The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the southern most part of India and are an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. This beautiful paradise is widely known for its white sand beaches and coral reefs which are ideal for snorkelling and diving. The islands are also among the few places in the world where indigenous tribes still live with minimum or no contact with the external world. A typical holiday would involve hopping to different islands and enjoying the scenic beauty and different activities on offer.
We visited Andaman in Jan 2016 and landed at Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair around 11:00am. The total flying time from Mumbai to Port Blair via Chennai was between 4-5 hours. There are a number of flight options mostly via Chennai and Kolkata. The flights are usually full during peak season and it’s better to book well in advance. There are cruise ships from Chennai too but they take way too long to reach Andaman.
On arrival, we were whisked to our hotel, Tango Waves, which is situated less than 10min from the airport. There was hardly any traffic and being a small island, you are never too far from anything.
After the check-in formalities, our driver Rakesh first took us to Hotel Lighthouse for lunch. It is a decent enough place and the food is not too expensive. A full fried Snapper set us back by Rs.400 and the rest of the meal cost us around 500/- for two people.
After lunch, we were ready for our tour de paradise. Our first stop was Chidiya Tapu beach which is also called Sunset Point or Bird Island. We opted for a long trek through the woods to the lighthouse at the top of the hill. The area near the lighthouse makes for some amazing views of the island.
After watching a beautiful sunset, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
Tip: Ask for room 201 or 301 at Tango Waves which has a view of the sea and port.
Tip: Make sure you have the right footwear for hiking. Try and avoid flip-flops and stick to at least a decent pair of sneakers.
Early next morning, we boarded the Green Ocean Cruise Ferry to Havelock Island. There are a number of private ferry options and you can choose one according to your budget. The government run ferry is the cheapest and not too different from the private ones.
On arrival, we checked in to El Dorado Beach Resort and then proceeded to take a speedboat to a beautiful beach on Elephant Island. The speedboats usually ferry people in small groups and it is safe to carry expensive camera equipment though it is better if you just carry your spare clothes and a towel (Douglas Adams was right). Elephant beach has some amazing corals and beautiful marine life. The Jet skis creating waves are a disturbance, especially if you are aqua phobic and/or snorkelling for the first time. Paid shower and changing rooms are available.
Tip: The complimentary snorkelling usually provided by tour operators is less than 10 minutes and for one person at a time. They do not take you too far from the shore. We paid an extra Rs.1000/- to go diving as a couple along with photographs which was well worth it.
After spending about 3 hrs at the beach, we returned to Havelock and headed straight to Radhanagar Beach, which is another must-see location. Most tourists hang around the entry point of the beach.
Walk in either direction to find your own peaceful spot to enjoy this
beautiful creation of nature. Dark clouds on the horizon meant missing a beautiful sunset. As it started turning dark, which happens by 5:30pm, we headed back the resort for an early dinner.
Tip: If you love fish, do try the local catch either at your resort of ask your driver for tips on where to eat.
Tip: If your resort opens on to a beach, spend some there after dark and look out for bluish-green bioluminescence which is caused by phytoplankton.
The day started with a bit of disappointing news. Due to unruly weather, the bottom of the sea had turned murky and hence our
SCUBA dive was cancelled. We took this opportunity to visit Kalapathar beach which is another must see location. The beach is not too big as compared to Radhanagar but equally beautiful.
We spent some peaceful time on the beach before heading out of Havelock. This time, we took the government ferry which was surprising good with no frills. In less than 2 hours, we were docking at Neil Island.
Since the cruise was delayed, we headed straight to see the natural coral bridge which is host to a plethora of marine life.
Interestingly, the towering “bridge” must have been under the sea at some time in the past for the coral rocks to have formed.
Next stop was sunset point which is a vast expanse of a beach at one end of Neil Island. After a cup of tea with pakoras and Maggi, we headed to Tango Beach Resort to call it a night. There was heavy rainfall throughout the night which is quite normal in Andaman.
Tip: Skip going to sunrise point if the horizon is too cloudy.
After breakfast, we headed for Bharatpur beach where you can indulge in jet ski riding and glass bottom boat ride for spotting corals.
