A visit to the Baratang Limestone Caves and Mud Volcano requires a complete day, and if planning to visit there, a day for the same has to be accommodated in your travel schedule, in your tour plan for the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
For a detailed guide on visit to Havelock Island or Neil Island in the Andamans, go to the provided URLs below:
The main Andaman Island is divided into three parts by two straits, namely North, Middle and South Andaman. The Baratang Limestone Caves and Mud Volcano are located in the southernmost part of the Middle Andaman, in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The initial travel to the Middle Strait is approximately 100 kms by road.
Baratang Limestone Caves are one of the few famous and large limestone cave complexes located in India, some of the others visited by me and worth mentioning being, Borra Borra caves in Andhra Pradesh and Shiv Khori Shrine in Jammu.
The distance of Baratang from Port Blair and the multiple modes of travel involved make it an overall tedious trip, starting much early in the day, with return late in the evening. Depending on the tourist rush, you may have to start as early as 3 am, but must leave Port Blair by 5am. The earlier you leave for the trip, will you be back soon in the evening that day.
The multimodal travel involves a long restricted road travel in car / bus, then crossing the strait in a ferry, followed by a speed boat ride in the strait along the mangrove forest and then, rest of the distance to Baratang caves on foot. For mud volcano, you have to return back via speed boat to the jetty point and then proceed in another four wheeler for an approx. 8 km bumpy ride.
From Port Blair to Zirkatang Check Post, which is approx. 50 kms, you will have a normal road trip. On this way, you have to halt at Ferrargunj, at ~35 kms from Port Blair, where the permit for visit to Baratang is issued. The waiting time there depends on how early you have started the trip and on the tourist rush that day. If you have taken a travel package or hired a cab for this trip, the driver usually takes care of this permit and other paper formalities. You will have to just provide him with photocopies of your AADHAR Card, copies of your 2-dose Vaccination Certificates (required at present) and other basic details as per permit form.
After obtaining permit, you proceed to the Zirkatang Check Post, where you have to wait in line for the convoy movement. Yes, you heard it right, as a convoy of vehicles is only allowed to cross Zirkatang Check Post, 3 times in a day currently (time and number of convoys may vary, kindly enquire when visiting).
While you wait for the convoy to start at the Zirkatang Check Post, you can have hot and fresh south indian breakfast at the various makeshift shops located all along the road, and serving all kind of snacks and dishes like idli, vada, samosa, puri, dosa, uttapam, parotta, pakora, bhajia, tea, coffee, coconut water etc. In case you have received packed breakfast from your hotel in Port Blair, which is a usual practice to provide, in case you have breakfast included in your stay package (Continental Plan), you can have it here and complement it with other snacks, if feel so. :D
During the convoy movements, it is strictly instructed not to halt the vehicle, not to open the windows of the vehicle you are travelling in, and not to use your camera or other audio visual equipment anytime during the trip, till you reach Middle Strait Jetty Point. The area you cross from Zirkatang Check Post to the Middle Strait Jetty Point is a restricted area, inhabited by the Jarawa Tribes of the Andamans. You are most likely to encounter them at least once on your journey to Baratang and way back. Two-wheelers of tourists and general public are not allowed to cross the Zirkatang Check Post, for the same reason of restricted area and prohibition on interaction with members of the Jarawa tribe. Enjoy the lush green views and the rich fauna, while travelling through the restricted area.
When you arrive at the Middle Strait Jetty Point, you have to either park your vehicle there and board the jetty, or your vehicle also crosses the strait in the jetty, along with you. Enjoy the pleasant green views while waiting to board the jetty, in the huts setup at the corner and when aboard the jetty. The jetty takes approx. 20 minutes to cross the Middle Strait.
Construction of a flyover is ongoing connecting the Middle Strait Jetty Point to the Baratang Jetty Point, and is slated to complete in a year or two. When operational, you will arrive in your vehicle only at the Baratang Jetty Point, eliminating the jetty ride, and thus, reducing the overall trip timing by at least an hour.
BARATANG LIMESTONE CAVES
When you arrive at the Baratang Jetty Point, there is a counter for booking speed boat ride to the hike point in the mangrove forest, leading to the Baratang Limestone Caves. The booking will be coordinated by your driver in case of a travel package or cab booking opted for the trip.
