The Andaman and Nicobar islands, one of the seven union territories of India are a group of about 500+ islands surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. These 500 islands comprise of bigger islands as well as rocky structures in the ocean, so that sea travelers are made aware of the land/rocks nearby. By origin, Andaman island was called Hanuman and when Britishers arrived, the word was lost in phonetics to become Handuman and eventually Andaman. Andaman Islands were majorly under the British rule and after regaining them from Japanese post World War II, were handed over to free India. Nicobar again was a phonetic migration of the original name of Nakkavaram (Land of Naked). Nicobar islands were sought after by Danish and Austrians.
Day-1: Port Blair
Andamans from Air
While flying into Port Blair, we got a nice opportunity to take some aerial photos. The experience was quite surreal when compared with pollution filled skies of Mumbai.
We arrived at Port Blair around noon and our tour guides Shiva/Ram took us to visit Cellular Jail, also known as Kala Paani (Kal meaing time of Death & paani means water). Town of Port Blair has a historic significance as this infamous jail housed some of the great freedom fighters of India like Batukeshwar Dutt and Veer Savarkar. Back then, the thought of crossing the sea was like a point of no return. The British took advantage of this and constructed the cellular jail. The building was constructed with a central watchtower with 7 walls and each wall was jail wing which housed 698 prisoners. Any prisoner sentenced with Saja eh kale paani was sent to this prison. Today only 3 of its wings are left and is now a marked as a national heritage. We walked around the halls, the cell of Veer Savarkar and the watch tower just in time before it closed for the day.
From there, our tour guide suggested visiting the Corbin Cove Beach and we merrily agreed. Although it was only 5 pm, it seemed as if it was very late night, which reminded us of the winters in New York. We took a stroll on the beach and Nikhil spotted pieces of dead corals. The patterns on these were very beautiful, and we spent an hour or so looking and photographing these corals. We had fresh coconut water along the beach and then headed back to Cellular jail for the Light and Sound show.
Light and Sound show
The light and sound show depicts a beautiful recap of the history in a nutshell, as if it were the biography of the trees and walls that witnessed all these events in history. Unfortunately, the show was interrupted by rain showers and we had no umbrella.
We accomplished lot more than expected which allowed us to add more sightseeing attractions to the itinerary.
Day-2: Chidiyatapu village, followed by Ferry to Havelock
Day 2 started early as we wanted to see the sunrise at Munda Pahar beach located in the village of Chidiyatapu. The beach is about 25 km from Port Blair and is accessible by road. It's a small serene beach with clear waters and dead corals lying here and there. We chose to come here as opposed to Wandoor beach as this beach is quiet and lesser known to tourists. The beach also has a small biological park, where trees species have been named and fallen trees have been converted into benches. Just on the beach is a fallen dead tree which is perfect spot for photography. Sitting here one can just gaze into the azure ocean. Also next to the tree is small section where tourists can swim. We spent about 2 hours here and then had a quick lunch, before boarding the Makcruz ferry to Havelock.
Stroll on Havelock Beach
As it was quite late in the evening by the time we reached Havelock, we decided to call it a day. We had a nice dinner at the resort itself with fresh catch of the day (fish, crabs) prepared in local curries. Post dinner we took a stroll at the nearby beach and saw a beautiful night sky with plentiful stars in the dark sky. Nikhil got a nice chance to do some night photography. There was time when I was able to view the stars from my balcony in Mumbai, but that's not true anymore due to extensive light and air pollution.
