an advertisement of ‘Anju Coco Restaurant’ from the videos being played on the ferry, and since it was apparently nearby, I decided to go for it.
Review in short – May be you should avoid.
- Unprofessional staff with an attitude like that of Tony Stark! (I love Tony Stark!).
- Their mannerism towards you would depend on your appearance and their guess regarding your wallet size.
- Pushy staff forcing you to order in hurry.
- If you are not spending as per their expectations, it’s like “Finish your platter and be off.”
- There are plenty of options available on that route to try.
Anyways, what mattered was I was hungry no more. I jumped onto the scooter and headed towards Kalapathar beach, not more than 3 kms away. The drive was a splendid one with dense forests to your right side and the beach on your left. You’ll come across a number of spots where you can park and enter the beach (I hardly saw a person or two in the entire stretch).
Decided to keep going till the road let me. At a certain point the road actually ended (entry to a private estate). Few stalls offering snacks and drinks were present. A board read ‘Welcome To Kalapathar Beach’ and the routine instructions of Do’s and Don’ts.
Could see only 4-5 tourists and most of the area looked uncanny and mysterious. Exploring further I walked along the shore, the beach with fine white sand in front of me. I could see lots of rocks with numerous snails, crabs and tiny sea-creatures unknown to me scurrying away as I walked. Came across a strange sight with a few snails and crabs that seemed to be holding a kind of get together and didn’t even bother when I approached (check out their ‘group photo’ below!). The sheer solitude and serenity of the beach makes it a great place to relax.
I met two fishermen who were collecting their catch. Had a lively chat and went ahead for few more snaps of the place. It was almost 4.30 pm by the time I was riding back.
My body and mind were now yearning for some sleep but I had only that evening to catch a glimpse of the sunset from Radhanagar beach (I had read about it as a must see). So I zoomed past the resort gate and across the market place, heading towards Radhanagar Beach.
Once away from the market area (got a litre of petrol from a shop here), the road opens up to a lush green corridor. The concrete path is broken at many places, but the beauty of the greens on both sides makes up for it. At times you cross settlements consisting of few houses. On your right you can see the hilly terrains. I could the sun gradually hiding behind the hills and hoped I could reach the open beach soon. Once you enter the thick forest area, the road conditions deteriorate and it is advisable to drive with caution, especially for two-wheeler.
About 25 minutes later, I was at the entrance to the beach. Contrary to Kalapathar Beach, this area was crowded and had facilities like locker, shops, change rooms and food stalls. Although the beach was well maintained, the crowd did alter my calm state of mind.
Once at the seaside, it was clear to me why this is said to be amongst the most beautiful beaches of Asia – smooth soft white sand, moderate waves, clear water, tall trees lining up at one side and the never ending sea on the other. The sun had just set and the color of the sky was dreamlike, it’s reflection on the smooth wet sand gave the impression of a painting. I let my feet sink in the sand and stood there admiring the beauty.
As darkness engulfed the place, the guards blew their whistles and directed people away from the waters before the tide set in. Not yet content, I sat below the trees, spending another hour there.
Getting up to return, I realized that the people still around were mostly those who were staying at that place for the night. It had grown pitch dark and was a tense ride back because I had missed checking on the information if it was safe to ride through that area at night – thick foliage on both sides and not a single soul to see, not to forget the broken road. Finally I saw lights at a distance and sped up.
Freshening up at the resort, I walked up to the market to try some sea food. You’ll get plenty of options in these small humble food joints (with free Wifi!). I tried few with a plate of steamed rice and was glad I came here.
It was almost 9 pm as I started strolling back to the resort when loud music and cheering of crowd caught my attention. Retracting, was welcomed by a merry and dancing locals, loud music playing on big speakers mounted on a mini truck decorated with laser and disco lights. The second truck which followed carried idols of deities. It was a Visarjan procession – a practice in Hinduism where the deity is bidden farewell by immersion of the idol in water after the Puja ceremony (worship). Here, the idols had been taken around all the localities of the island for people to offer their prayers. It’s considered auspicious to travel with the Visarjan parade, and I joined the happy mass. There were children upon the truck, distributing prasadam. I was unable to move through the crowd and receive some. An elderly woman noticed me and offered a share of the prasadam she had.
So the happening day ended with divine blessings. Back at the resort and lying on the bed I thought ‘What a long and eventful day it was!”
Determined NOT to wake up early next morning I went for Scuba dreams this time.
How to go :
1) Government and Private ferries. Try to book in advance.
Where to stay :
Multiple options to stay from budget hotels to Luxury resorts.
Try to stick near the market place for easy access to food and other locations.
Getting around :
1) Booking a two wheeler if you are comfortable riding yourself. Apart from the broken road to Radhanagar beach, rides are awesome (INR 500/day).
2) Can go for cabs as well (available at the jetty area or your resort can provide).
3) Bicycles available as well!
Note : Make sure to book the cruise tickets to other islands well ahead. Your hotel can also help with the same.
Note for Scuba Enthusiasts :
- Get all your queries cleared before the dive, else you end up panicking like me! J
- Drop the idea even if you are having common cold, because when underwater, a little discomfort can cause nervousness and unwanted situation.
- Know your instructions well, don’t panic and just enjoy the experience!
In case you want to know more about the trip, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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