A deep blue sea in the shadow of a smouldering volcano awaits the adventure seeker this holiday season.
Barren Island, the only live volcano in India, is now a scuba diving and snorkelling destination with a private tour operator offering a yacht ride from Port Blair to the exotic island for a four-night trip.
Dum Dum resident Kaustav Ghosh still rues not being allowed to visit Barren Island while honeymooning in the Andamans last December.
“One of the places I really wanted to visit was Barren Island. But I was told at the government-run ferry office that commercial vessels don’t go to Barren and it would be impossible to visit without acquiring a permit much in advance. The distance from Port Blair was another deterrent. I had to remain content with pictures of the erupting volcano taken by the navy and put on display at the Samudrika Marine Museum in Port Blair!” he said.
The volcano on Barren Island, where the first eruptions were recorded in 1787, is still active, say officials. A major eruption was recorded in 2005 and there have been several since, including in 2010, 2011 and one last May.
“Almost everything underwater is covered in a thick layer of black sand, creating an unusual marinescape with solidified lava flow. The sand is black, unlike the typical white sand in other parts of the sea,” said an official of the tourism department of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
According to officials, more than 100 yachts carrying foreigners come to Barren Island every year. Most of these are from Thailand, which is close by.
There was no such trip from the Andamans until recently. “We have already done two trips to Barren and four more are planned between January and April 2014,” said Sunil Bakshi, CEO and owner of the Mumbai-based Karina Tourism & Adventures that operates the yacht Infiniti Liveaboard.
The service started in April this year.
The yacht takes a minimum of 12 passengers — they must be trained in scuba diving — near the island on an overnight journey and anchors for four nights.
Bakshi said those not trained in recognised institutes are required to undergo four days’ training before being taken to Barren Island.
“Since Barren Island is in the open sea, we plan the trip when the weather is fair. Also, there should be a minimum of 12 passengers for each trip to be feasible,” he said.
A scuba-diving guide who has been to Barren Island described the experience as a unique one.
“The sea bed is black because of the lava. Since lava is heavier than sand, it is not stirred often and so visibility is better. There are columns with 90-degree edges,” Denzil Linhares said.
The corals are mostly bright yellow and yellowish red, different from the usual predominance of blue and green.
Officials said the new Barren Island option would boost tourism in the Andamans. The island is almost inaccessible for individual tourists as there is no government or private ferry service.
During the last volcanic eruption, the island administration had arranged for a ferry service for a month to take tourists and locals there to enjoy the sight. The service was stopped after a month when the volcano became dormant.
Forest department officials said landing was not allowed on the island without special permission. Only navy and coast guards are authorised to set foot on the island.
Permits are required even for those going scuba diving near the island.