Sunday, January 5, 2014

Andamans: The Heavenly Islands

While thinking of taking a holiday, one is always swayed by the beautiful pictures and tales of how some friend had enjoyed during their international vacations.

However, India too has a great deal to offer in terms of holiday destinations - snow-capped mountains, deserts of Rajasthan, great beaches, serene islands, jungle safaris, lot of historical monuments and a lot more. The destinations just need to be better promoted and they can compete with any global destination.

So, when in September of 2012, my family decided to go for a holiday, we were confused as to which part of this great country we wanted to pick. 

After some research and browsing the internet, we decided to travel to a place that people don't generally recall when they think of India - The Andaman islands. 

The Andaman and Nicobar islands is an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal with greater proximity to Myanmar and Thailand than India but a very important part of India. The British, during their rule used these islands as a place to deport political and criminal prisoners. The islands still retain a lot of their natural beauty because it still has not been over-exploited by the tourism industry.

Since my parents were also traveling who are not too comfortable with unplanned trips, my father decided to use a travel agent to plan out compete itinerary - my first such trip ever. 

Since there is no direct flight from Mumbai to Port Blair, the capital of the islands, I took a Jet Airways flight with a stopover at Chennai. After landing at Chennai airport at night and spending the night at my aunt's house, I caught a morning flight from Chennai to Port Blair. 

I had my brother and cousin sister for company and my parents were flying in from Delhi. We planned our flights in such a manner that all of us landed at approximately the same time. 

The airport is a nice, small and cozy airport nestled between the hills in the city. 

We landed at around lunch time and were taken to our hotel straight away. After having a nice lunch, we decided to head to the Corbyn's Cove beach. One of the first things we noticed after getting  there was a big signboard saying, " Beware of crocodiles". On inquiring, locals told us that a crocodile was spotted there a week before, hardly a comforting fact. 

View at Corbyn's Cove beach

The beach though was a very nice one and we spent a great time just walking at the beach and having a nice cup of tea sitting there. Next we headed for the night show at the Cellular Jail or the famous Kaala Paani prison where a number of India's freedom fighters, most notably, Veer Savarkar, were jailed during the struggle. The show told us about all the atrocities that were committed there during the British rule and the brief Japanese rule (during World War II). After the great show, we headed back to our hotel as we had a early morning ferry to catch for Havelock Island. 

We got up early to catch the 6 am ferry to Havelock island, a place famous for its beaches and scuba diving and a place that was severely affected by the Tsunami of 2004. This was the first time I was taking such a long ferry ride - so decided to enjoy the view by standing at the deck of the ferry just enjoying vast expanse of the deep blue sea. 

View from the deck of the ferry
We reached the island around 9 am and had about half a day to spend. We wanted to do some water-sports. However, since it was drizzling that day, we were advised against doing scuba diving there. We (Me, my brother and my dad)  instead decided to do some snorkeling and my sister and mom decided to try out the glass boat in the meantime. It was a nice experience. I  was able to see some corals and some fish but due to the drizzle, the visibility was low. 

At Havelock island
After completing these activities, we headed down to the Radhanagar beach, which was rated the best beach in Asia in 2004 (as with all places in the Andamans, it was also affected by the tsunami of 2004). The beach had good facilities for changing of clothes, was not too crowded and the waves were also jut right for enjoying.

The Radhanagar Beach

After this tiring day, we took the ferry back to Port Blair and retired to our hotel rooms (Note to the tourists - Things close down early in Port Blair, so by 9-10 pm, markets would be shut).

The next day was reserved for North Bay and Ross Island - two places that are a short 5-10 minute boat ride from Port Blair jetty. 

North Bay is famous for Scuba diving (however, if you are going to Havelock or Long island, advice to do scuba there). We were taken to North Bay in a long, narrow boat. At one end of the boat one guy was busy filling up buckets of water from inside the boat and emptying it into the sea - something that scared us initially. 

We reached the place safely though and changed into the Scuba gear. We were then given some basic instructions with regards to sign language in the water, what to do when your ears start getting affected under water pressure etc. I was listening intently as I was the only one there who did not know how to swim. For other non-swimmers like me, it is not necessary to know how to swim, it is all about keeping calm and breathing properly while doing the scuba.

Me doing Scuba 
I was the second to go in (of 3 people - me, brother and sister). I got to see some great corals and a large number of fishes. Though one does lose track of time, it was a 15-20 minute experience which was one of the best I have had till date and would definitely like to do some scuba again sometime. 

The fishes and the corals
There were other water-sports such as sea-walking, speed boats, snorkeling etc. available at the place, but nothing beats scuba diving. After all three of us were done, we were dropped at the Ross Island on a speed boat. 

Ross island is a place situated at a 5-minute boat ride from Port Blair and was the place where the British administration used to stay during their rule. The island is now maintained by the Indian Navy and stay after sunset on the island is not allowed. 

The ruins of the Church on Ross island
You are greeted by a huge herd of deer as soon as you get down from the boat. The entire island, a small one, is filled with remains of the British stay, some buildings still in good shape due to use by the Navy, some which have rapidly deteriorated to become ruins. The buildings included officer quarters, churches, offices etc. - everything that you would expect a colony to have. After going around the island, we still had half and hour to spend. I did what I like the best, just lie down besides the sea and relax. 

After getting back to Port Blair, we had a good sumptuous meal which marked the end of our day. 

The last day of the trip was reserved for going around the capital. The first stop, the Celluar Jail, there we had seen the night show on the first evening. The place is one of the best maintained historical sites in India with its rooms with information on the history of the jail as well as information on the notable prisoners of the place. 

The Cellular Jail
Some of the places at the jail do leave you overwhelmed - like the place where public floggings took place or the execution room. However, I do feel one needs to visit these places to understand the sacrifice that was made by a large number of people to get the freedom that we so easily abuse now. 

Out last stop for the trip was the Anthropological museum, which gives us a lot of information about the various tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands and their history. The museum is very well made and is a must-visit for anyone even remotely interested in the details of the natives there. 

We were nearing the end of our stay and there was only one thing left to do - shop for from souvenirs for friends (and maybe some decorative pieces for your own home).

We left for the airport the next morning where we had out flight to Chennai. Thereafter, we took our respective flights to Delhi and Mumbai to end what was the best family holiday I had ever had. 

I want the beautiful place to get its due as a great holiday destination, but am wary of over-exploitation of the place, the lack of which makes it the a great destination. My advice would be to visit the place before that happens.

Things to do and see in Andamans
1. Definitely try Scuba diving and enjoy the great corals (Long island, Havelock, North bay - in that preference order); alternatively do snorkeling
2. Visit the Cellular Jail to understand the sacrifices of India's freedom fighters
3. Experience the awesome beaches - Radhanagar, Elephant, Corbyn's Cove etc.
4. Just relax - its supposed to be a holiday

Photo Gallery

1 comment:

Tara nair said...

Awesome post! I have been there twice post Tsunami. Even then, the Island was looking so beautiful, I thought that pre-Tsunami it would have been heaven.