Andaman: Comprising around 500 islands – famed for their white sand beaches, mangroves, tropical rainforests and pristine water – Andaman and Nicobar Islands is famous the world over for being one of the most immaculate and mystical archipelagos.
Out of these islands, only 38 are permanently inhabited – 11 in the Andaman group and 13 in the Nicobars. Not all Islands are open for tourists considering the privacy and safety of the aboriginal tribal community. One of the seven Union Territories of India, Andaman Islands is home to the Sentinelese people, the indigenous community of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands.
Can you believe that these people are among the last ethnic groups to remain virtually untouched by modern civilization! Andaman is popularly known as Emerald Isles and is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in India. However, the tourist inflow has been comparatively low as the total trip cost is equivalent to travelling to one of the Southeast Asian countries like Thailand or Indonesia.
Travelling to the scenic Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a therapeutic effect on the mind, body and soul. Beyond the thrill of a getaway, it brings you closer to your inner self. A trip worth taking!
But you will know what you have been missing only when you visit the island nation which floats in splendid isolation in the Bay of Bengal. Last year, during mid-February, a group of 19 travel junkies, including me, marched to explore the Emerald Isles for eight days. Most of us travelled from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
Perched on my window seat, the excitement peaked as the flight began its descent to the Port Blair Airport. The aerial view of lush green coconut trees, beautiful bungalows and crystal green water was just breathtaking. Enthralled by the pristine beauty of this exotic island, I lost all sense of place and time. As luck would have it, my flight was delayed. But as we got out of the airport, our pick-up man was waiting for us holding a placard which said, ‘Welcome to the Andaman Islands’. It toasted a wide grin on my face. A warm reception indeed!
We checked in, freshened up and immediately scurried to visit the much-storied – Cellular Jail, which stands testimony to a history of struggle, domination and indomitable spirit of freedom. It is a must on any tourist’s itinerary. Known as ‘Kala Pani’ (Hindi for black waters), the jail was used by the British to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. The jail is built facing the historical headquarters of British – Ross Island. It was the most feared and formidable colonial prisons that ever existed. Since the island was cut off from the mainland, staging a prison break was near impossible.
The original puce-coloured brick building was a massive three-storied structure with seven wings diverging from a central watchtower comprising a large bell to raise an alarm. Radiating wings allowed a single guard to keep watch on all the prisoners from the central tower. The jail was designed in such a way that the inmates were not able to communicate with one another. The Sound and Light Show, which brought alive the saga of heroic freedom fighters, was an overwhelming experience in itself. The show includes a heart-rending narration by the late veteran actor Om Puri, telling the poignant story of prisoners who were tortured to death in the jail.
The experience leaves you with goosebumps. One will surely feel the visceral sensation of pain and suffering endured by our freedom fighters. It took us some six hours to finish the tour of the jail.
To reach Ross Island, you have to take a 15-minute ferry ride from the Water Sports Complex, Port Blair. It was a tad scary as the sea was rough that day. That’s the thing with Andaman weather, it is so unpredictable. The sea can change moods in the blink of an eye, like me!
Ross Island is known as the Saviour Island, as it took the hit during Tsunami, saving Port Blair from devastation. The island was the base for the British administration in Port Blair. It had everything – church, bazaar, water distillation plant and a printing press. The remnants of the buildings still linger like a ghoul.
Ross Island, also known as Ghost Town, is replete with stories of wandering spirits of dead soldiers, especially in bunkers. We spotted many deer, stags and peacocks. Usually, people visit Ross Island for 2-3 hours, but ideally, it should be a full-day trip.
North Bay Island
Scuba diving is one adventure activity a traveller can’t afford to miss. People usually do scuba at Havelock, but we planned to do it in North Bay Island. You can get a ferry to North Bay from the Water Sports Complex. The place offers water activities like scuba, snorkelling and sea walking. Thankfully, the weather was with us that day. I was scared out of my wits to do scuba. But the moment I tip-toed into the blue waters, my fear gradually gave way to wonderment. I was swimming among prismatic corals, shoals of fish and seabed gardens. The amazing marine world was captivating and quite a revelation.
We left Phoenix Bay Jetty, Port Blair, at 11 am on a two-hour ride to Neil Islands. An islet located 37 km away, Neil Island has four major beaches- Bharatpur, Laxmanpur, Sitapur and Ramnagar. All the beaches have been named after characters from the Indian epic ‘Ramayana’. If you want to run away from the rest of the world, Neil Island is the place to be. Vacation Village, a splendid luxury resort tucked away in the forest and a 15-minute drive from Neil Island Jetty was our home that night.
Located just half a kilometer from the Jetty, Bharatpur is considered to be the best beach in Neil Island. It offers a breathtaking view of underwater corals and marine life.
Hailed as the sunset point, the beach teems with tourists at dusk. The next morning we left for a three-day adventure on the Havelock Island.
Havelock is a picturesque natural paradise and one of the most populated islands of Andaman. This is the place where we stayed the longest during our entire trip. The major beaches are Elephant beach, Kalapather beach and Radha Nagar. We stayed at Aparupa Sands Marina Beach Resort, a beautiful property perched on the Govind Nagar beach.
It took us 20 minutes to reach Elephant beach from Havelock dock in a speedboat. You can also trek through the jungle and reach the beach in 40 minutes. The place offers water sports like diving, snorkelling, jet ski and my favourite – Banana Boat.
Radha Nagar Beach
It has been consistently rated as one of the best beaches in Asia over the years. The beach is nature’s best-kept secret. The turquoise blue water and the white sand make it a perfect spot to just sit and enjoy nature’s charm. The lush green trees along the beach offer an opportunity to unwind and relish the serenity. They say, Havelock is the Crown of Andaman, and Radha Nagar beach is the jewel on the crown.
My seafood crazy friends were thrilled to feast on lemon lobster, crab curry, golden prawns and what not. We visited the Kalapather beach in the evening. It gets its name from the surrounding village and the black rocks that adorn the coastline. Our vacation was coming to an end and it was time to head back to Port Blair.
From Havelock Jetty, we left for Port Blair aboard the Macruzz. In the evening, we went souvenir hunting to buy tokens of remembrance. I must mention the ‘golgappas’ competition four of my friends took. The winner downed a stunning 70. A crazy end to a surreal journey!
Eight days are not enough to cover the whole of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We missed some famous attractions like the Barren Island, the only active Volcano in India, Limestone Caves in Bartang and also didn’t get to see the Jarawas, tribes of the Andaman Islands. This calls for another trip back to the Emerald Isles.
PS: Your search for paradise ends here!
- Always keep tab of latest weather report from trusted sources
- Must carry a high SPF sunscreen and apply before stepping out in Andaman.
- Sun glasses, hat, pair of slippers, swimming costume should also be part of your packing list
- Don’t carry valuables to the beach
- Carry packed food items with you like biscuits, chocolates, milk powder etc.
- A first-aid kit is essential. Include a pill for sea sickness
- Do not enter the restricted area or tribal areas around the island
- Carry some cash with you especially when you are travelling to Havelock and Neil Islands
- Book ferry tickets in advance and stick to the time schedule or you could lose a whole day
- The internet connection is mostly patchy, so have a back-up Wi-Fi dongle
- Most beaches remain open till 5:30 PM only
- Best time to visit the Andaman Islands is between December and February
- Port Blair is the only airport in Andaman, connecting Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad
The author is a marketing professional based in Mumbai. While not working she is a committed traveller exploring new destinations and experiences