Asia is too damn big, it stretches across too many different regions and climates, and it would be impossible to do all the diving spots in Asia justice in one entry, so it’s getting three. The second two will cover Southeast Asia and East Asia, but for this one, we’re looking at the Southern regions, which is everything from the Himalayas downwards to the Indian Ocean.
India is a hugely popular location for diving, but the surrounding countries all have their own appeal, and a full tour of the South Asian region is one of the most unique, complete diving experiences anyone can have.
Barren Island – The Andaman Islands (India)
On the edge of the Bay of Bengal, almost encroaching on the marine borders of Myanmar lie India’s easternmost island territory – The Andaman Islands. For more than 50 years, the Indian government kept a tight, protective girdle around them, but now they allow very limited tourist access, which includes diving. There are a number of different dive sites around the smaller, off-shore islands, and Barren Island, South Asia’s only active volcano, plays host to the best of them.
The volcanic nutrients in the water have allowed a rich, colourful garden of coral to grow, supporting a wide range of marine life. Butterflyfish, bannerfish and surgeonfish all grave the reef, ever wary of the dogtooth tuna and banded sea snakes which are constantly on patrol. The stars of the show though are the mantas, which are some of the largest you’ll see anywhere in the world.
Charna Island – Pakistan
There aren’t many dive sites in Pakistan, its limited coastline is pretty much overwhelmed and overshadowed by India, which is easier to get to and has a far more active, practised tourist trade. Still, diving does exist there, and one site in particular has only come into its own in the past decade, owing in part to a tragic cataclysm. The tsunami which struck South Asia in 2005 claimed thousands of lives, but it also accelerated the growth of the reef system which surrounds Charna Island, turning it into one of the best diving spots in the Arabian Sea.
Supposedly, more than 60 different types of coral make up the reef, attracting the usual myriad of sea life. Dolphins frequent the reef, barracuda use it as a hunting ground and migratory whale sharks make pit stops there at the end of the summer, when they’re migrating. Other large fish like dorado, tuna, cobia, sting ray and black tipped reef sharks also hang around, as well as a number of different species of jellyfish.
The British Sergeant – Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan coastline is absolutely littered with wrecks, some of them as old as 200. Some are all but destroyed, others are more intact, some lurk in the darkest depths, others sit in the shallows. Many divers come to Sri Lanka to experience as many wrecks as they possibly can, but if you had to pick just one? For my money, it would be The British Sergeant. This merchant naval ship was built in 1922, and went missing during a Japanese bombing raid, it was only recently that it was confirmed to be this amazing wreck, sitting 24 metres beneath the waves of Sri Lanka’s east coast.
It’s some 122 metres long and about 17 metres wide, but in the 70 odd years that it’s sat beneath the water, it has remained more or less intact. The innards of it are accessible through a large cave opening, and from there it splits into two parts, one of which is riveted with bullet holes and detonation points. In terms of sea life, you’re likely to see a few rays and jellyfish, but the main thing is a huge shoal of blue striped snapper which ripples across the surface like a filmy, organic outer aura.
Minicoy Island – India
Located just west of the tip of India, Minicoy is a tiny little crescent island with a big lagoon on one side, and nearly all of the tourists that go there are divers. You can start from a relatively shallow depth, and as you head deeper in, you’ll find various coral formations poking out of the white sand, and, crucially, 3 wrecks. Only 8 metres down, these wrecks are all somewhere in the region of 200 years old, with the only known one being the S.S. Hoechst. It is thought that the sinking of these ships led to the construction of a lighthouse there in 1885. It still stands to this day.
Visibility is excellent, and the fish which frequent the area are somewhat larger than those you see elsewhere, as the wrecks increase the richness of the iron in the water. For this reason, you often see sharks in the area, as well as bull rays, turtles and barracuda. If you’re lucky, you might see a manta, but they’re uncommon in the area. The relatively shallow depth and good visibility also make this a prime spot for snorkelling.
Kuramathi – The Maldives
If you’re going to focus your South Asian diving trip anywhere in particular, it should be The Maldives. This scattered mass of islands and atolls plays host to an insane abundance of marine life, and I could populate a whole article with amazing dives sites there, but since I’m limited to one, it has to be Kuramathi. There are a few closely connect points to jump in, but by far the best one is Hammerhead Point.
As the name suggests, the site is teeming with hammerheads, some them as long as 4 metres, coming as high as 5 metres below the surface. This one of the only places in Asia you can see them in such huge numbers, and there’s an outside chance of seeing a great hammerhead, a much rarer variant which can be as big as 6 metres. Beyond this, the reef shelf is riddled with caverns to explore, playing host to black snapper, dolphinfish and tuna. You might even spot a sailfish on a good day.