Sunday, 15 November 2015

Travel diaries : Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Exactly 1 year ago to the very date, I went for a trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This is one of the few trips I went for with my family. I always knew that the Andamans are a beautiful set of islands. Little did I know that I would have one of the best travel experiences of my life.

The Andamans are actually beautiful, most of it safe from excessive human intervention (note: internet connectivity is almost nil). The air is pure, the waters a clear cyan. The natives are allowed to live in peace and the government provides for all their needs. There is absolutely no crime anywhere (at least according to the locals). I do not want to jinx it but it feels like you are a part of a peaceful, balanced ecosystem. We stayed there for 8 days and 7 nights. I could have stayed there for another 8 years I think.

In this post, I will share my itinerary in brief and also share a few photographs of the places I visited.

DAY 1 : We boarded a flight from Guwahati around midnight and landed in Kolkata, from where we boarded the connecting flight to Port Blair at around 6 AM. The journey from Kolkata to Port Blair is around 2 hours and 15 minutes. So by around 8:15 AM we landed at the Port Blair airport. It is important to note here that we had already got a packaged deal from a local travel agent. It actually made our trip much more convenient because they had worked out a great itinerary for us and the cabs and hotels were not our headache anymore. So as soon as we landed, a cab was waiting to take us to the hotel. We freshened up a bit and immediately began our journey. Our first destination was the Cellular jail.

The Cellular jail is one of the most significant places to visit in Port Blair. Only one wing (out of the existing seven; the one on the right in the picture below) is open to the public now but it is all decently maintained. We learnt a great deal about the freedom fighters and their struggles while they were imprisoned there. It was almost as if we could feel a tiny part of their pain while we were there looking at the unforgiving shackles and whips.

The Cellular jail

At about 4:15 PM we left for the Corbyn's cove beach which is around half an hour drive from the Cellular jail. The Corbyn's cove beach is a nice beach, but is nothing compared to the other beaches we would travel to later on. So we just spent about half an hour there and headed back to the Cellular jail for the light and sound show from 6-7 PM. The light and sound show is a major attraction for the tourists and it did not disappoint us. After that we went to the hotel, and tired to the bones, retired for the night immediately.

DAY 2 : We woke up early and headed out to the dock at around 7:30 AM. A ferry would pick us up at around 8:30 and take us to Ross island. We made it there 20 minutes later and started exploring the small island. It was the administrative headquarters during British rule. You can find ruins of the administrative home, a large swimming pool, a church and a ballroom. A huge earthquake rocked the island in 1941, after which the headquarters were moved to Port Blair. According to the locals, the Ross island absorbed the wrath of the 2004 tsunami and significantly reduced the damage on Port Blair. It was also under Japanese control during 1942-45. 

A view from Ross island looking into Port Blair

Ross island

Ross island

We headed back to Port Blair a couple of hours later and quickly grabbed some tiger prawns for lunch; we needed some energy for scuba diving next!
For that we headed to the North Bay island. It is around a half an hour trip by ferry and by 1 PM, we were 'suited up' for Scuba diving. They just trained us for 15 minutes, mainly to teach us the hand signals and to see how well we cope up with sea water. And then we were off! For about 45 minutes or an hour, we dived in to experience amazing underwater life. The trainers were always with us so there was no question of safety. We saw and felt, with our bare hands, some amazing plants and fishes we only ever saw on the National Geographic channel. Overall it was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I do not have the pictures and videos right now. Maybe I will upload it later.

We came back to Port Blair, ate some more and rushed to see the sunset at Chidiya Tapu. We made it there around 4:30 PM. The sunset was scenic. It was like a Hollywood set for a movie and we thoroughly enjoyed that too.

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

DAY 3 : We started even earlier this time. 6 AM, we reached the port. Around 2 and a half hours later, we were at Neil island. The water was an absolute cyan here and looked like a collage of award winning pictures everywhere you look.
Our first destination there was a natural bridge, locally referred to as Howrah bridge at the Laxmanpur beach 2. This was around 9:45 AM.
'Howrah bridge', Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island

Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island

By 10:30 AM, we reached Bharatpur beach. It was calm and serene. We almost felt like dozing off for a bit but decided against it. So we went for a ride on a glass-bottomed ferry. After about an hour, we headed to Sitapur beach. Sitapur was deserted and calmer than Bharatpur. We roamed around for about half an hour and left.

Sitapur beach, Neil island

At 3 PM, we again took the ferry and left for Havelock island, two and a half hours away. After reaching in the evening, we checked in at the hotel. It was a row of cottages along the beach and I wasted no time at all. I checked in, kept my bags, and headed out for a swim. After about half an hour, I came back, took a long bath, had dinner and slept happily.

Cottages opened up to the sea, Havelock island

DAY 4 : I woke up early in the morning and took a stroll around the beach. I could just spend days looking out into the sea. But we had a schedule to follow. So we left for Elephant beach around noon. It is a 20 minute ferry journey from the Havelock dock.
We first went for under water walking. It is simply the best experience of my life. It is even better than scuba diving in my opinion. For an hour, I was just awed by the marine life right before my eyes. I fed the fishes some bread crumbs too and shoals of them would school around and nibble at my fingers. The memories of that experience brings a smile to my face. Unfortunately, the camera there malfunctioned and couldn't produce photos.
Next I tried some snorkeling. Spotted a lot of fishes and had a great time. I also tried a couple of water sports; banana ride and jet skiing (ya that is me in that picture!).

Jet skiing at Elephant beach, Havelock island

After all that fun, we headed back to Havelock and went to Radhanagar beach. This in my opinion is the most beautiful beach in Andaman. The waves are simply perfect and it is a delight being in the waters. Like so many other things during the trip, I wish I had more time for this!

Radhanagar beach

After the ferry ride, there is another half an hour walk amidst scenic fields and steps to finally reach the limestone caves. 

Ferry rides consists of going through canopies like this

DAY 5 : After having breakfast, we journeyed back to Port Blair. We checked into the hotel and had a good rest. This was a buffer day for us so we did not have much to do. So went for a bit of shopping in the evening and visited a local park.

DAY 6 : We left at dawn to Jirkatang (around 40 kms). From there we had to travel another 50 kms to Baratang via the Jarwa reserve forest. This is a no overtake zone and photography is strictly prohibited. From here, a 15 minute ferry ride took us to Baratang island.

Scenic fields on the way to the limestone caves, Baratang island

The limestone caves, Baratang island

We probably reached Port Blair around 4 PM and were too tired to do anything else that day.

DAY 7 : We visited the Chatham saw mill in the morning. Then we went to the Samudrika museum, followed by a visit to the anthropological museum. After that we also had time to visit fishery museum.

DAY 8 : Probably around 8:30 AM, we boarded a flight to Kolkata in the morning. After all the amazing experiences, I scarcely wanted to go back. All good things must come to an end, but I hope I can accumulate many more such memories. I would definitely want to go back again and will recommend everyone to go explore such awesomeness.

PS. I made a quick sketch while I was there. Thought I should share it with you guys as well. Cheers!

A quick sketch of Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island

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