Day-3: Snorkelling at Turtle Beach, Sunset at Radhanagar
One of the star attractions of Havelock is its coral reefs and hence snorkeling and scuba diving are a must. We have done snorkeling twice before in Hawaii and Florida keys, so we were very excited about this. However, for my in laws this was their first time but as usual they were very excited about taking on this adventure sport. We had booked our tour with Barefoot Scuba and reached their diving center at 7.30 am. Our tour guide Akhtar was very friendly and informed us that we were the only members signed up! This was definitely great news. He also mentioned that weather was clearing up which was another good sign. We completed the documentation formalities, had our packed breakfast and were all set to go. From the beach we boarded as small boat which took us to our Charter. It would a 1 hour journey to Aquarium, which was our first snorkel site. As we started our journey, it was a sunny day with sun rays dancing on the water. The foray of colors was just too good to take our eyes off. Soon we reached the site and our guide asked me and my husband to drop in to the water. Nikhil was sort of comfortable and I was scared as the waters were too choppy. So we all agreed to move to another site - Turtle beach. As we approached the snorkel site, we saw that the water was very calm and quiet, perfect for snorkeling and at a distance we saw a small, white sand beach with no tourists and on the left of it there was Elephant beach which was totally touristy. Our guide explained that both beaches have similar reef, but elephant beach was over crowded all the time. We had a small session on how to use the snorkel gear and then we went into the water one by one. It took me 10-15 minutes to get adjusted in the water. Holding on to the floating ring we were navigated to the reef where Akhtar took us around the reef. there were plenty of fishes and clams and also spotted a sea cucumber and sea urchin. Soon it started getting cloudy so we were advised to head back to the boat. Weather in Andaman is very dynamic and it rains almost anytime. So we had to wait until the downpour stopped, meanwhile we had some snacks and rejuvenated. Lucky for us the weather cleared up and the reef lit up in the bright sunshine. So this time we went into the water for snorkeling and plan was to swim out all way to the beach. Everyone was now enjoying the sport and I gained confidence which is when I went with Nikhil independently to explore the reef. The crew in the meanwhile transported our lunch on the beach. After abundant of snorkeling we decided to head to the beach for lunch. Our lunch comprised of rice, vegetable/chicken gravy with salad. It was tasty meal. Post lunch we took a stroll on the pristine beach that displayed all possible shades & hues of blue and green. We also spotted lots of shells scurrying around. These walking shells were hermit crabs. It was time for our last session of snorkeling and we had 20 mins for that. Our guide took us into the water and we explored the reef once more before it started to rain again. We made it to the boat just in time before the downpour and reached the Havelock Resort by 2 pm.
At 3 pm, we left for Radhanagar beach for sunset. Radhanagar beach was ranked as world's seventh best by Times Magazine. This white sand beach is wide and spread across 7 km with lush green trees end to end. Its one of the must see attractions in Andaman. It's very serene and clean. There is police presence to ensure there is no littering. After sunset, high tide kicks in and hence the beach is not safe there after.
In summary, the snorkeling trip followed by pristine Radhanagar was very satisfying and we were glad that that weather was good. This experience is now permanently registered in our brains and will surely serve as means to calm down and relieve stress.
Day-4: Havelock/Neil Islands
The night before there were heavy rains and hence we were little skeptical about seeing the sunrise from Kalapathar beach. However we deferred our decision to the morning and then dozed off. We got up around 5 am to get ready to go to the beach, but it was still raining. Our driver recommended that we still go ahead with the plan as the weather system is fickle and rains at one location would not necessarily means it's raining at another location. So we took off to the beach and true to the word there were no rains. It was almost dawn and with increasing sunlight we realized why the beach got its name. Beach is draped in hard and porous black rocks. Pores are result of salt water hitting the rocks and slowly eroding them. These rocks have very sharp edges and so we had to be extremely careful to not hurt ourselves.
As the sun rose, a nice orange sky lit spreading its effect across the ocean, serene and untouched. The beach also had various small stalls that were unfortunately not open for the day selling coconuts, tea and snacks.
Elephant Beach, Havelock
After an awesome day at turtle beach, we were very excited to tour the elephant beach. Our guide handed over the ferry tickets and it took about an hour to reach the Elephant beach. Once we reached the beach, we realized that this was massively touristy beach and very overcrowded. We rented a locker and then went out on the beach. The guide took one tourist at a time over to the reef. We did see bunch of fishes but it was nothing great at compared to Turtle beach experience. But for anyone who has not done snorkeling before, this would be a good opportunity. We spent some time on the beach and then head out to catch the Ferry to Neil Island.
