Andaman & Nicobar Islands – are they surreal?

 

Pearls are found in the ocean, goes the saying for these gems located off the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. The clear blue-turquoise and endless waving waters make it one of the most undisturbed places on earth, to soak in, and enjoy nature.

My personal visit to Andaman in April 2016 has left me spell-bound! One life, one visit, is all it requires!

Where are Andaman & Nicobar Islands?

This archipelago sits right amidst sea, on eastern-most side of India, a string of 572 islands, of which only 38 are inhabited. Nestled between Bay of Bengal on the west and Andaman Sea on the east, this place is a nature lover’s paradise. If you are looking for complete overhaul in monotonous life for even a few days, just grab your travel gear and make a move. The destination is as quaint and peaceful, just like it’s serene and picturesque!

 

Andaman & Nicobar Coast

(In Pic Above: The beaches here will rejuvenate you, just like this one in Havelock)

 

Indian Subcontinent is blessed to have this pearl in its necklace. The tourism potential is immense as it offers aplenty activities from deep-sea diving to paragliding over sea.

Being one of the 7 Union Territories in India, it is centrally governed too! The islands are located in proximity to Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia (separated by Andaman Sea) than to India.

This stunning beauty has its share of dark past during the erstwhile colonial days of India. The island host’s Cellular Jail aka Kaalapani in Port Blair, where rebels of British rule were kept far beyond the Indian mainland in dismay and darkness.

 

How’s the island structured?

The archipelago is mainly split into 2 distinct regions: Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands.

North Andaman, Middle Andaman, South Andaman and Little Andaman form the Andaman group. The most habitable islands of Andaman’s are Middle and South Islands of which Port Blair being the capital, is also the major city with connectivity.

Moving northwards 160 kms and 230 kms from the capital, Rangat and Mayabunder in Mayabunder Taluk are next in line, followed further 298 kms north is Diglipur. Diglipur is the northernmost city of Andaman Islands.

North Andaman is home to India’s only active volcano ‘Barren Island’, which last erupted in 2017.

Moving down south, a group of Nicobar Islands lie scattered across the ocean, mostly uninhabitable. The Nicobar Islands consist of Northern Group, Central Group and Southern Group.

Car Nicobar being capital, is the only major city, which lies in the Northern Group. Indira Point in the Great Nicobar Island (Southern Group) is the southernmost point of the Indian Sub-continent, just 150 kms off Sumatra, Indonesia!

The Great Nicobar Island is one of the largest island in Nicobar and is also one of World’s Network of Biosphere Reserves as designated by UNESCO. Campbell Bay National Park is a part to it.

 

Natives of Andaman & Nicobar Islands

The islands are home to 400+ different native groups of which Jarawa, Onge & Sentinelese are most prominent in Andaman Island. The Nicobarese and Shompen are native to Nicobar Islands. Majority of the island population (more than 80%) lives in Andaman while a handful have made Nicobar (less than 15%) as their home.

The Andaman Islands are host to one of the most primitive group of mankind, the ‘Jarawas’, located in the dense forests of Baratang Islands. They live a life of seclusion, detached from our gadget-slavery world in complete darkness. They still hunt using old stone-age tools, wear nomadic clothes, should feel lucky if you spot them. Since the area is restricted and confined, special permissions are required to visit their territory.

Best time to visit: Winters are the best time to visit this pristine address starting October until February. The mercury starts rising rapidly from March until May, causing intense sunburns. As monsoons invade the islands in June, it is not recommended to visit considering the high seas and rough weather.

The facilities are not yet comprehensively developed in smaller islands leading to power outage. The sky is clear throughout the year barring rainy months, providing ample sunbathing!

 

Pristine Neil

(In Pic Above: Small glass-bottom boats anchored at a beach in Neil Island)

 

How to travel? The Veer Savarkar Airport of Port Blair (only airport in the island) is adequately air-connected to major big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bhubaneswar, Cochin and Vishakhapatnam, through direct and indirect connections.

The main transport here are the cruise operators, as they help in shuttling between islands in the region. Major cruise operators are Makruzz, Coastal Cruise (part of Makruzz), Green Ocean Cruise and Makruzz Gold.

Phoenix Bay Jetty in Port Blair is the main dock port for all sea connections. Connections are available from port cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam through M V Swaraj Dweep, M V Nancowry, M V Nicobar, M V Akbar and M V Harshvardhana (check sea port timetable for departures).

These ships take an average 3-4 days to complete one leg of the journey. The tickets can be booked at STARS (Ship Ticketing Advance Reservation System) Counters in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and Port Blair. Schedules are released at least a month in advance, so be sure to book early.

Owing to scattered land pieces, rail connections are not present in the island!

Fact: Distance of these islands from countries: 45 kms from Myanmar, 90 kms from Thailand, 160 kms from Indonesia and 1,200 kms from India!

Where to stay? Port Blair is the most habitable city, with infrastructure and facilities in place. The city is small, less crowded and it gets silent by early evening. Aberdeen Bazar is a busy marketplace, the area has many food joints and shopping spots. Also, it is easy to get taxi / auto / public buses. Here you can buy local art and handicrafts specific to the island.

Port Blair acts as a base for tourists, so one can shuttle between islands, stay there and comeback to this main South Andaman Island for all sorts of connectivity.

Places to visit: Well, lots of! The most talked about are Port Blair, Havelock Island, Neil Island, Ross Island and Baratang Island.

