Emerald, Blue and You
Though it’s known as Andaman & Nicobar Islands tourists mostly visit Andaman. It’s home to Sentinelese tribe, who are hostile to any human interaction and known to kill anyone who approaches them. Exact number of this tribe is not know, it’s guessed at 50 to 100. This is not the ideal way to start talking about why this Union Territory should be visited I guess, but the unknown always fascinates. There are a lot of Bengalis in Andaman, from 1949, government officials promoted relocating to the Andamans impoverished Bengali camp dwellers, numbers have grown and they now form a majority.
The only airport is at Port Blair, known as Veer Savarkar International airport, with limited flights, its a small entry point to the most beautiful waters India has. An overnight halt at Port Blair is recommended both while arriving and departing to take a ferry to Neil Island or Havelock whichever Island has caught your fancy. There are 3 main ferries : Government, Makruzz, Green Ocean. Makruzz though is the fancier one it does not have any place where you can stand in the open deck to enjoy the ocean. Ideal months to visit is October to April after the monsoon is over and it’s not peak summer. Water enthusiasts will love this UT, all those who want water as blue at Seychelles or Maldives but don’t want to sell their kidney for a vacation here is where you must head to. Not just the water, sand here looks and feels like talcum powder. Nature gives it’s bounty to all and this place has not exploited and commercialized it. There are mostly small hotels with room inventory of around 40 to 50 which get sold out six months in advance. Few luxury hotels but many perfectly located comfortable ones. Try to get a hotel which is on the beach or at least beach facing, there are plenty of them. Not much sightseeing but lots of water sports.
Port Blair : Capital city, lovely clean broad roads and (in) famous for it’s cellular jail, also known as Kala Pani. Visiting here it’s difficult to imagine such surroundings which look serene now was earlier a hotbed of pain, suppression and torture. The jail is ingeniously designed in a way where the back of one block faces the front of another. It’s like the spokes of a wheel. So well designed, unwilling, but I was admiring the architect. Capital punishments were given in the open to serve as a lesson for the rest of the prisoners. Best to visit here just an hour before the sound and light show so both a tour and the show can be done at one go, should take a guide as they explain well and make the place come alive. Sound and light show is well made, narrated in English and Hindi, if you have language preference best to check timing beforehand. Another place at Port Blair that can be visited is Rajiv Gandhi water sports complex, it has parasailing, speed boats, banana boats, and more. All of which are available in Havelock and Neil as well, can given a miss here. There are many places that can be visited around, Ross and Smith Island, Little Andaman Island, Parrot Island, Chidiya Tapu, Karmatang beach. These are all to be visited if you have earmarked 4-5 days at least for Port Blair.
Havelock : Most people would love to cut the chase and just reach here, all good things though have to be persevered and earned. As you reach first views of the lovely aqua blue water takes your breath away, it’s certainly different from the same sea from where you started at Port Blair. The jetty has small hotels and cafes, shops selling souvenirs and lots of happy buzz around it, the air is contagious with energy and good vibes. Lots of taxis freely available to reach you to your hotel. This jetty is also used to take people to Elephant beach.
Beaches in Havelock are known by numbers as well as names. The most frequented and lovely is Radhanagar beach. It has been ranked as the best beach of India and the 7th best beach in the world by the Time Magazine. Radhanagar is for sunsets and Kalapathar is for sunrises. Elephant beach is all about water sports. There are small shacks near all the beaches which sell water, juices and snacks. From Havelock there was a road on which one could trek to Elephant beach, that is closed now and speedboat is required to reach. Cost of speedboat and all water sports are regulated by unions, there is no negotiating or variables.
Scuba : There are 26 PADI dive shops from certification can be done, minimum 3 full days are required for that, for a fun open water dive 1 day is also enough. Best time for diving is October to May.
Snorkeling : Total fun, but don’t get taken in by the snorkeling trips that are near the shore. For best marine life take a snorkeling tour which takes you by boat to the good sites.
Kayaking : Mangrove kayaking, sunset kayaking or night kayaking ??? Tough choice. Night kayaking is one of the most magical experiences, head head out into the sea just after sunset and paddle over an ocean that glows and sparkles with bio luminescence. The blue-tinted glow underwater is the cause of specific phytoplankton, that moves inside the water, and glows at night. There are specific points in Andaman where they are visible and Havelock Island’s mangrove forest is one of the best places to see it. With each paddle, the sea is lit up like stars. The trip is for 3 hours.
Good places to have a meal : Something different ( they send a vehicle, if you book in advance ) Bonova café and pub, By the way, Anju Coco, The swimming elephant, Flavours (veg )
Neil Island : An hour and half away from both Havelock and Port Blair Neil island is for those who want a quiet getaway, secluded beaches and me time. Ideal for honeymooners.
Inspired by Ramayana beaches here are named Bharatpur, Sitapur and Laxmanpur and not to forget the beach which has the natural bridge.
Just half a kilometre from the jetty is Bharatpur, gentle blue waters that can lure non swimmers into it’s folds. Water sports can be done from this beach, they have glass bottom boats as well. There are shops around selling basic food and coconut water. A proper meal can be had at Kiran restaurant nearby, not fancy but nice and fresh food.
Laxmanpur beach is know for sunsets and Sitapur for sunrises. Since was there for just a day somehow did not manage to catch both. Loved Sitapur beach though, totally virgin, soft powdered sand and aqua blue water.
To reach the natural bridge a flight of steps needs to be crossed, at the end is a beach which is full of hard dead corals. On the beach small pools of water can be seen trapped in natural crevices and exotic fish can be spotted swimming in them, a school of fish can be lured out of hiding by Parle G biscuits. Different kinds of sea cucumber can also be spotted. Just to the left is the natural bridge, nature has patiently made this over thousands of years, formed it from rocks and dead corals. Guides are available to explain and educate. I am a big fan of guides, I think without them we are just scratching the surface of a place not really experiencing it. Comfortable shoes and not beach slippers are recommended for this place. In case footwear worn is not appropriate last shop after the stairs end has some apt sandals which can be borrowed at no cost. They do expect that some snacks or drinks be bought from then in exchange.
There are small hotels, comfortable but not too fancy for those who opt to spend a night or a few nights. I felt just doing just one island either Havelock or Neil is good no need to actually island hop.
Sunscreen and exotic swimwear are the only 2 things necessary to visit here. A fun companion would perhaps be a cherry on the cake.