There are some experiences which are worth reliving over and over again. Our vacation in the bewitching islands of Andaman definitely lists in such experiences. The archipelago boasts of pristine shorelines, emerald blue waters, a rich coral life and thick, dense woods; in short the perfect place to unwind and be with nature. Sai and I have been planning to go to Andaman since our college days, but it never materialized. So for our 1st anniversary as a wedded couple, we decided to paint Andaman red
On the beautiful morning of 20th Feb 2016, when we landed in Port Blair, the sun was out and beaming at us at 7 am. We headed for our homestay Chaukhat B&B, where we were greeted by the cheerful owner Vrinda. Chaukat was definitely a good start to our trip. Vrinda briefed us about things to be seen, places not to miss and chatted about the local culture, people and cuisine. She told us, and we also experienced it during our trip, that Andamans is one of the safest and tourist-friendly places in India. You can sleep with your doors open. The best time to be here is from October to February.
After a quick breakfast, we headed for the Clock Tower near Aberdeen Bazaar to pick up a bike for the day. As tourists, you can either take a chauffeur-driven cab or a self-drive bike. We generally like to take bikes so that we can adapt our plans according to our choice and have the liberty and luxury of time to ourselves. Our first stop was the Cellular Jail. Cellular Jail (aka Kaala Paani) was a prison constructed by the Britishers. Freedom fighters deported here were made to live in inhumane conditions. A walk through the corridors and the prison cells made me shudder.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to visit the Wandoor beach and catch the sunset at Chidiya Tapu. We took the slightly longer route by the sea to Wandoor. The sun was hot, but the soothing wind made the ride fun. Wandoor is a beautiful little beach at a distance of 25 km from the city center. The beach has many uprooted trees from the Tsunami lying around, which gives it an eerie yet serene look. Near Wandoor is the jetty point from where people go to Jolly Buoy Island which is famous for its underwater Corals. You can take a glass-bottomed boat or go snorkeling there. Due to lack of time, we skipped it and headed for the fabled sunset at Chidiya Tapu. Another 25 km from Wandoor, the ride through the reserve forests and occasional glances of the sea made it enjoyable. However, Chidiya Tapu didn’t match our expectations. The sunset was definitely beautiful, but the place as such is just okay. There was a time when thousands of birds flew back home across the skies of Chidiya Tapu, hence the name. However, sadly there were none the day we were there. We had a long day ahead of us the next day, so we decided to retire early for the day.
Day 2 was reserved for our trip to Baratang, a small island which serves as a gateway to middle and north Andamans. We had booked for a guided trip in a tourist bus organized by Monika travels. The bus picked us up at 4 a.m. in the morning. We slept through the 1.5 hrs drive to the Jirkatang Check Post. All vehicles going towards the north Andamans assemble here. The gates open at 6, and the vehicles travel in police-escorted convoy through the 50 km stretch of Jarwah Reserve Forest. These forests are home to the Jarwah tribes, one of the many original tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. As we drove through the forests, we saw them going about their regular chores and hunting trips. Still living as primitive men, they are protected by the Government. Photography and interaction with them are strictly prohibited. Our Bengali guide on the bus shared with us some interesting anecdotes about the tribal people from their earlier interactions. Some of the Jarwahs have become addicted to tobacco through their interaction with the guards at check-posts. You would see them come wave at you and ask for tobacco.
On reaching the other side of the forest, we went on a 15-min ferry ride to the Baratang Islands. From here, we embarked on a speedboat ride to the mangrove forests. It was a completely different experience to travel through the mangrove trees. We then trekked for some 2 km to reach Limestone Caves. Not as extensive as the Bora caves, but still a delight to watch. Sai was jumping like an excited child on seeing the stalactites and stalagmites. Then, we were taken to see mud volcanoes. Not as interesting as it sounds, though. It was evening by the time we reached our hotel.
The Bengali chef at the home-stay had prepared a nice fish curry, rice and baingan bhaja (brinjal fry). The bulk of immigrants in Andamans are from West Bengal, Bangladesh, Tamil Nadu and Myanmar. Interestingly, Andamans also falls under West Bengal telecom network.
The next day we had some time in our hand before our 1 o clock cruise to Havelock. We decided to go to some museums. The one that I really wanted to go was Samudrika, however, being a Monday it was closed . We went to the Anthropological Museum. It was a great decision. It offers an informative portrait of the local tribal community of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Then after a quick lunch at the Sea Shell restaurant, we dashed to the Phoenix Jetty Point. From here, we boarded the catamaran Makruzz for Havelock Islands. A 2-hour ride, the journey can be quite bouncy depending on the weather and choppiness of the water.
On reaching Havelock, we headed to our resort, dumped our luggage, took a bike from the hotel and drove like wind to catch the sunset at the Radhanagar beach. The view that beheld us on reaching the beach will remain etched in my memory forever. One of the most beautiful beaches I have seen, Radhanagar is a class apart. The soft white sands caressed our feet as we walked on the beach, woods running along the shore. Emerald blue waves dashing on to the shore was music to the ears. Time stood still as we saw the red sun disappearing into the ocean.
Havelock boasts of beautiful virgin beaches. Everything about Havelock reminds you how close you are to nature. The government has taken many initiatives to preserve the island’s original beauty. Food/ plastics are not allowed on the beaches here. Marketplaces, restaurants and bars are not allowed to be situated on the beaches.
In Havelock, the Govindnagar and Vijaynagar beach stretches have been commercialized with a lot of resorts coming up on this stretch. We stayed in resorts in both Govinda Nagar and Vijayanagar, with beautiful sea-view cottages. Havelock Island Beach Resort‘s USP was the cottage being a mere 50 mt from the beach; you literally wake up to the sea. Symphony Palms resort was more the happening sort of place with a nice pub and a nicely done beach area with hammocks. Being tidal in nature, the sea recedes during the afternoon but comes back in full form in the evening. The scuba diving sites are also on this side due to the beautiful corals situated here.
On our second day in Havelock, we were up early and ready for our Scuba diving session with DiveIndia. Our diving took place in a colorful reef near Govindnagar beach, called the Nemo reef. The experience of scuba diving can’t be described in words, it needs to be experienced. 60 mins underwater felt like being in the sets of Little Mermaid. The rest of the day was spent sunbathing on the beach and then scurrying to our favorite sport at Radhanagar.
Our favorite eatery in Havelock was this cute little place called “Something Different“. We ended up having a number of meals here and were never disappointed. Plus the sea view from the restaurant is soothing.
Another place I would suggest as a must-try is the restaurant of Barefoot@ Havelock (Near Radhanagar Beach). The bartender makes delicious cocktails. Zombie, a cocktail prepared with fresh Andaman Mangoes, is a specialty of theirs. The entrance to Radhanagar from the Barefoot is really stunning with the trees forming a canopied entrance.