A jaunt to ANDAMAN & NICOBAR, the wondrous archipelago in the Bay of Bengal comprising 500-plus tiny islands is a dream come true for any tourist, for the very breathtaking experience it extends amidst the beautiful nature. Once a dreaded place used to house Indian freedom fighters in exile, Andaman is endowed with beautiful locales too, courtesy the ever ready, bountiful mother nature. The place boasts of innumerable pristine beaches off its coasts; surrounded by rich flora and fauna, besides many historic spots. One is stunned noticing the gorgeous and picturesque landscapes here, some yet uninhabited and unconquered by the greedy creatures. A , four plus OR five hour flight from any South Indian cities (Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Trivandrum) you are in its capital Port Blair. A peep through the aircraft window minutes before landing, makes a spectacular vision, what with bits of land haphazardly scattered all over the sea, unlike other destinations where multi storeyed sky scrapers welcome the visitors.
A part of India, Andaman has lot more to offer for tourists. The streets and buildings very much resemble a normal Indian state that make us feel we are’nt in an alien land but are in the midst of our own environs throughout. Mostly inhabited by Bengalis, Tamilians and Keralites, the place exudes a local environment. A haven for nature lovers, the islands abound in whatever mother earth can bestow upon the mankind; rivers, white sandy beaches, trek hills, waterfalls, thick forests and what not.
On the brighter side, many exotic islands queue up to attract tourists for once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ross Island comes first. A 3-KM sail on a cruise (some 75 minutes) from the Aberdeen jetty in Port Blair (also known as Rajiv Gandhi Water sports complex) takes us to Ross island, now in ruins. The place is good for a quaint walk and silent musings. Coconuts and copra are strewn around aplenty with no one to take. Ross island was once the administrative headquarter of the region, but post a deadly earthquake in 1941, the entire set up got shifted to Port Blair. Now decrepit buildings stand mute spectators to the past glory, while the many bunkers on the sea shore tell the horrifying stories of the inhuman treatment given to great Indian souls during the British Raj.
Neil Islands, away at few KMs from Port Blair comes next on the list. It can be reached by a jetty. Strangely, beaches here are named after characters from Hindu epic Ramayan - Sitapur, Bharatpur, Laxmanpur and so on. Water activities like Scuba diving, snorkeling, seawalk, etc await the tourists here for a price ranging from Rs.2500 to Rs.3,000. For scuba diving, a pair of water glass, rubber jacket, an oxygen cylinder kit and a professional diver (to hold your back while in water) are provided, besides a common photographer who follows you to take snaps for a group of 6 to 7. Even non-swimmers and aged can take the plunge for a wonderful sight of coral reefs in the deep sea and enjoy colourful fish moving past you without fear or hesitation. If you so desire, a test dive for about 5 to 10 minutes is arranged at no cost, when mouth-breathing exercise and a hand/leg movement demonstration are given to ensure you are mentally prepared for the adventure. A thumbs-up sign denotes your assent and thumbs down your dissent for the ‘expedition’. Once you okay it, you are in for a 45-minute final dive. Glass bottom boating is yet another thrill for the weak-hearted, where one need not go under water but sitting on a boat fitted with glass bottom, can see through the water species below. Swimming alongside expansive array of aqua creatures, that too at 15 meters deep sea, viewing the exotic treasures and exploring the exquisite underwater marine life is itself a memorable experience.
The quintessence of the tour is Havelock island, without which the trip is incomplete. A stroll on the calm and quaint beaches stun you no end. They literally rejuvenates the body and soul. The island lies at around 46 KMs from the capital Port Blair and can be reached by private cruises and government operated ferries. Sailing through the chilly wind, sipping hot coffee/tea on board, listening to Hindi film songs from the background, with water all around, makes you forget everything. Once off the deck, you can hire a taxi to go round the places there or get into the local bus that connects the jetty and villages on an hourly circuit. Taxi would be ideal. Adjudged the 7th cleanest beach in Asia by Time Magazine in 2004, the crescent shaped Radhanagar beach stands apart. Cleanliness personified, the beach with a crystal clear water is well taken care of. It has finest hues of unending sky and frolicking waves. Sans any pollution and with strikingly beautiful scenery, the ambience here is so tranquil and attractive that we feel as If we are in a heavenly abode. Musical waves resonate in one’s ears days after we leave the place. It is best for those who look for seclusion on a beach holiday. Besides Radhanagar, Elephant beach, Vijay Nagar beach, Kala Pathar beach also mesmerize the tourists by their serenity.
As always, there are dark sides to a story too. Undoubtedly, the Cellular Jail, the colonial prison, is one such. Aptly called ‘Kala Pani’, the name is synonym with treachery meted out by the Britishers to Indian freedom fighters pre-independence. The dark cells here were where our martyrs like Veer Savarkar, Mahavir Singh etc were kept in exile to languish, as a ‘punishment’ for their freedom struggle and to prevent re-offending. The jail comprises seven wings built on three storeys, with a total of 696 cells constructed in such a way that entrance to each cell lies on the opposite direction - a cruel idea to cut communication among prisoners and ensure isolation and solitary confinement. Swatantrya Jyothi - a flame - is kept glowing here in the memory of freedom fighters. The saga of the heroic movement is brought alive every evening through a Sound & Light show, both in English and Hindi to bring back the gory past before our eyes. The prison is now made a National Memorial Monument,
Trekking in its dense tropical rain forests is yet another thrilling activity the island is known for. Among the abundant spots, two peaks are popular - Mount Harriet and Diglipur – providing ample opportunity for adventure lovers.
Samudrika museum showcasing sea-related items and Chatham saw mills are the other two attractions. Include them in your itinerary if time and wallet permit. They can be covered in half a day. Rutland, Long, Northbay and Baratong islands, Wandoor beach, Viper Barren are few more one can try provided there is ample time at disposal.
It is time we now bid a disheartening (?) farewell to Andaman. Our heart weeps for the parting moment with the inseparable cozy lap of mother nature that cared us almost a week with its bounty. Boarding the aircraft at the Veer Savarkar airport for the return journey is painful but sweet memories of the enthralling, marvelous experience and its charms always live forever in our memory.