Andamans!!

Tripoto
19th Mar 2017

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...

Day 1

2. Visit to Cellular Jail (entry closes at 1600h) is a must, a pilgrimage for us! Kids must be taken there both for the open visit and light and Sound show (entry begins at 1700h).

3. Havelock Island. This is a must see, feel and stay! There is a ferry service (both govt and pvt) and a chopper service too. The difference between govt run and pvt ones (both have fixed timings) is the matter of vintage and speed. You may take Makruzz cruise that starts at a respectable time of about 0800h and reaches soon after the early morning one that has a slower speed but starts pretty early. On Makruzz, try and book first class seat (only few) if you want to go out on the deck. Otherwise, the Premium segment is good enough. Cafe charges twice the MRP (simple calculations) and serves basic snacks. The breakfast from the hotel can also be consumed on board.

We were lucky enough (or kind courtesy our tour operator) to have first row seats on to and fro journeys bu despite clear announcements and requests and instructions, people crowd around the wind screen and screw up every one else's happiness. Luckly, such an exuberance was not there on our return journey, Sea salt appeared to worked its magic to calm them down. Some inputs....

It is again an ANIIDC run property and undoubtedly the best on the shelf. It is bang on a very shallow and peaceful beach. Over years, many small to medium range resorts have come up in line with this resort, each one with beach next to it . But there is no concept of private beaches and guests staying in one property can walk all over the long beach, without any hindrance. The resort serves pre-ordered buffet meals @ Rs 150/- per head and offers a few other limited options for non-veg seekers. A good bar serves you only inside its hall and in one small verandah....remember, no daru even in the lawns!

Beauty, undoubtedly, is unmatched. There are some basic facilities like lockers and seating areas that have been created in a coconut grove that separates a small market-cum-parking from the beach per se. But between the grove and the beach, there is a long line of high and thick foliage that isolates the beach from view. While such a privacy is great, it poses some basic logistic problems. There is nothing to keep your stuff while you swim in the sea. For a lone traveller or a a small group, keeping towels and water in the grove and then taking a dip is something that is not ideal. Otherwise, absolutely stunning!

This beach at Radha Nagar is not as shallow as elsewhere in Havelock but the areas have been well marked and slope is gentle. This was also the most crowded of all the beaches but the crowd is as you see in the pic.....reminded of Callangute? Ha, ha....no way, I am sure!

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Yes, it is a pearl!

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This is what comes of the Machan during low tide that coincides with sun set. Beware of those spikes during high tide when these become invisible to a casual eye. These are solid, hard and sharp.

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Where is all the water?

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Hunter at work

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Low tide also reveals the hidden beauty- an ecosystem that exists under water

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Reminded me of the Sea Pirates!

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Kala Pathar beach is another gem in the wilderness. Before 2004 Tsunami, a huge black rock stood here....doesn't exist any longer but the name stays

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A typical hut

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On the way to Elephanta Beach

A speed boat takes you to Elephanta Beach that is known for its undersea corals and water activities. We had been promised a complimentary snorkeling session here by our tour operator but before our arrival here, we were informed about a recent govt decision to stop the system of boat ride-cum-snorkeling in the interest of the safety. My protest was natural since we had not been informed about it beforehand. The tour operator agreed to pay for it whenever and wherever we wanted to do that. Turned out to be blessing in the disguise since we then did it at a place that is one of the best in the world and they paid for it!

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Enroute to Elephanta

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Elephanta Beach offers many water activities like banana ride, sea scooter, under sea walk and snorkeling

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This line marks the end of the safe area. For about 50m from the beach and till this point, water is about 4.5 ft deep and gives a feel of a swimming pool; no waves. just ripples!

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Under Sea Walk is offered here and in North Bay. We did it here but after doing other activities in North Bay later, we realised that the best place to do this activity is North Bay where water is more clear and environment more rich in under sea life.

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(Date is wrong!!) Under sea walk is an experience in itself. While many shied away from it, our brave daughter simply took it on even at the cost of being a bit uncomfortable- something that she never showed during the activity!

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Elephanta sea pool

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This beach has a line of eco-friendly facilities alongside and that way, it is more user-friendly

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Rooms are spacious, well decked up and pretty tasteful

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

The balcony overlooks the bay

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

well maintained property

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

A depressing structure- huge, nevertheless!

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

Freedom did not come easy..... we tend to take it for granted

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

No filming or pics allowed during L&S show...could click one after the show got over

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

This is Makruzz Vessel

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

Yes, the Premium class is good enough- comfortable and neat

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

This is the famous lighthouse of North Bay (you can find it on a Rs 20/- note.....on the way to Havelock

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

Makes one proud...every time, every where!

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

Reception area ofDolphin Resort at Havelock ​

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

The beach next door....the lawns finish into the beach. It is silver sand, blue-turquoise water beauty

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

One has to wade knee deep for about a 100m into the sea to reach this tree machan. The sea floor is gentle and almost plain. When the low tide sets in, one can simply walk across to it without wetting the feet

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

Yes, Dolphin is the best of all in Havelock

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina

This is the world famous Radha Nagar Beach; purported to be number 4 for its beauty.

Photo of Andamans!! by Ajay K Raina
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