Two passionate divers pioneer the concept of a diving live-aboard in India
For many years, Vismaya Firodia Bakshi and Sunil Bakshi lived the jet-setting life of successful middle class professionals – with engineering degrees from American universities, Vismaya worked as a management consultant in New York while Sunil ran a boutique engineering consultancy with clients in India and the Middle East. In the midst of their busy schedules, they always managed to create time to go diving in India and abroad – after all, they are amongst India’s first divers, with nearly 15 years of diving under their belt.
Their extensive travel made them realize that while India had some fantastic diving locations, many of these were not accessible to enthusiasts and were lacking facilities found at international diving hot spots. They decided to address this anomaly by pioneering the diving live-abroad concept in India.
Vismaya, Thanks for chatting with My Big Red Bag. How did the idea of LiveAboard germinate? How long has LiveAboard been operational?
India has several uncharted spots to offer in terms of diving – such as the Andaman Islands, Lakshadweep Islands, Gulf of Mannar (Rameshwaram) between India & Sri Lanka and Angria Banks off Goa. Many of these places are tiny uninhabited islands, submerged reefs or small volcanoes in the open sea. Being remote, diving in such spots is feasible only via a live-aboard ship.
As passionate divers, we wanted to place India on the world’s diving map, which is why we decided to introduce the concept of a diving live-aboard for enthusiasts in India. We are extremely proud of the Infiniti Live-Abroad in the Andaman Islands, as it is India’s first-ever scuba diving live-aboard.
We spent close to 18 months building the ship at a shipyard in Thailand and then sailed it to India. My husband Sunil’s engineering background came very handy during the commissioning and custom assembling of the Infiniti.
We’ve been doing dive trips in the Andaman Islands since April 2013, so we just completed our first year of operations!
Which islands in the Andamans does Infiniti LiveAboard cover? What is the best season for diving?
The Infiniti sails all over the Andaman Islands, going to remote islands such as Barren Island, Narcondam Island, Little Andaman & Sisters Islands – this is where diving is the best and these places cannot be reached without a live-aboard. By reaching these previously inaccessible sites, we have taken diving in India to an entirely new level. In our first year itself, we attracted and hosted travelers and diving enthusiasts from all over the world.
The best time for diving in India is from October to May.
What does a typical day on-board Live Aboard look like for divers? And how about non divers?
A typical day for divers will have 3- 4 dives during the day, usually at 7am, 10 am, 1 and 4 pm. A dive lasts for an hour or so. The rest of the time is for relaxation – to eat, drink, sunbathe and simply put your feet up! We have a full crew onboard, including a chef who serves freshly prepared delicious and nutritious meals. So the day is full of amazing journeys to the best diving places, discovering the fantastic underwater world in these spots and being spoilt by the facilities on-board.
Non divers can swim, snorkel, watch movies, read, play games, sunbathe and eat. They can also admire the beautifully remote islands which can only be visited on a live-abroad, and soak in the turquoise sea, the pure air and the clear sky! We sometimes also have a masseuse or yoga instructor onboard.
Do you primarily get divers onboard?
We mainly get divers, though some non-divers will come along as companions or friends of divers. We also have a surf trip coming up soon, which will have surfers visiting from all over the world.
Do you get many solo travellers? How safe is the trip for female solo travellers?
We get many solo travellers who often end up making friends with other like-minded divers. The trip is completely safe for solo female travellers – at any point in time we have at least 2-3 solo women travellers and we make sure we recruit and maintain women staff onboard.
Actually as a matter of principle we have decided to be a woman-friendly business – partly because I am a woman diver myself, and partly because it’s just the right thing to do. Women should be encouraged to dive and travel and explore!
You don’t need to know how to swim if you want to snorkel. Diving also does not require swimming, but to be a certified diver you are required to have certain water skills and that also includes some knowledge of swimming.
What is the typical duration and cost of a package? Can someone travelling to the Andamans spend just 1 or 2 days on a ship, or even visit for a few hours?
We do packages that vary from 4 nights to 7 nights. and the cost ranges between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1,50,000 per person, depending upon the itinerary and duration. The packages include onboard stay, all meals, snacks, diving, intra island travel, airport transfers, barbecue etc.
Usually you can’t visit for a couple of days only as the itinerary is fixed, but you can charter the ship for a group of 12 people or more, in which case we are happy to customize the itinerary as per your requirements!
As an avid diver, which are your favourite diving spots in the world?
1. Belize in Central America – the second largest reef in the world with abundant marine life and attractions such as the Blue Hole
2. Great Barrier Reef in Australia
3. Galapagos Islands – for Hammerhead sharks
What is your recommended itinerary for the Andamans?
The Andaman Islands are one of the last places in the world with a minimum human footprint. To the intrepid traveler, they offer a fascinating ecological history, pristine beaches, uninhabited islands, indigenous tribes, exceptional wonders such as swimming elephants volcanoes and matchless underwater diving amidst lush coral gardens, with Manta Rays, Dugongs and other amazing creatures of the water world for company! Tourism on the islands is currently restricted to Havelock & Neil Islands, which have some good resorts and dive shops. But with several new resorts slated to open over the next few years, we expect the islands to get a huge push in tourism. No wonder the Andamans are loved by divers, backpackers and honeymooners alike !
Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Dive in the waters surrounding Barren Island, the only active volcano in South Asia. The diving here has 30m+ visibility, coral paradises, manta rays and more. Take a live-aboard trip on the Infiniti for this.
2. Surf at Little Andaman
3. Relax at Havelock or Neil – pretty islands with divine beaches
4. Visit the ANET (Andaman & Nicobar Environment team) center at Wandoor where some scientists are doing groundbreaking research and education
5. Catch the sunset at Chidiya tapu
6. Visit the colonial ruins, roaming deer and peacocks at Ross Island
7. Enjoy a meal at the Fortune Bay Resort in Port Blair as you soak in the breathtaking views, and go on the scenic drive along the Bay of Bengal to Corby’s Cove
What is the one thing you love about the Andamans, and one thing that you don’t like at all? What is your advice for responsible travel in the Andamans?
I love the Andaman Islands for their natural and pristine beauty – I imagine they are just as God made them billions of years ago. The absence of commercial fishing or excessive tourism is an absolute blessing, and for the sake of the islands, I sincerely hope it stays this way. There is nothing to dislike about the islands, but I do hope to see an improvement in tourist infrastructure. I think this will happen over the next 2-3 years as several hotels and resorts are currently under construction
My ardent advice for responsible travel is to eave the tribes alone! Visitors are extremely curious about the indigenous tribes – some of these tribes go back to the stone age so you can almost say they are the First Men & Women. But what we fail to realize is the delicate lifestyle and immunity of the tribals – vastly different from ours – because of which close proximity to us outsiders can jeopardize their health and safety
Which is your favourite holiday spot in India, and outside India?
In India, I love the little hill-station of Mahabaleshwar with its red earth, breathtaking valley views, strawberry plantations, relaxed boating and exhilarating horse riding. To me the place is like a tiny slice of paradise. Outside India, there are many favorites, with the top three being Kyoto in Japan, Rome in Italy and New York which is like home to me.
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