Andaman & Nicobar: Nature`s own country



“Andaman” was my answer when asked by my family to the substitute hill station they had marked for an outing. My previous two travels had not been that good at all and I really wanted to get go someplace from the maddening life. As the departure date was getting closer, I was getting restless as my stopover was from Chennai- which was reeling from the flood situation but it looked like nothing could get in between me and Andaman. An early morning flight from Delhi and then after a two-hour stopover, from Chennai. From the air I could see still flooded parts of chennai I and as I moved towards Andaman , the sea from the plane seemed so crystal clear and calm ( big misunderstanding later on). A few things hitting you once you land at Port Blair airport is the weather. Sun and rain both simultaneously.

The moment I got down from the plane, ground staff started telling everyone, “ No photos”. The airport premises houses the buildings of Indian Navy and Coast Guard so thats why this restriction. I wanted to capture the scenic beauty but I also understand national security so decided against it. With limited number of days in hand, did not wanted to waste much time so it was all sight seeing and travel after 1-2 hours rest at the hotel. 

Corbyn`s beach

The first stop was Corbyn`s beach. It is closest in Port Blair. Very popular with locals and for watching the sunset. It is the equivalent of North Indian colony parks. Tourists and locals all come to enjoy the evening. The sunrise and sunset occur very early in Port Blair. 4 - 4.30 p.m. is the time people put for sunset watching. 5 PM goes almost pitch dark. A very refreshing change also because of the fact that except Port Blair there is no cellular coverage of private operators. BSNL is the only network omnipresent in Andaman & Nicobar. It’s God’s way of saying, " Chill kar ".


Cellular jail


Taken in low light mode...its more darker in reality there

The next stop was the famous Cellular jail. For the first time I had seen people so eager to enter a jail. There are only limited number of seats for the light and sound show (only 500) so it was a mad rush. Only I know that what kind of battle I had to go through to get my hands on the tickets. The moment I sat down on the seats, I drifted off to sleep with only the voices of the people around me. That travel exhaustion must have got to me. There was nothing to see in the darkness in the meantime. I awoke only when the show started, which was a bit boring to my liking with very little new inputs, having heard everything about it since childhood. Just 30 minutes into this and it was game over with the skies opening up and people running for shelter from the rain. So I got to see only half the programme, my luck. Day one ended with just these two places. Andaman & Nicobar is such a place that a full day is completed in just 1 or max 2 places. No cramming of places. 

The next day was more exciting. It was a visit to Ross Islands. It was the capital during the British days. The only way to visit it is by ferry. So we headed to the sports complex (the starting point). Andaman & Nicobar is also known for sea diving and such activities. These type of things are done at North Bay Islands. You can either visit Ross and come back or take the Ross and North Bay combo trip. At the ticket counter they provided us the tickets with the name of our boat and departure timings. Winds from morning meant that all departures were delayed. Rains are not an issue here, it’s the winds. If the winds are strong all water related activities would be cancelled i.e. boats, scuba, sea walk, snorkeling etc.



Indian Navy

Coast guard

While I waited for my boat I had three companions – a Naval ship, Coast Guard fast patrol boats and a chopper - all patrolling. My destination was only the Ross Islands. Leaving 45 minutes late, a short 7 – 10 minute ride to Ross Island completed my trip. These islands are under the control of the Navy and quite a bit of parts of the island are still off-limits. Our boat person gave us approximately 2 hours to finish the tour. The same boat brings you to Ross and takes you back, you miss it, you are in a bit of bother as if the weather deteriorates in the meantime you would be stuck on Ross and sea is the only way. The island was magical. 


Bunker

A Japanese bunker greets you at the entrance. Purchase tickets and go inside. 



There are about 100 rabbits, 150 Peacock, 350 deer on the whole island and you can find one walking with you. Rabbits are the most cutest and most photogenic. These animals provide ample photo opportunities… खीचो खीचो कितनी फोटो ले सकते हो? More than these animals I was more keen to explore the ruins of the place. 



Cemetary, church, temple, officers club and such buildings were now in the garb of nature with trunks growing from various places. Reminded me of Dr Viper’s plants from Swat Kats. With an eye on the watch I could not explore the beach side at the back side of the island. Although stairs provide a shortcut but explorers like me would like to explore every inch on foot. The white sands at these beaches looks so inviting. Camera trigger happy I noticed the restricted defence area which had the emblem of the INS guarding that island, wanted to click a pick but with the clock ticking didn’t wanted to take any chances. So off I went bidding my adieu to Ross.



When I was nearing Aberdeen jetty(starting point), it started raining so hard that any further trips to Ross were cancelled for the day. The next stop – Chidiyatapu. 


No sunset here

That’s another beach some 25+ kms away from Port Blair and is known for birds and the forest. Hence, the name Chidiyatapu. On the way passed through some forest areas and when I reached Chidiyatapu that I came to witness the destruction of the deadly and dangerous tsunami of 2004. Although Ross also bore the brunt but it has been restored to some extent by the Navy but here it was full destruction. Tall trees still lying uprooted, roots left on the ground, seawall completely destroyed. It was a picturesque place but not a lot of people were there due to the distance. A cloudy sky diminished my chances of catching a sunset. It was another thing that I got to see mangrove forest and also learnt early bit about them. A police officer posted there informed the people while chatting that why was Andaman strategically so important to India and how China is capturing these islands. You also know that Punjabis are so talkative. After Chidiyatapu it was time to explore the local market at Port Blair.