Tips: Reach early before the water turns murky because of continuous boating around the corals. The boating rates are negotiable. Glass bottom boat trip is worth it if you love watching corals.
After the boat ride and hanging around on the beach, we headed for Bharatpur jetty for the next cruise which would take us back to Port Blair. This time, we were on the Makruzz, which is by far the best ferry with onboard meals, if you so desire.
Tip: Use smaller bags when you are travelling by cruise. On Green Ocean and Makruzz, there are attendants who load your baggage in a separate compartment. On government ferries, you have to do it yourself.
Back at Port Blair, we checked into Hotel Tango Waves. After some rest, we were headed for Carbyn Cove Beach and enjoyed a round of Jet ski riding.
From there, it was on to Cellular Jail to catch the light and sound show. The show tells us about the hardships faced by freedom fighters and the atrocities that they had to bear. After the show, we had dinner at Ananda Restaurant which had good service and good food.
Tip: If you are not interested in history, skip the show. I noticed some people dozing off.
Day 5 :
Having woken up at 3:00AM, we collected a packed breakfast and headed out in the dark. Our destination was Baratang Island to see the Limestone Caves. The first stop was Jirkatang, 40 Kms from Port Blair, which is a forest check post. All vehicles have to queue here and your driver will arrange a permit for you. The queue can sometimes have hundreds of cars but as long as you reach before the last vehicle has crossed the check post, you have a chance of joining the convoy.
Tip: Use the toilets at the check post and have/pack your breakfast because once you cross the checkpost, there is no stopping till you exit the forest reserve.
The check post opens at 6:00am, 9:00am, 12:00pm and 2:30pm. If you miss the first slot, you have to spend 3 hours doing nothing. Due to government regulations, cars are not allowed to stop in the forest and photography and/or any type of interaction with the tribal Jarwahs is strictly prohibited. The Jarwahs are originally believed to have arrived by boat from Africa and are of short stature and black skinned.
Tip: To see the elusive Jarwahs, try to locate NGO staff members standing on the road in the forest. Try to look in the woods behind them and you may spot them if you are lucky. But remember – NO interaction.
At the end of the 49Km journey through Jarwah Reserve forest, we arrived at the Middle Strait Jetty. A ferry took us to Baratang Island in 15 minutes. From here, we took another boat to reach the Baratang Caves drop-off point. A trek of around 1.2Km from there and we were finally at the caves.
The caves are very narrow and if you suffer from claustrophobia, you should avoid going in too deep. Our guide explained how the caves were formed over thousands of years and we learnt the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. There can be a lot of man-made noise in the caves with guides shouting to keep the group together and groups trying to shout over each other to be heard.
On returning to Baratang ferry point, we hired a vehicle to take us to the Mud Volcano which is a 20min drive. The volcano is live and mud and gases keep spurting out slowly. Feel free to dip your finger into the little spurts as they are not hot. But do not insert things like pens, straws, bottle caps etc as you are blocking a live volcano.
We headed back from Mud Volcano to the ferry point, then to Middle Strait and then joined the 3:30 convoy back to Jirkatang and there on to Port Blair. We drove around Port Blair, visited Marina Park, ate at a street festival and then headed back to the hotel.
The plan was to visit Ross Island but for some reason, the government had asked for it to be shut down for the day.
Since we couldn’t go SCUBA diving because we had a flight on the same day, we decided to visit the Anthropological Museum and Aquarium maintained by the Ministry of Fisheries. The above image was clicked with special permission as no photography is allowed in the aquarium and museum.
From there, we went to Sagarika Emporium to pick up some curios.
Tip: If you walk out of Sagarika and turn left, there are a couple of shops which may give you better prices. Feel free to bargain at Sagarika despite fixed-price stickers.
Finally, it was time to leave Paradise Andaman and head back to reality. We came back with wonderful memories of people we had met and the places we had visited. In fact, we are already making plans to visit this beautiful part of India again, to cover the Northern half of Andaman.
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- Claude Veigas
- The article was covered by Smart Photography – India’s leading photography magazine in their Dec 2017 edition http://smartphotography.in/enchanting-andamans