 

Cellular Jail

(In Pic Above: The identical cells of Cellular Jail, a total of 698)

 

Port Blair is very scenic and natural, aided with a spice of history. Cellular Jail, a historic national monument, which stands brave to the hardships faced by Indian brave hearts who rebelled the British Raj. The prisoners were put behind bars in this solitary confinement known as ‘KaalaPani’ or Black water. The construction of this penal settlement was primarily done to make prisoners suffer and stay miles away from mainland.

The premises houses world war memorial, art gallery, image gallery and a library on freedom movement. With the introduction of online booking process to purchase tickets, one can book in advance prior to visiting.

 

Cellular Jail Promenade

(In Pic Above: Cellular Jail, as seen from the entrance)

 

This living spectacle is a must visit, each brick and corner brings alive the hardships of our great people. Additionally, the Light and Sound Show (son-et-lumiere) that happens every evening that tells you the real story behind and what exactly used to happen inside the jail. Book now!

 

Also to visit in Port Blair are Corbyn Cove’s Beach, Chidiya Tapu (known for its scenic sunsets), Wandoor Beach, Andaman Water Sports Complex, Chatham Saw Mill, Ross Island, Viper Island and Naval Museum, Samudrika Museum, Mount Harriet National Park (backside image of a 20 Rupee note), Jogger’s Park, Sippighat Agricultural farm and Sagarika Cottage Industry Emporium.

 

Islands near Port Blair: Ross Island, Viper Island, Baratang Island

Islands to stay: Havelock Island, Neil Island

 

Ross Island, named after Captain Daniel Ross, also hosts a sound and light show (except Wednesday) to showcase the historic past it had. It is located just 3 kms east of Port Blair. The island was in itself a city, home to Administrative headquarters of the island which was abandoned after a quake in 1941. The ruins of magnificent past can be seen when you visit, a plethora of old branched trees have tightly held onto legacy!

The islands’s first penal settlement was constructed in Viper Island, now abandoned, still has some ruins of the past and is just 4 kms west of Port Blair.

 Havelock Jetty

(In Pic Above: The stunning views of Havelock Island Jetty)

 

Havelock Island is the most visited tourist island. The collection of beautiful beaches like Radhnagar Beach (Asia’s Best Beach 2004), Govind Nagar Beach, Vijay Nagar Beach and Kala Pathar Beach, make you glued to the immaculate beauty of the island. The island is famous for snorkelling and scuba diving.

 

Welcome to Neil

(In Pic Above: This is how you are greeted on arrival at Neil Island Jetty!)

 

The next in queue is the Neil Island, a smaller version of Havelock, having stunning beaches like Laxmanpur Beach and Sitapur Beach. You can go for glass-bottom boat tour to check out the corals and underwater marine world, not far from beach.

On way to Baratang, Mud Volcano is one spectacle to watch for, an active mouth, spewing mud and gases!

Baratang Island: The ‘Jarawas’ have their habitat in Baratang Island, a restricted entry zone. They hunt wild forest animals for their livelihood, latching on fishes when they hunt in sea. They are a small community of 250-300, fearing extinction after the construct of Great Andaman Trunk Road in 1997 through dense jungles. The project has created a lot of uneasiness and unrest for the community as it invades their life and territory. What’s more, it risks spread of diseases to both the natives and visitors. Tourists and private operators make commercial tours to visit the place and thus disturbing their natural habitat.

To combat this, the administration has started a sea route to Baratang in 2017, but as enthusiasm doesn’t seem building, Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) remains a primary choice and is being promoted more by operators.

Another spectacle, Limestone Caves in North Andaman in Baratang Islands is a natural treat amidst dense forests. The untouched beauty is still well-preserved as you sieve through the mangroves providing an ecosystem for flora and fauna to thrive.

Tip: Don’t visit remote places on any island till late night, as there is dearth of transport services after sunset. Be well-planned and keep your driver partner (if you have one) in loop with your plans.

 

Neil Sunset1

(In Pic Above: A dreamy sunset in Neil Island)

 

What to eat?

Non-Vegetarians will feel home as they will be spoilt for choices. No dearth of seafood options makes it a gastronome’s kitchen. Sea fish, Lobsters, Prawns and Crabs are few of the many options for diners. For Vegetarians, South Indian Basics, North Indian are available aplenty with regular Indian Cuisines. A number of food joints are present in Port Blair. Islands on the other hand have a scarce presence of such outlets, so you have to rely mainly on your hotel and a handful of shacks for dining options.

Suggested to carry some reserve food always, especially if you are travelling with kids or old people, as you have to also deal with early night and late mornings for commercials to open.

 

Neil - Lazy Tree

(In Pic Above: Untouched sand beaches at Neil Island)

 

Taxi/Cab: Private Cabs / Buses are easily available from airport and hotels. Though Ola / Uber don’t have services here.

Seasons: Monsoons / Rain – June until September, Winter – October until February, Summer – March until May

Temperatures: Moderate oceanic conditions prevail, making extreme temperatures a rarity. The range annually remains in 22° C – 32° C. The rainfall is heavy in monsoon seasons and the seas are not safe to travel too. But for rest of the year, you can have pleasant temperatures with soothing breeze.

Driving: Left side of the road, right hand drive

Currency: Indian National Rupee (INR)

Visa: No visa required if you are an Indian National. Though you need a permit (for an Indian too) to visit Nicobar Islands, since the area is regulated.

Note: All foreign nationals are mandated to have RAP (Restricted Area Permit) while visiting the islands. RAP can be taken on arrivals at airport or seaport, or from Foreigner Registration Offices / Immigration Authorities at airport at any of the 4 metros (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata)

Hey guys, i hope this read inspires you to visit the islands. Its an experience of a lifetime. Let me know if you want any other information, i would love to help you.

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