Way to chidiyatapu and the mangroves

The fallen tree in the tsunami of 2004

2 days over, the 3rd belonged to a place everyone comes here for - Havelock Island. Havelock and Neil are Port Blair counterparts of North Bay Island. With beautiful beaches its a place for newlyweds and nature explorers. So the next morning very early caught the cruise to Havelock. Makruzz is what they say is the best and fastest cruise taking just 90 minutes from Port Blair while the government one takes another 1 hour more. With tickets already pre-booked in advance, it was a bit of convenience for us. At the entrance of the port a CISF guy checked all the IDs of the passengers travelling in the shuttle bus. Quite a bit of families were also trudging the luggage along for a stay in either Havelock / Neil or both. An airport like check in and we boarded the ship. After the safety demos we set sail in the choppy waters which felt exactly like a rollercoaster ride . The newlywed sitting behind me was the first casualty. Well, you can manage air turbulence in the flight but not in the choppy sea when your stomach is doing a rock and roll on every wave. Dreading myself to be the next, I just went off to sleep. We just had a full day to ourselves that we had to return on the same day by the same cruise.


I meet this kameena after years

Surprise, surprise.. hardly had I walked a few steps after disembarking, somebody came from behind and caught me. A bit shocked initially, I saw that the unknown stranger was none other than my kameena hostelmate Ritwik. Had been years since I met him, it was pure luck I bumped into him. A few photographs and 10 minute chitchat later he went to the cruise while I moved to discover Havelock. With no pre-booking here we were just thinking what to do and what to explore when an autowallah came and we stuck a deal with him to take us to the 2 most known beaches of Havelock- Radhanagar and Kala paththar. Elephant ride and snorkelling were both cancelled that day. There was no chance we could have tried our hand at scuba in just the 5 hours we had in the day. So the 1st stop was Radhanagar beach. 


Radhanagar beach

It was big, bustling with people. The 1st place where I saw the sea in 3 different colours. People were enjoying with games, cricket, swimming and all that. The lifeguard teams were keeping an eye on people venturing too deep in the sea. Clicking pics and admiring the beauty of the place, where did 3 hours just passed away, did not knew by any chance. Andaman is a place where the snaps speak for themselves a lot more than any word could explain. Even those fruit chaat people selling outside the beach had a proper “food and safety standards” certificate alongwith themselves to show. Well, that’s a 1st for me. One thing which I had noticed in the whole of Andamans was to find the women in more roles than I would find anywhere else.. Traffic constable, waiters, sellers stalls. These were things I would not find at many places.



Glimpses of Kala paththar beach

From Radhanagar beach, headed to the 2nd of the beach- Kala Paththar beach. Well, if you compare it to Radhanagar it would seem as water after wine but it’s a hit with foreigners because it has resorts in walking distance to the beach, offers privacy and is a lot more quieter with only the sea waves making noise. There are a lot more beaches in Havelock numbered 1, 2, 3 and so on and foreigners either ride 2 wheelers or cycles to the various beaches- exploring nature at its own pace. It was fun to explore 2 different beaches with 2 very different extreme settings. After a few hours it was time to leave Havelock as well. Maybe fortune had something really different for the next day. 

The next day was Baratang- the limestone caves. This is one experience will not forget as this one was different. Its a total distance of 96 kms from Port Blair and it is covered in a very different way. 47 kms from Port Blair there is a jungle of some 50 km which is home to the “Jharua” tribe and the people need to travel in a convoy escorted by police. The convoy moves at 4 different times so we needed to be early at that point. Departing early from Port Blair at 6.30 in the morning we aimed to hit the check post at around 9. The pleasant weather along the way we reached at 8 only to see some 15 vehicles already in front of us. Along the way I witnessed the tsunami destruction of 2004. There was sea water on both sides of the road which used to be coconut fields, the trees having been destroyed and nothing left of agriculture except the seawater even after 11 years. It was a heartening sight.


Thats the tsunami water from 2004..

So when we reached the checkpoint our driver bought a form which needed to be filled by us. Just 10 minutes before sendoff, the police announced the don’ts in the forest area- no photography of any kind, you can’t snap the pics of the Jharua tribe if you see them, can’t offer them food, clothing, no lifts to the people, no slowing down, no stopping, any issues to be reported to the police escort. Believe me, it was a big convoy. 3 STC buses making the start, all vehicles following behind followed by police escort at intervals. It was a dense jungle at quite a few places. Alas a sight to behold, saw 2 jharua boys standing by the roadside as guards. Majority of tribals remain hidden in the jungles but a few wear clothes provided by the government and then venture out. This is all done in association with the forest department. Some 10 km later on, I saw something which people term as lucky in terms of sighting. A group of some 15-20 women, children were sitting by the roadside with the police department local in civis. Our driver told us that these tribals would be taking a lift in a forest department vehicle travelling at the end of the convoy. They can speak and understand Hindi very well. Although people still regard them as jhingalala people, it was it was heartening to see them slowly coming into mainstream.




