Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Vacation in Andaman and Nicobar Islands

We'd been on a very extravagant (in terms of time) trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in March. We were taking a vacation itself after a very long time. And a 2 week long vacation! That was unheard of for us.

And we couldn't have chosen a better place! Oh my God! It was such a wonderful experience! (forgive me for all the exclamation marks....but there are definitely going to be more in this post. In fact I think there will be a series of posts) We had small kids and my elderly Mother in Law with us. So we took a lot of rest in between trips and skipped some things that would be too tedious for them. You can cover a lot more in 2 weeks than what we did.

Sunrise from our guest house in Port Blair

Now when people hear Andaman and Nicobar, they think of only Port Blair and the historical cellular jail notoriously known as Kalapani or black waters. Well Port Blair is going to be your starting point as its the only place connected to the mainland India by air and sea. You can fly in from Chennai or Kolkata. Or if you have time to spare and are upto the experience, you can opt to sail from Vishakhapatnam or Chennai. We went by air and let me tell you this is one trip where you will want a window seat in the aircraft. You'll get some great glimpses of the islands surrounded by beautiful waters. The flight from Chennai takes 2.5 hrs.

Once the flight lands, you find yourself in a small airport where you walk in the open sun from the flight to the terminal. And you are bound to notice the hot sun overhead. There are numerous hotels and resorts all over the place but we were the fortunate lot as my Brother-in-law, a Commander in the Navy was posted at Port Blair. Now you know why we went on this trip :)

Port Blair seems like any standard Indian town with small roads and shops. The places to see in Port Blair are -
Cellular Jail - This calls for 2 trips. One during the day for a tour of the premises. Best to take a guide as they  show and tell a lot of interesting facts. The museums and display rooms are bound to moisten your eyes with photographs and heart rending stories of the brave freedom fighters exiled here.
Photography is allowed in the premises but I didn't have the heart to take pictures of the place. But I have one aerial shot taken from the seaplane we rode between islands. (More about that later)

An aerial shot of the Cellular Jail which is now a National Memorial. Only 3 of the original 7 wings remain now. The rest were destroyed during Word War II bombings and after Independence. 

You need to make a second trip in the evening to attend the sound and light show. Its a must see. Please not photography is not allowed during the show.
The cellular jail makes you wonder what kind of monstrous minds must have driven the British to plan and build such a dreadful place. And the jail was run with a ruthlessness hard to imagine. But it's not just the British. Every ruling class in history has shown the same ruthlessness towards the less privileged. I guess it still exists today but in different forms.

Samudrika - A Marine museum run by the Indian Navy. I won't say its a must see but nevertheless you can stop by as it wont take more than half an hour. You get to see a variety of the local fishes in the aquarium but some of them are in a pathetic condition. In fact the Parrot fish which is abundant in the Andaman seas and a bright green in color is a sad discolored grey in the aquarium. We got to see lots of bright Parrot fishes just glancing down at the jetty or from the boat.

Sagarika - The Government handicrafts emporium. A good place to visit if you would like to pick up shell, coral and semi precious stones jewelry, wood carvings, bamboo and cane furniture etc. There are a number of shops in the city markets that sell these stuff.

There is an Anthropological Museum which showcases a lot about the native tribes of the islands and their living.

Nariyal Bageecha - A beautiful and well maintained rocky beach good for a quiet family picnic. But if I'm not mistaken the general public doesn't have access to this beach. It is situated inside the army area and needs special permission which was easy for my Commander BIL. :) The beach and the garden near it was beautiful. The tall coconut palms give the place a wonderful feel. The waves splashing against the rocks and the white sands with lots of shells and coral pieces makes it a nice place to relax.

Coconut palms at Nariyal Bageecha

Kids playing in the park at Nariyal Bageecha

There are other places that we couldn't visit - Chidiya Tapu a tip of the island with breathtaking views and great bird sighting opportunities. The sunset there it seems is worth watching.
A trek to Mount Harriet, the highest point in Port Blair, offers spectacular views of the town. With 2 kids aged 4.5 and 1.10 yrs, trek was out of question for us.

And the islands that you can visit. Well ....each is a different story (read post).There are some that can be covered in a day trip but others that call for a few days.
The day trip islands are -
Ross Island - The island that can be seen across the creek from the cellular jail was the home of the Britishers. They had a well equipped and nicely planned settlement on this island and used to ferry to and from the jail. Its a nice island to visit and will take a few hours to cover. We went for this trip and so this calls for an individual post.

North Bay- is another island that can be seen from Port Blair and is the home for the most visible landmark the Lighthouse. There are snorkeling trips to this place. Its mostly covered as part of a 3 island tour - Ross, North Bay and Viper islands. From what we heard its not worth it. North Bay is a good snorkeling and diving point because of its corals. Viper Island though has nothing much except a gallows used by the British.
We opted to go only to Ross Island as we'd seen quite a few corals around Neil Island and were planning to go to Jolly Buoy as well.

The lighthouse at North Bay Island as seen from a Ferry

Jolly Buoy - is a must see with its live corals and various varieties of fish and aqua life like starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumber etc. Its a half day trip. The boat leaves from Wandoor and brings you back after 3-4 hours as no one is allowed to stay overnight on this island.

Neil Island - My personal favorite! Its a small quaint little island surrounded by blue green waters filled with corals and colorful fish. You can either take a ferry or the hovercraft.

Havelock - Home to Asia's best beach - Radhanagar beach. You can either travel by a ferry (2.5 hours one)  or by a hovercroft Makruzz (1.5 hours I think) or by a seaplane (15-20 mins). The ferry and the hovercraft stop over at Neil. So you can plan to spend a day or two at Neil then go to Havelock from there (or the vice versa) before returning to Port Blair.

You have to wait for my exclusive posts on Neil and Havelock. 

From Port Blair you can also take a day trip (a long day but) to Barataang. We decided not to do this trip as it takes 4 hours one way.  The includes a stretch through Jarawa area which requires all vehicles to go in convoys. Jarawa is a native tribe that the Government of India is trying to protect against exploitation by tourists. Once you reach Barataang you can see a limestone cave and a mud volcano. Its not about the grapes being sour, but I heard from other tourists that you don't miss much if you skip it.

If you have more time and are more adventurous, you can go all the way to Digilipur, Mayabunder and Rangat in Middle Andaman. I wasn't fortunate enough to visit these but I've heard these are very beautiful.

If you have even more time, you can visit  Little Andaman which is supposed to be the best of the lot.

1 comment:

  1. a very detailed post. Love it. Sounds like a great vacation!