A speed boat carries exactly 10 people and a guide mandatorily accompanies the group, who will guide you through the 1.5 km walk to the Limestone caves complex and inside the caves.
During your speed boat ride, which is along the Middle Andaman side of the Middle Strait, you might see members of Jarawa Tribe and / or their huts along the South Andaman side of the strait. (Kindly remember that their Photography / Videography is not allowed, as a respect to their dignity, with a majority members being only sparsely clad)
There are two points where you can get on and off the speed boat. One is just outside the channel from the Middle Strait leading to the caves, and another is inside that channel, through the dense mangrove forest. Where you will alight from or board the Speed boat depends on the tide, which if high, makes the farther one point inside the mangrove forest accessible by the speed boat.
When you alight from the speed boat, have a close look around. Yes, that is exactly what a Mangrove forest looks like, with multiple breathing roots emerging out of the boggy surface. The walk to the Limestone Caves is a nature's delight in itself, with it's visual experiences. However, it is recommended to watch your foot while walking to the caves and when inside the caves, as the way is uneven, and you are prone to trip and injure yourself. Just before the entrance to the caves, you will find certain makeshift shops, where you can have coconut water, lime water or certain snacks / fruits as per availability. You can enjoy the same while on your way back to the point where you have to board the speed boat again.
Once you enter the caves, you will have a brush up of your high school geography knowledge, while viewing the massive Stalactites / Helictites and Stalagmites structures in the cave.
The accompanying guide will show and highlight the various limestone structures in the caves with a torch, as no artificial light is present inside the caves and natural light penetration is very poor, even during a bright sunny day.
The cave is around 100-150 meters long, when a barricade comes and going further is not allowed. It was told that the structures were further approachable in the past, but due to the tsunami in 2004 some of the farther structures collapsed, rendering them either unapproachable or risky to approach.
You will be back to Baratang Jetty Point in a total time of 1.5 to 2 hours, .
Once you reach back the Baratang Jetty Point, you may proceed for the Mud Volcano, if you have time left in your journey plan, as per the last convoy release timings from the Middle Strait Jetty Point, which is last one at around 4pm (time may vary, kindly enquire when visiting). If you inadvertently miss the last convoy, you will have to go back to Baratang Jetty Point and stay for the night there at nearby properties.
Shared vehicles go to Mud Volcano, which is around 8kms from the Baratang Jetty Point. You have to hike for around half a kilometer from the starting point to reach the Mud Volcano.
Mud Volcano, unlike the name might depict, are a geological phenomena, with fine grayish clay mud oozing out slowly at various places. The flow varies from time to time, but usually you will just see few bubbles coming out every now and then from the centre point. Andaman is one of the unique places where Mud Volcanos have been reported at certain sites, but this site is the only one which is accessible to tourists. Andaman & Nicobar Islands is the only place in India which has a live volcano on an island (though inaccessible, and can only be viewed from a distance, on a much costly trip :|).
You will see multiple slowly erupting structures, big and small, spread around the roughly square area, with few structures even along the pathway built around the area. Once visit to the Mud Volcano is complete, you embark on your return journey to Port Blair.
You can have your Lunch at the few shops located at or near the Baratang Jetty Point, either before going to Mud Volcano or once you are returning to Baratang Jetty Point. The return journey similarly involves a ferry ride across the Middle Strait, waiting for the convoy to be released from the Middle Strait Jetty Point, then a ride through the restricted forest inhabited by the Jarawa Tribes and then, a normal road trip for the remaining distance onward from the Zirkatang Check Post to your stay destination in Port Blair.
The overall trip to Baratang Limestone caves may be skipped if you are on a tight schedule, and can be done if planning a visit to Mayabunder and Diglipur, with it being on the way. During that trip, you can even plan a night's stay at Baratang and visit Parrot Island (nearby only but accessible only by Speed Boat from the Baratang Jetty Point) in the evening.
However, if a day can be spared in your travel plan, do visit these geological marvels, where both the destination present a delightful experience, after a long multi-modal journey.
Just for infomation - Washroom Facilities are available at Zirkatang Check Post, Middle Strait Jetty Point and Baratang Jetty Point.
Ending the blog with some scenic experiences of the trip: