Andaman – India’s finest kept secret !!

Andaman is India’s finest kept secret! And its beauty, in one word, is luxurious!

It’s such a relief to know that there exists a place which offers unexplainable peace in a chaotic world; where everything is in abundance –fruits, vegetables, trees, birds, fish, water, coconuts, oxygen and humanity. Unfathomable prosperity!

Tucked away from the Indian mainland, in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman is an archipelago of 572 islands, of which only about 38 are inhabited, of which only a dozen or so are open to tourists, Havelock & Neil Islands being the most popular.

With breathtakingly alluring coastline, crystal clear water, lush forested interior, enchanting nature trails, stunning sunrises &glorious sunsets, fantastic diving possibilities and elaborate history, the Andaman Islands are a perfect place to wander around or simply chill out on sun-toasted beaches.

The people of Andaman deserve a special mention. Majority of the localities we spoke to, primarily in Havelock & Neil Islands – and we spoke to a lot! – were Bengalis and Tamilians now permanently settled in Andaman. I have been to a lot of places & interacted with a lot of people but I am yet to come across such happy and contented set of people! Everybody we met or spoke to was so warm, welcoming & helpful – people practiced humanity as a choice!

The adventure began on 19th Feb 2018 as we landed in Port Blair.

Port Blair

We were greeted by fresh air as soon as we stepped out on Veer Savarkar International Airport. Port Blair is a well-planned, clean & lively city. It was a pleasure walking around the city on its uphill & downhill roads. The traffic was so well managed, without any signals! In our 2 day stay at Port Blair I realized how disciplined the residents were.

We stayed at “The Shelter” on the first day of our arrival. I had booked the hotel through Make My Trip at a great discount! Location of the hotel was the best! It was sea-facing and at a walking distance to the Cellular Jail and Aberdeen Market, which is one of the most popular & busy markets of Port Blair.

Port Blair holds great significance in India’s struggle for freedom. It is most known for the infamous Cellular Jail constructed to house Indian convicts, mostly political prisoners. The Jail is popularly known as Kala Pani (translated as “Black Waters”), a name given to it due to the torture and ill-treatment towards the prisoners, first by British & then by Japanese during World War II.

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The jail originally had 7 wings, of which only 3 are left now, and a central tower acting as a fulcrum.

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As I entered the Cellular Jail, I couldn’t help noticing its beauty; however I also couldn’t help noticing that the whole atmosphere of the place seemed damp! I felt as if every object in there had a sad tale to narrate.

The saga of the heroic freedom struggle was brought alive during the evening hour long light and sound show. There was an old peepal tree standing at the entry of the Jail compound (this tree was as old as the Jail itself). The show was structured in such a way that the tree, which had seen all of it, was narrating the barbarous treatments that the prisoners went through in here. I sat choked with emotions throughout the show – by the end of it I was angry and sad. The only positive emotion that I had was probably – pride!

The city sleeps really quickly. Our show ended a little before 8 and we were walking down to our hotel when we realized how deserted the roads were! There was not a single person or vehicle passing by. Some of the street lights were also not working – and it felt really spooky! But then it was a nice walk too – with the sea on one side and lot of trees and few sleepy houses on the other. I was discussing this with our hotel manager the next morning and he told me that the local people start their day really early, like 5 or something and also wrap up by 8. My kind of people, except for the starting early thing! 😉

So, it was a day well spent and a night well slept at Port Blair.

Next day morning we cruised our way to Havelock! – And what a heaven it was!

We took the 8 AM cruise by The Makruzz, the first and best private cruise in The Andamans. I had got the tickets to all the ferries, that we were supposed to take during our travel, pre-booked online – and this is highly recommended. The online booking system of The Makruzz is fairly simple & quick.

We were cruising for the very first time and needless to say – we were super excited!

The vessel looked better than we had expected – both from the outside –

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& from the inside –

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It was a comfortable 2 hour cruise to Havelock.

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I have to mention here – I noticed these really tiny flying fish in the sea while we were cruising. Of course they were not really flying! – It was more of a long-jump. And they were so tiny yet to agile, they covered quite a distance in their jump. They were really cute. I kept noticing them after every few minutes through the cruise. 🙂

Havelock Island

As we de-boarded at the Havelock Jetty, we were welcomed by shimmering turquoise waters of the sea. We were mesmerized – to say the least – just by the first look of it!

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There was a tourist information center near the jetty’s exit and we happened to step in for general information gathering. There we were told that all scuba diving packages are required to be booked from here a day in advance. We wasted no time in getting an early morning slot booked for the following day.

We then hired an auto to our resort – ‘The Flying Elephant Jungle Resort’.

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It was literally in the jungle. The resort was around 200 Mtrs. from the Kala-Pathar beach, which is the farthest corner of the Island. The more famous beaches are quite far away from this part of the island. In fact we learnt that several visitors skip this beach because of the distance & hence, it was beautiful! It was quite and deserted.

I fell in love with the resort. 8 simple bamboo huts arranged under swaying coconut trees – that’s it! As good and simple as it could get!

The hut was just so uncomplicated – it took my breath away as I entered it.

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It had a seating area & bathroom on the ground floor –

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And a fleet of wooden stairs led to a small sleeping area above.

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Except for the switch boards, there was no plastic used. So, this one was an eco-friendly resort, which was primarily why I had picked it up! This has been by far the best place I have ever stayed at – all of my trip put together!

The restaurant of the resort was about 100 Mtrs. further into the jungle. The walk to the restaurant was just so quiet and so amazing. And the food served was mouth-watering!

Every morning we would be awakened by the Cocka-doodle-doo of the chickens, which would go on for quite a while, and then we would step out of the hut to find countless fat chickens, with huge red crowns, grazing around and sleepy cats lazing around. This was just such a lovely sight!

The beach was so near that we could almost always hear the waves come and go.

Most of the mornings I would just sit on the bench outside the hut look around and smile. Life was good.

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Radhanagar beach is the most popular beach in Havelock. Radhanagar beach, also known as number 7 beach (all the beaches had a number!!) was ranked as the “Best Beach in Asia” by Time in 2014. It also featured among the top 10 in TripAdvisor’s ‘World’s Travellers’ Choice Award-Winning Beaches’. The Radhanagar beach was at 8th position in the world and 1st in Asia. & now I know why!

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It was perfect with its turquoise blue water and its whiter-than-the-snow sand and outlined by bright green trees. There were few people during the day, though the footfall considerably increased in the evening to view the sunset, which was quite a mystical experience!

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We reached the beach early in the day & left only post sunset. After playing in the water for a while, we just sat in a corner looking at the waves come & go. I noticed that only one wave came at a time (contrary to the Kala-Pathar beach where multiple waves came together) and there was a noticeable time gap between two waves. And the silence that filled up that gap – was mesmerizing! We sat there all day listening to this silence.

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There was something peculiar I noticed at Radhanagar beach – there was a temple at the entry and post sunset the priest performed a small prayer. May be it was a way to worship the sunset – anyways, it was worth the worship!

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Outside the beach area there were numerous small food joints selling fresh sea food. We had fish and rice – delectable it was!

Finally, much later in the evening, we started our drive back to our jungle resort. The drive back was long and dark – almost scary with the howling sea on one side and thick forest on the other, but an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

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The other awesome beach in Havelock is – Elephant Beach.

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One way of reaching the beach is through a 40-Minute forest trek, which includes a mangrove forest stretch as well! And the other way is to take a boat from Havelock Island dock. We chose the first and it is highly recommended for all nature lovers. It was – amazing! Tiring – yes – but amazing!!

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This is an ideal beach for those who wish to indulge in water sports (other than scuba diving) like snorkeling, mirror boat rides, sea walk, banana boat rides to name a few.

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However, the entry to this beach closes around 2.30 PM as the beach becomes inaccessible post 4 PM. We were told that the water fills up the beach area!

We dived on our 2nd day at Havelock. We started at about 6.30 in the morning.

We dived with Aqua Nomads. Such awesome group of people – everybody was really friendly & fun. They helped us with our dive suits & equipment’s and took us through a 20-minute training session in water.

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I must mention here – Both me & my husband are non-swimmers and I, particularly, have never been very comfortable under water. In fact during the training, I did panic a bit and for a few seconds I did re-consider my decision to dive!

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While I was being dragged (since I do not know how to swim) by my trainer and master (who were supposed to accompany us inside) I had no idea what awesome-ness was in store for me. I was totally unprepared for what I saw and experienced. It was incredible!

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For the first 10 seconds or so, after we went underwater, I was blank – my brain just refused to process any information at all, as if it went to sleep! & then when I finally saw some orange & white striped clown fish, better known as “Nemo”, swimming lazily towards me it finally started to wake back up! It was the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen or imagined. It was meditative! I don’t think I can describe it any better.

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I saw fish and corals that I never knew existed.

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The sea bed glittered brighter than gold.

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There were explosions of color and light everywhere. And there was an explosion of emotions inside me. I felt apologetic for disturbing the peace of this incredibly beautiful world and I felt sorry for what had become of the world that I come from and I also felt so grateful that I had the privilege of experiencing this wonder. I cried and smiled and laughed and it all got over so soon! I remember my trainer dragging me out but I didn’t want to go but I could not say this to her. And in a flash I was out – floating on the water looking up at the sky. My brain was blank again. For a long time I felt nothing. It was like a dream. Gratitude is the only emotion I remember feeling once I was finally out of the water.

This experience has made me so much richer!

The rest of the day we spent taking the local bus ride, a 20 minutes ride that covers the island from one corner to another and helps get a peek into the everyday life there, and chilling at the Kala-Pathar beach.

Next day morning we cruised to Neil Island.

Neil Island

Imagine a paradise island – several hours away from the main land, bare soft sand beaches, clear blue water, surrounded by primeval jungle and mangrove forest, no connectivity, fresh seafood, simple village life, extremely polite and sweet people and unbelievably affordable – that’s Neil!

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Neil Island is the hidden jewel of Andaman. It is so tiny – just about 5 KM’s has everything. One can just cycle around the island.

It was inspiring to see so much abundance in such little space.

We had a one night stay stayed in Neil – but we realized that we should have definitely spent at least a day more there.

Our resort, Coco & Huts Beach Resort, in Neil was at Lakshmanpur beach. We were given a cute little beach side hut to live in, it wasn’t as eco-friendly as the one we had in Havelock but of course we had nothing to complain about!

The island was completely relaxed & laid back.

For me the Lakshmanpur Natural Bridge was the best take-away. The Bridge actually requires a bit of a trek over huge rocks, but it was truly spectacular & totally worth It. This Bridge basically divides the Lakshmanpur beach into beach – 1 & beach – 2. Beach – 2 is full of dead corals.

Next was Bharatpur beach that we went to. This was the only beach in Neil that had the options of water sports like snorkeling, glass bottom rides etc.

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I realized no two beaches in Andaman were the same. They looked the same – white sand, blue water – but a closer look revealed each had its unique quality.

Like at Bharatpur beach, there was a really long unmanned floating bridge. The bridge had no side railings to hold and I could spot no guards around to help in case someone falls into the water. Only when I started walking on the bridge I realized how shallow the water was! Even at the end of the bridge I could clearly see the rocks under the water, it was only knee deep probably! This was quite amazing & surely made a great spot for photography.

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The next was Sitapur Beach – we went to this beach early morning and for a fairly long time we were the only 2 people on this huge beach! It was amazing. This beach had these rocky structures laid down all along the water. The sunrise here was quite spectacular.

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We, obviously, spent a lot of time at Lakshmanpur beach (since our resort was right there!). An amazing thing that I noticed here was that the water at this beach retreated atleast 2-3 KM’s into the sea post noon exposing these huge roots of the trees. Late evening we could hardly see the water at all, only hear the waves distantly. It retreated that much! I had never seen such phenomena before.

We tried taking these before – and – after shot.

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Suddenly the picture-perfect turquoise blue beach became brown & barren – but beautiful of course!

But for me, Neil Island was actually not about the beaches. Neil was about the abundance that I saw & smelled & breathed! It was about how magnificent life can be when we choose to respect and embrace nature.

It was about the happiness that we felt when we plucked fruits right from the trees & ate.

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It was about all the coconuts that I went mad over.

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& it was about this! For me, this signified freedom! I mean, can we ever imagine this majestic creature roaming fearlessly & peacefully like this in any of our cities?

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Finally, it was time for us to bid good-bye to this heaven. I had tears in my eyes as I boarded the cruise back to Port Blair.

To sum this all up – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the luxury of being offline and of being unrushed.

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I know I have left a piece of my heart behind. I am definitely going to go back looking for it.

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