Hidden getaways have always generated a sense of curiosity n excitement in me. White pristine beaches, serpentine roads cutting through dense evergreen forests, a land beaming with historical and anthropological significance. Well, such a fairytale showcase of ‘nature at it’s very best’ feeling, would make your mind, heart and soul get transported to exotic locales like the Carribean islands, Bora Bora, Hawai or any other island in the pacific or atlantic.
But hold your breath!!! You don’t need to fly over to the other corner of the planet to experience this poem of nature. All of the above magical references could easily be attributed to the heavenly Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The islands had placed a captivating spell on my conscience from the very beginning. Be it for the mystical tribes or for the rich flora and fauna, the glittering archipelago had always been attracting me with open arms.
And then in April, just before the gruelling summer starts making its scorching presence felt, the wait finally ended. April, by the way, is still not a perfect time to visit the Andamans (Oct-Feb being the perfect), but I still thought it would be a better step rather than prolonging the waiting period by another half year. We chalked out a 5 nights / 6 days itinerary covering all the major attractions of the Andaman islands. A visit to the Nicobar islands needs a permit from the Govt. Of India.
The magic started even before our flight landed at Port Blair in the morning. Minutes before landing, you could actually see cluster of islands of all shapes and sizes, scattered all along the sea. A beautiful and rare sight indeed, surly not to be missed!! The landing at Veer Savarkar airport is an experience in itself. I hadn’t come across an airport with a greener surrounding before. A lush evergreen forest on one side of the runway awaits you, giving a hint of what’s in store further in your trip.
There are 572 islands in the cluster, of which only 34 are permanently inhabited. The capital, Port Blair, is a small tropical town beaming with raw natural beauty and historical significance. Despite being a relatively smaller capital city, if compared to the other Indian mainland capital cities, it surely wouldn’t disappoint you in terms of the plethora of attractions it has to offer. The most important place in the city surely remains the Cellular Jail, the name with which most of we Indians associate the city. You would surely feel a chill in the spine the moment you stand face to face with the structure.
Deeply inscribed in the folklores of India’s freedom struggle, the erstwhile prison has numerous heart drenching stories to narrate. Our guide narrated the horrific atrocities our captured freedom fighters were made to suffer. A tree from the bygone era is still standing firm inside the premise , a testimony to the most trechorous of inhumane sufferings borne by the convicts. A sound and light show is held inside the premise in both hindi and English. Surely not to be missed.
Just a minute’s drive from the cellular jail would take you to another of Port Blair’s attraction, the Anthropological museum. There’s no better place to understand probably the most well known facet of the Andaman islands, it’s indigenous tribes. The museum illustrates the four Andaman tribes – Jarawas, Sentinels, Onges and Great Andamanese, and the two tribes of Nicobar – the Nicobarese and the Shompens.
The fisheries museum and the forest museum are other significant placed to deeply understand the the varied flora and fauna of the islands.
It had been a hectic day indeed. Reaching Port Blair from the Indian mailnland becomes a bit tiresome. So to laze off the evening, we enquired about that perfect beach. And the answer we got was Corbyn’s Cove. A serene place indeed, it even had facilities like a restaurant, bar and a changing room nearby. So if you guys are looking for a place to soak in the cool sea side breeze and watch the sun set on the emerald isle (with a chilled beer in grab!!!!), Corbyn’s Cove is that place where you should head towards.
“Get up or you’ll miss the ferry!!!” These words were more than enough for me to leave the bed in no time, showing an agility that would have even put Jackie Chan to shame. After all, the ferry in question was the one that was supposed to take me on the day tour of the three sister islands comprising of Ross island, North Bay Island and Viper island. The islands are at a shot distance from Port Blair, but the ferries run at a fixed time. Tickets are available at the port itself. The ferries are a lifeline for the locals here. People from the neighbouring islands use these ferries to travel to Port Blair. Their daily life is fully dependent upon this medium of transportation. The journey gave me an opportunity to experience how the locals go about their daily routines in this part of the world. Dropping the children at school, getting the daily portions of vegetables and other necessities from Port Blair. Really felt like a local Andamanese indeed.
Within 10 minutes, I had set foot on the first destination of the day, Ross Island. An intresting place indeed. This was the place which the Britishers had chosen as their capital, when they established a penal colony on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1858. A serene island, it has ruins scattered everywhere, reminding us of the beginnings of the Britishers control of the Andaman islands.
North bay island, another 15 minutes sail from Ross island, is a great place to see the coral reef. The authorities arrange a boat with a glass base , which makes it possible even for the non swimmers to watch the amazing coral reef at a close range.
The third place, Viper Island, is the place where the Britishers used to hang the convicts before the Cellular jail was built. Sher Ali, the man who killed Lord Mayo in 1872, was hanged here. ( A must visit place for all the Mayo College people indeed!!!)
It generally takes half the day to complete these three islands. I landed back at Port Blair in the afternoon. But had to grab a quick bite, as the ferry to my next destination was getting ready to take the guard. The destination I am talking about is probably the most beautiful and well known part of these island clusters. None of the Andaman tour packages that are available in the market today, seem to be complete without this gem of a place. Yes, You guessed it right!!!! I am indeed talking about Havelock Island. The ferry starts from the Port Blair harbour (also known as the Phoenix bay Jetty ) thrice a day at 0600, 1100 and 1400. Speed boats take 2.5 hrs and the the ferries 4 hrs. There is also a sea plane service (India’s only seaplane service).