Natural Bridge, Neil Island
Neil island is one of the most beautiful islands and is not as busy as Havelock. Its known for its pristine and less crowded, white sand beaches. We reached Neil Island around 4 pm and our guide Ratandas advised to visit the attractions before checking in at the hotel. Our first stop was Natural bridge, which is small walk on the rocky beach. During high tide the beach is under water and hence this place can be visited only during low tide. Here also we saw tourist flocking everywhere. From here we went to Laxmanpur beach for the sunset.
Laxmanpur Beach, Neil Island
Laxmanpur beach is a clear water, pristine white sandy beach. Water is so clear that we were easily able to spot the coral that lied beneath. These corals that are freely lying around the beach have very delicate and intricate structure. Beach hosts lot of local food and jewelry stalls. While resting on the beach by the water, and watched the sunset, while feasting on some Onion Pakoras and fresh coconut water.
Day-5: Neil Island
Sitapur Beach, Neil Island
Good for us, that we were staying right next to Sitapur beach which is known for its Sunrise. We head out to the beach at 5 am. It was pleasant and not crowded, and felt like the sun was rising only for us. The sunrise was truly serene. After breakfast, we headed out to the more famous Bharatpur beach.
Bharatpur Beach, Neil Island
Beach is situated right next to the jetty and is well known for its coral reef and water sports. It also has lot of huge green trees that provide ample shade and the light breeze made us so comfortable that we almost did not want to leave. We spent some time contemplating on whether or not to do scuba diving. I skipped as I was getting a slight headache, however Nikhil was very determined to try out. So while Nikhil set out to go scuba diving, rest of us spent some time doing jet ski and glass bottom tours, in addition to some shopping. After hearing Nikhil's scuba experience, I was felt little sad that I was not able to join him. But this is now on my to do list, to be done sometime soon! We finished our lunch in a hurry and boarded the 2 hour ferry to Port Blair.
Today was going to be a very hectic and tiring day as we left at 3 am in the morning for Baratang island located in the north and middle Andaman. Island is under the administration of the forest department as it home to one of the primitive Jarawa tribes. Andaman is home to 6 native tribes - Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge, Shompen, Sentineli and Mongolian. 3/6 tribes have been civilized, 2/3 are being worked with. Sentinial tribe is very hostile. Some of these tribes who have accepted the help and support from Indian Government have prospered and many of them are serving as doctors, nurses and technicians but however continue to follow the tribal hierarchy of Kingship and captains. The population of the Great Anadamanese have now declined and only about 50 or so are left, and are strictly under protection. The Jarawa tribe is also greatly protected and the forest department looks after their medical needs and other support that they may need. We left at 3.30 am and reached the forest check post by 4.30 am. There were about 50 more cars ahead of us. The route to Baratnag goes through the Jarawa forest reserve which is home to the Jarawa tribe. Route is opened at four specific times starting at 6 am for convoys. Its a strictly no photo no video area for protection of the tribes. If the convoy is missed then tourist need to stay over. In each convoy there are 1-2 to officers that travel to ensure safety of the tourist and tribes. At the checkout there were some roadside stalls that offered South Indian food like idli, wada, dosa (Crepe) and tea/coffee. We had breakfast here and set out on the 6 am convoy. At a turn, we saw a group of tribal children who uttered aage jao (go ahead) in Hindi, which surprised us. Our guide informed that the children are friendly with the forest officials and this is how they learnt Hindi and now the reserve as bridge between tribe and us civilized humans. The Jarawa reserve is beautiful forest with lush green, tall trees and short shrubs along the roadside. Its good that that no video/photo is allowed, which gave a chance to sink in the beauty of the forest. After reaching Baratang, we took a small ferry through the lush green mangrove forest, followed by a small hike to Limestone caves.
