The Starter - For those who haven't cared to check till now, it may dawn as a realisation that Andaman & Nicobar (A&N) Islands are two distinct demo-graphical and geographical segments within the territory that is colloquially referred to as one single entity. In fact, administratively, these two segments, together, make what is called A&N Island Union Territory of the country but as far as demo-graphical make up is concerned, two distinct population mixes inhabit these groups of islands. More can be read about them on the net. From pure traveller's perspective, while most of Andaman part if open, barring a forest reserve and few islands where tribals, dating back to Paleolithic era, still live in more or less original way, Nicobar part is simply out of bounds without official permits that are difficult to get. Overall, there are 572 islands but only 38 are permanently inhabited and a few are simply out of bounds even for the local administrators. Interestingly, northern tip of Andaman is closer to Myanmar that our own Bengal and southern tip is closer to Indonesia than any of A&N's part to mainland India.
Meal Plan - Our trip to Andamans happened in mid March 2017. Aim was to avoid high peak season as also our holiday plans were bound by Czia's exams. We were a bit apprehensive about the weather turning a bit too warm by then but that was not to be and weather remained pleasant and there were no issues of any kind. Here, rather than going into nitty-gritties of the trip, I shall share useful information that may be of help to fellow travellers.
Cutting & Chopping - A lot of time was spent in researching the subject and in interacting with friends who have been there. As plans were being hashed and thrashed, one thing became very clear to me- services of a tour operator would help us have a smooth holiday. There are many inter-island travels involved and even on a given island, one may need a speed boat to travel to the point of interest. The experience of earlier travellers spoke about waiting at jetties before boarding the boats and cruises, issues with finding a taxi on landing at a jetty, queues for entry tickets and, of course, finding the way around. So, the first take away is that services of a reliable tour operator would help you travel and transit with ease. Once there, this point was seen, felt and proved. Right from our landing at Veer Savarkar Airport at Port Blair till our departure from the same point, we faced no issues. It was all seamless and smooth for us while we could see others sitting or standing and waiting at places of embarkation/dembarkation. A good decision in the end! We had preferred to choose a local operator. Such a decision saved us costs and ensured personalised service. Experience Andamans (http://www.experienceandamans.com)gave us some very great service. Their staff was omni present and we never had to look for their representatives anywhere during our week long stay and numerous hoppings!
Masala Box - Some of the characteristics that need to be assimilated for a better experience:-
- The main language of the locals is Hindi.
- Natives, Bengalis and Tamilians make the racial mix.
- Hindus and Christians are the two biggest communities.
- A very high degree of punctuality where 0800h means 0759h and not 0801h.
- No rash driving seen (lack of skills may be, yes!) and don't expect your driver to drive like hell to cover for the delay that you may have caused for yourself.
- Neat and clean - they take pains to preserve the ecology and keep India clean.
- Beer is not allowed on the beach (forget about liquor) nor it is allowed in public places. A&N is no Goa. There are enough bars though and drinking is allowed inside the bar only. Even lawns outside the bar, but within the resort, cannot be used for drinking.
- Micro-management at the grassroot level is very good and unlike elsewhere in India.
- There are no branded hotels, except one from ITC (in bad shape). The best properties belong to Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) that also handles milk and liquor supply within the territory. Dolphin in Havelock Island and Megapode Resort in Port Blair are their crowning glories and unmatched by any other property in A&N. If you are booking yourself, be early and book on line.
- Liquor used to be duty free but no longer now. Earlier, one bottle per head could be carried back but now there is no fun since prices are at par/ even more.
- No coral and sea produce, barring decorative shells, can be carried out of A&N. There is a severe fine and punishment. If you are buying something that may appear significant, insist on a bill and keep it safe till your exit from Port Blair.
- There are no big shopping plazas or malls. One shop, Sagarika Emporium, sells souvenirs in Port Blair but remains crowded.
- Various taxi and boat rates are fixed and no haggling/bargaining is done.
- Islands depend on outside support to meet the needs of demanding tourists. Some sensitivity will help.
- People are decent, easy going and are not greedy. No one looks for tips and many refuse to accept one when offered!
- In a nutshell, it is a better version of our India!
Main Course - Beaches are simply amazing all across the territory. Yes, the beaches lack facilities like shacks on the sand itself and there is no loud music and noise (die-hard Goa fans!!) culture there. Further, because of its isolation, the crowds are not very huge (it is a bit expensive kind of a travel destination; only die-hard back packers will find it otherwise!) and unless one is appreciative of natural beauty and landscape, one may feel bored after a while. But if you have been a fish in a distant birth and if you love water and the beaches, it is a paradise! While many coasts are rocky and hard, most of the beaches (silver and shining without exception) are gentle and shallow. Things to do (and we did):-
1. Choose your hotel/stay option wisely. Fancy names, like Holiday Inn etc, are local properties and not part of the chains that we may know of. We stayed at Megapode Resort at Port Blair. It has two categories and we picked up the higher one, the cottages. A few glimpses of from our room...