by Nick Lucey
Known for big populations, Bollywood, business outsourcing and a fanatical cricket following, India is quickly gaining a reputation for diving. While a trip to the world's second most populous nation isn't complete without a hajj to the Taj Mahal, dive opportunities abound along India's 8000-kilometres/5000-mile coastline–especially if you want to learn to dive with PADI while you're there. Head underwater and you'll find a country just as diverse and intriguing as its topside culture.
HOT DIVE SITES
Goa – the smallest and richest state in India–has long been a popular tourist destination, but scuba diving is also an increasing draw. Diving off Goa offers some of the easiest access to the Arabian Sea along the Indian mainland and offers lush coral gardens, pinnacles, and a variety of shipwrecks.
Find a Dive Center or Resort in Goa
Lakshadweep is a remote archipelago starting 200 kilometres/125 miles off India's southwestern coast just above the Maldives. As you can imagine, you'll see a lot of the same lush reefs, overhangs, swim-throughs and big fish action as the Maldives. The only catch? It's currently closed to diving. Check with the local PADI Dive Centers as they're hoping to open it up again soon.
Find a Dive Center or Resort in Lakshadweep
Just across the eponymous sea from Thailand is the Andaman archipelago, which boasts some of India's best diving. Huge schools of fish, lush coral reefs and pristine conditions make this a must-dive destination. One note for savvy travelers: Although it's part of India, you'll need to show your passport and complete paperwork on arrival. Plus, the time you can spend here might differ from that on your original visa for India.
Find a Dive Center or Resort in the Andaman Islands
And old French colony, now Union Territory of India, Pondicherry offers a truly international holiday experience. The Eastern Coast of India is rapidly becoming famous for it's pristine, untouched and largely unexplored reefs and occasional wrecks. Schools of barracudas and batfish, many moreys, large groupers, rays, nudibranchs, angelfish and more rule here. Access is best from Chennai by car or bus, 2.5 hours, or Bangalore, 6 hours.
Find a Dive Center or Resort in Pondecherry
Depth: Varies by destination and dive site, with shallow sun-drenched coral gardens and deep blue drop-offs.
Visibility: The outlying islands of Lakshadweep and Andaman archipelago typically have the best visibility. Water clarity ranges from 6 to 40 metres/20 to 130 feet in the Andamans, and 18 to 45 metres/60 to 150 feet off Lakshadweep isn't uncommon. Off Goa, expect visibility ranging from 5-11 metres/15 to 35 feet. Pondicherry dives sites offer Visibility from 5-20metres/15-70 feet.
Currents: Off the Andamans and Lakshadweep, currents range from nonexistent to strong, depending on the site and tides. Goa is generally milder. Currents in the Pondicherry region vary from non-existent to strong.
Water Temperature: Water temperatures average 28° C/ 82° F off the Andaman Islands and Goa, and about 27° C/ 80° F in Lakshadweep's main dive areas. Pondicherry water temps range is 26-30 Degrees C/78-84 Degrees F.
Dive Season: The peak season in the Andamans runs from November through April with February and March prime dive season; monsoons frequently shut down diving here in June and July. Diving Goa is perhaps best October through May. May through November is ideal for diving Lakshadweep. Pondicherry’s Peak Dive Season is Jan- May & Sept – Nov while tourist season is Dec-April & July-Sept.
Weather: All of southern India is within the tropics, so generally it's hot year-round.
Access: More than likely, you'll arrive in Mumbai, Chennai or Delhi via major air carrier, then connect domestically with your final destination in India.
Skill Level: The wide variety of dive experiences in India means there is something for all skill levels.
Scuba Gear: Many dive centers in India hire gear, but it's always nice to bring your own.
Length of Stay: This is a large country and there's a lot to see so you'll want to stay at least a week. Plan on more if you want to see some of the cultural icons like the Taj Mahal.
Featured Creatures: You'll find the typical reef denizens, as well as mantas, groupers, turtles and dugongs in the shallows. In Lakshadweep, you can also find manta cleaning stations, along with whitetip reef, grey reef and guitar sharks.
Language: Hindi is the major language and there are 21 other official dialects. English is, however, widely spoken.
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR).
Tipping: Tipping is uncommon, except in upscale restaurants, where 10 percent is the norm.
Transportation: India is the world's seventh largest nation by area and the roads are frequently poor, so air travel is preferred. All the major tourist areas are accessible by air.
Major Airports: India's major ports of entry include Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai (BOM), Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi (DEL), Bengaluru International Airport in Bengaluru (BLR), Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad (HYD) and Chennai International Airport in Chennai (MAA).
Religion: India is more than 80 percent Hindu, but other religious groups include Muslims, Christians and Sikh.
Electricity: 230V/50Hz with plug types C or D (European/Old British-style).
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Citizens of most countries require a visa to enter India. Citizens of Cambodia, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam are eligible for a Tourist Visa on Arrival. An exit fee may be charged on departure and may be included in the cost of the airline ticket.
Want to know more? Visit www.scubaearth.com for further information on thousands of dive sites, marine species, destination essentials and more.
Nick Lucey was an editor at Scuba Diving Magazine for 15 years and now hosts a dive travel television show called Into the Drink.