The caves are small but have some nice formations. We had a small snack in form of spicy cucumbers and lemon juice.
Once back the jetty, we head out to have home style cooked lunch. The food indeed was very tasty. However, we were running behind schedule by 5 mins and wanted to take the 12.30 pm convoy. So as soon as the ferry banked at the jetty, our guide ran to the car and we took off behind him, lucky for us second batch was getting released. Our guide said that since this was the second batch, there was a high priority of seeing the tribes. Soon we saw a group of young men and children sitting frolicking on the roadside with red bands on their forehead. Another good thing, there was a load vehicle leading the convoy, so the speed was relatively slower. We passed a lorry that was standing by the roadside and upon a closer look I spotted that the woman and children had red bands on the forehead, which was astonishing and quite surprising. These were Jarawa women. Our guide mentioned that sometimes tribal ask the heavy vehicle to drop them off at certain points and no resistance is shown by the drivers as they fear the tribal people. We reached Port Blair by 3 pm and decided to visit the Kalapaani museum which was opened a month back.
This museum has very good collection of history and documents related to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The curator has been collecting the information for about 20 years and is very knowledgeable.
Later, we did some souvenir shopping at Sagorika Govt store before heading back to Hotel Megapode in Port Blair.
Day-7: Port Blair
Chatham Saw Mill
Even after 6 days of awesome fun, we still wanted to do more. We had an evening flight so we had some time at hand to visit another well known attraction in Port Blair - Chattam Saw Mill.
Chattam Saw Mill is said to be one of the landmarks of historical importance, and is one of the largest and oldest saw mills since the 1800's.The mill provides jobs for locals and is source of all processing for industrial timber. The mill is organized into sections and log depot accumulates and sorts the timber based on size and other criteria. Each log then goes through a huge saw where round logs are cut into different sizes. The preservation and treatment depends on the type of wood. The government of India has made arrangements to allow tourists to take a guided tour of the saw mill, where the guide gives an overview and history of the working of the saw mill.
The surroundings of the mill, also houses a Bomb Pit a remnant from darker days of the World War II, when the mill became victim to the British bombs. Also there are real life displays of elephant, crocodiles made out of wood and a display of pillar of the planet to commemorate 125 years of forestry.
The Department of environment and forests has established a museum that exhibits beautiful and historical artifacts. It also portrays exquisite wood work by local craftsman. One such masterpiece that caught our attention was wooden chain which we later found out that it was made out of single log of wood. One of the specialties about this mill is, that the mill process the wood for Paduk tree. The Paduk wood never gets destroyed by termites or does not get decayed. Also the wood of this tree is not allowed to be shipped outside of the Andamans, due to which Govt of India has setup special shop within the sawmill compound that sells artifacts made from Paduk wood. We did do some good shopping here, although it was not on the plans. Shopping in local markets is a means to help the local artisans.
Samudrika - Naval Museum
The Naval Marine museum - Samudrika located in Port Blair is another well known tourist attraction in the Andamans. This museum is managed by the Indian Navy and offers foray of information on the islands history, culture, flora and fauna, tribal communities and its vast marine life. Since we were short on time, we focused more on the galleries for corals and shells. Corals are native to this island and some of these are a delight to one's eyes with its size, texture and colors.
One of the galleries also houses the shell of family of sea turtles. The information placard tells a sad story of this family which touches your heart. Another gallery houses the bi-valves of a white clams.
At the entrance to the museum, there is a display of the skeleton of blue whale that washed ashore on the islands.
Journey to Andamans was truly a breathtaking experience. The beaches with azure waters, the washed away corals, sinking into the sand beaches, swimming with the fish be it snorkeling or even better scuba diving, sweet and refreshing local coconut water, getting close and watching the tribals, the rural life is all so different yet interesting from our day to day lives in the city. We enjoyed every single day of our stay and yet it was not enough. Only one thing I regret is not being able to scuba divining but I guess there has to be some motivation left, to come back again for another relaxing and chilled out vacation!