Sitting on the deck and watching uninhabited islands pass by, the four hour journey was a pleasure indeed. Just gazing at these islands, I was visualizing my own Robinson Crusoe kind of a life. The imagination went from ship wreck, to making fire, to building my own house, running after an animal and what not ..The only area where my imagination could not work was deciding who would be my man Friday???
Putting the wild imaginations to rest, I finally put my foot on Havelock. My resort, Silver Sand, was around 20 minutes drive from the harbour, and even after doing all the check in formalities, there was still ample time left for the sunset. After strolling around the beautiful resort, which was set perfectly in sync with the tropical surroundings, we decided to kill the time doing what we like the most, a lazy walk on an isolated beach.
Vijaynagar beach, one of the best beaches i have ever come across, was just a two minutes walk from the resort. White sand, shallow and turquoise water, perfect for a swim and snorkelling.
I certainly do not fall in the category of early risers. But if throwing myself out of my cozy little space would culminate into experiencing the magical Havelock morning, i wouldn’t mind doing that on a daily basis!! Imagine waking up amidst a tropical paradise, with the sun fighting a battle to penetrate the zig zag of coconut trees just to plant a kiss on mother earth and the sound of the waves giving an everlasting background score that may even dampen a Mozart symphony…that’s Havelock for you.
And the most prized position of Havelock was our next destination, Radhanagar Beach. Voted as the ‘Best beach in Asia’ and the ‘Seventh best beach in the world’ by Time magazine in 2004, Radhanagar beach is truly Andaman’s pride.
The beach is perfectly suited for a swim in the warm tropical turquoise water or for a long walk on the soft white sand. Lush green vegetation on one side and the sparkling sea on the other, things can’t get any better than this. There’s something for every taste and preference here – be it the romantic soul or an adventure lover. In fact, Radhanagar beach has some of the best dive centres in India to boast of. Finding a spot under a shade and browsing through the pages of that favourite book of yours..Well, things won’t get any better than this. One of the most luxurious resorts in Havelock, ‘Barefoot at Havelock’ is located right next to the beach.
Sorrowful it was,indeed, bidding adieu to Havelock. I was really regretting for not staying another day to explore the magic of Havelock. But that would have meant re designing the remaining itinereary. Nobody was in a mood to do all the calculations and permutations, so the last ferry of the day was caught in the evening and the ride started again. Port Blair, here I come again..
Generally, the Andaman tour packages designed by the agencies include two destinations : Port blair and Havelock. Well, that is sad indeed. Getting a true feel of the archipelago won’t be possible until one ventures deep into the land and gets face to face with the local people and experience their culture and traditions.
A perfect place to get in sync with the Andamanese culture would surely be a drive to Baratang. The island is situated approximately 100 kms from port blair. There is an option to board a jetty from Port Blair. But if you ask me, a better and more adventurous way to reach the destination would be to take the road from Port Blair to Baratang. The road passes through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, also known as the Andaman Trunk Road. This stretch of approximately 50 kms is where you can spot the aboriginal tribals, the ‘Jarawas’. However, you are not supposed to interact or give food to them. Even clicking their photographs is strictly prohibited and is a punishable offence. For safety measures, security personnel accompany the passengers while crossing the reserve. It’s entirely your luck whether you spot the Jarawas or not. About my experience?? Well, God did not want to disappoint me that day………
I started early that day. Baratang has lots more to offer apart from the Jarawa reserve. But it’s advisable to return to Port Blair by evening as the place doesn’t boast of much quality accommodation. On the way to the reserve, one passes by many ‘Spice farms’. You can walk around the plantations of spices like black pepper, cardamom, Cinnamons, clove etc. An experience in itself.
Baratang boasts of the only mud volcano in india. The volcano is active with the most recent eruption taking place in 2005. Nearby is Barren island, which is the only active volcano in South Asia.
The limestone caves are another star attractions of Baratang. Apart from the cave itself, what blew up my mind was the journey to the cave. Boarding the speed boat itself gave us a chill in the spine, but we had no idea what was in store for us ahead. It’s a 45 minutes journey and in the later half, you zig zag through the beautiful mangrove forests. It’s a different world altogether when you find yourself inside the canopy of mangroves moving ahead in search of the destination.
And alas! Then came the last day on these emerald isles. There was a bit of tiredness due to the excursion of Baratang the previous day, but the feeling of having just a day left to capture the beauty of the islands charged me to the limit. The Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, located around 30kms from Port Blair was the first stop for the day. It’s a group of around 15 paradise islands perfectly suited for snorkelling, the most well known being Jolly buoy and Red skin island. The beautiful Wandoor beach is situated at the marine park.
An entire day could be easily spent on exploring the islands of the marine park, but that would have meant sacrificing the gorgeous bird’s eyes views of the islands from Mt. Harriet. It is the highest point of Andaman and Nicobar. The views are stunning indeed, and the various view points made in different directions make the experience more memorable. The entire return journey of Mt Harriet from Port Blair would not take more than 2-3 hrs.
Not many people know that the scenery printed on Rs 20 note is that of the North Bay island, what it looks like from a point on the ascend to Mt Harriet.
Chidiyatapu, another famous attraraction of Andaman proved to be my final excursion of the trip. Got the timing perfectly right, as I reached the place in the evening and hence was able to witness the famous sunset from Chidiatapu. Mesmerizing indeed. The place is also famous for bird watching as varities of birds visit the place. Its located 30 kms from Port Blair.
Bidding adieu to the Andamans proved painful indeed. But when I took into account the memorable experiences that I gained here, deep inside I realized that what I am taking away from here will always remain embedded in me , and will cheer me up in the times of despair.
Andaman islands…..Our next rendezvous is surely due!!!!!!!!!