So we finally reached the end of our journey. At the final security checkpoint we made a rush to the govt. ferry taking people across to the place known as `Middle Strait`. In just 10 minutes we were across. Once we got down, our driver purchased the tickets to the caves while I went to seek a green permit (mandatory for all non islanders). On the basis of the form filled up before, the police officer on duty checked my ID and gave me the slip. We were a group of 12 people in a speedboat. 


The speedboat ride

Made to wear life jackets first, we set off for the limestone caves. Flanked by mangrove forests on both sides, it was a 15 – 20 minute ride. It was awesome. 


Way to drop off point

We reached the drop-off point after navigating our way through the forest. The way to the caves is a 1.5 km nature trek. A boat person serves as a guide. There are just 60 minutes to complete the way and be back. The way through nature makes you forget all about fatigue. 


The 1.5km way

I could not click as many pics as I would have liked as the ground was slippery at quite a few places. The humid weather was not helping a bit. It was a relief that there were lemonade stalls just before the caves. The caves were quite dark and one had to be extremely careful so as not to slip and get hurt. Our guide was carrying the portable chinese LED lights to show us inside the caves. 


The limestone caves...taken with a lot of flash

Imagination runs wild in these caves as the formations may resemble various things to various people in the form of shapes- ganesh, lotus, chandelier. It was a good 15 minutes inside the cave. Only god knows how I managed to get such clicks. After viewing we came back the same way- speedboat, ferry, checkpoint. With the next convoy at 3 we had some 1.5 hours to pass. Just passed in a blur for me as I observed the people around me.

The same process repeated. As a matter of luck I again saw some 10 jharuas sitting at the lift point and then after that some 15 more standing at the back of a truck. Some consider it very lucky to have seen 50 tribals in a day when people come in the hope of catching a glimpse and find nothing. When I reached the security checkpoint (the one from which we get started in the morning) it was raining and it was getting quite dark. With no electricity along the way I realised that the so-called “Digital India” crap is all till the mainland India. Here in remote places like these, its the basic necessities which people want. Electricity and basic amenities would be more welcome here than E - governance. By the time I got back to Port Blair, it had already been over 12 hours. This was my last outing here as the next morning was my flight.

At Chennai airport during my return, I did see a Jet Airways plane land in the downpour, little did I realise that I was lucky to have come back just in the nick of time as after 24 hours Chennai got flooded and 100s stranded.

A flooded chennai from the air

Kerala maybe God’s own country but Andaman & Nicobar are nature’s own country. With so many islands here there is a lot to explore. The only thing stopping would be the time in hand and your budget. A few points which can help you in your travel are-

1. Carry a bit of hard cash with you. Due to network issues there, majority of hotels refuse to accept debit and credit cards. There are a number of ATMs so cash withdrawal is not a problem.

2. Except BSNL you won’t find any other network there (except a few places and Port Blair). Your Internet access is dependent on the Wi-Fi provided by your hotel. So forget about updating your social media status every now and then. No network, no net.

3. The people there can speak Hindi quite well so don’t be under the impression that southern people don’t understand Hindi. Language is no barrier there.

4. The season there is from October to May. After that its rainy season.

5. Havelock / Neil are expensive places for all water related fun activities in comparison to other places. You can also stay at the various places at Havelock. 

6. It is advisable to book the cruise tickets well in advance. Carry your Ids along.

7. Another island near Baratang known as the parrot island is home to parrots. The viewing for that starts at four in the evening and you have to stay overnight at Baratang.

8. There are a limited number of seats at the light and sound show at cellular jail so make sure you get the tickets early. Majority of crowd is there at the first show which is held in Hindi, the second one is in English. There are just some 500 tickets for each show. The show starts from 6p.m. and the sale of tickets starts from 5 p.m.

Andaman & Nicobar is a place to explore like no other. With urbanisation growing at a rapid pace, it is only a matter of time before the natural beauty and forests are destroyed gradually in the name of development.


My default pose most of the times
A big Ross fits only this much in the camera


Andaman & Nicobar: Nature`s own country Andaman & Nicobar: Nature`s own country Reviewed by Shwetabh Mathur on 6:10:00 PM Rating: 5

9 comments:

  1. Hi Shwetabh !
    Andman was a good choice and I can thatsee from the pics and the info ... plus bumping into an old friend , that too a hostel mate was sheer Good LUCK !
    I personally wish for bigger pics :p but can see that that would have occupied too much space perhaps :)
    All in all , a Nice post invoking wanderlust !

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  2. Beautifully written! You made me revise my very own trip to these islands ages back! Beautiful pictures though I wish they were bigger :) Hey did not you go to Jollybuoy? It was my favourite place after Havelock :) Anyways you had a great time and I had a wonderful time reading your adventure :)
    www.docdivatraveller.blogspot.in

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  3. Beautifully Penned ..
    Nice Read ..now i need to plan my visit there !

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  4. Thanks for reminding my memory of Andman Trip

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