In the past couple of months, I have been asked one same question repeatedly by people: are you a mountain person or a beach person? Chasing back the memory lane of my travels, I would say mountain as I did not see many beaches or rather many good beaches. But my recent trip to Andaman and Nicobar Islands has changed my answer, for better or worse. Now I like them both. I would want to see more of both of them.
My friend and I decided to fly to the untouched paradise that is the Andaman Islands. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, one of the seven union territories of India, are a group of islands at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
Since my friend and I have already spent so much energy on the task, let me just pen down a rough guide for your travel to the Andaman Islands.
If one plan visits Andaman, plan well in advance of the travel days and set a Google price alert on the flight prices to Port Blair, the capital city. Figure out the floor price and book the tickets whenever prices come within the budget. Do not forget to check the bank debit/credit offers on different travel sites. Next, get set fly!
We reached Port Blair in the afternoon and had already pre-booked our taxi to our B&B Ocean Terrace in Haddo. One needs to prepare oneself to lose the internet connectivity and cell phone network reception if not a BSNL user. Airtel is the second best network in the area that might work. But when you’re on a trip there, that would be the last thing on your mind. You won’t miss the social media.
Port Blair is a small city with the Cellular Jail and several museums as the major tourist attractions. So on the first day, we visited the Cellular Jail in the afternoon. Now about the Cellular Jail, the last entry is at 4 PM and the place is evacuated at 5 PM for re-entry at 6 PM for its famous light and sound show. One can buy the visit only ticket at the counter but for the light and sound show, though I would suggest one book them online and make the payment at the tourist office on the day of the show. The other option is to use the Jail’s WIFI and block the seats at the Counter. The only catch is that the booking window opens between 4:15-4:30 and there comes too much traffic while booking from the tour agents and other tourists. We were not aware of the booking system, so we had our fair share of an adrenaline rush when I managed to be the first person to get through the ticket booking process. Felt more like a victory I would say, beating even the regular tour agents at their own game.
After the amazing light and sound show talking about the history of the Cellular Jail, the British Raj and the fight for independence, we visited the nearby Aberdeen market before heading back to the hotel.
The best part about travel is meeting new people and making friends. Luckily for us, our next-room travelers, a couple from Switzerland and Edinburgh, were friendly. Friends, lovely sea view, food, and wine! What else would one need to relax?
The following morning, we took a private ferry Makruzz to Havelock Islands from Phoenix Bay Jetty, which was only 2 km from our hotel. There are few private ferries and government ferries that can be used to hop the islands. Booking for private ferries can be done online but government ferries need to be booked a day before from the counter window. Private ferries charge a higher price than the government ones (almost double), but we chose to try it once. Makruzz was a comfortable, luxurious and enjoyable ride to Havelock (more on the pros of government ferries later).
Upon arrival on the island with turquoise blue water and scenic sea view, we headed to the government ferry booking counter as we wanted to go to Neil Island the next day and then back to Port Blair after that.
The sun was too hot but we were way more excited so it didn’t bother us. The sun never bothered me anyway. For Havelock, we booked the Havelock Island Beach Resort, a beautiful property located at a less than 5-minute ride from the Jetty with a private beach and a beachside café.
Our first stop for the day in Havelock was the Elephant Beach. Now, if interested in a boat journey, one can take that to the beach and spend three hours at the beach and enjoy the complimentary snorkeling at a cost of around Rs. 800. Another route, the one that we took, was a small trek of around 30-40 minutes through the forest reserve. We took an auto to the starting point. Tip: If you don’t want to get lost in the jungle, hire the guide for the trek and keep a pair of shoes. You might just encounter a harmless little green snake swallowing a frog. The pristine water and scenic views at the beach would make it worth the while.
By the time we came back we were back all tired and hungry and therefore detoured to the best place to eat in Havelock: Something Different. An amazing restaurant at Beach No 2, with a funky space to chill, eat, read or do nothing at all. Their pizzas are a must try. Also, they have a free pick and drop service as well.
Post our meal, we made a quick stop at the Kala Pathar Beach before heading to witness the mesmerizing sunset at the Radhanagar Beach. Radhanagar Beach was voted the best beach in Asia by Time Magazine in 2004. Not just this beach, most of the beaches in Andaman are freakishly clean despite being frequented by so many tourists.
Tired but content, we headed back to the resort where we spent our evening relaxing on the private beach of our resort.
This day was quite an important day for me. For someone scared of water and a non-swimmer, I had decided to face my fear of water and go scuba-dive. We booked the first slot in the morning at 6 AM. Luckily for us, our resort was next to a dive center.
By 8 AM, I had conquered, to some extent, my fear of water. We dived 10mtrs deep into the water, found Nemo and the friends and most of all, survived. Major tick-off off the bucket list.
Our government ferry was in the afternoon, so we spent most of our time till then at the resort’s beachside café and then at Something Different.
I was aware that a government ferry would not be as luxurious as Makruzz but it has its own perks. Private ferries don’t let you go to the deck and enjoy being in the middle of nowhere. But with a government ferry, you can freely to come to the deck, sit through the entire journey and enjoy the sea.
We reached in the evening to our next big stop on the trip-Neil Island, which has now become my favorite place in the Island group. The hotel for the night was Summer Sands, another beautiful but a tad expensive property. We booked their cheapest room type Casa Earth. But to our amazement, Casa Earth was also way beyond our expectations. A pool right outside your room, where you could sit and dip your feet and relax.
Neil is a small island with a population of around 5000 and can easily be toured on a scooter or even a bicycle. Our pick was the latter. Later in the day, we rented bicycles from the Garden View restaurant (close to our hotel) at a nominal charge of Rs. 150 and went to see one of the three beaches in Neil, the Sitapur Beach. Beautiful sunset hues relaxed our mind and soul. We spent the rest of the time in the resort. Food in the resort will not disappoint you. Don’t fear to order Dal Makhni. You shall get the Delhi-wala Dal Makhni.
The place is so untouched by the clever, greedy city life. Since our bicycles did not have proper locks, we requested the hotel staff to let us keep them inside the hotel. They politely declined our request, saying that you don’t have to worry about the bikes parked outside the hotel. They proudly claimed that people in Neil are simple, trustworthy and good and that we should keep the bikes outside. After a lot of skepticism, a gift from life in the metros, we agreed to their suggestions. In the morning, both the bikes were at the same place, not even an inch away from the place. I love Neil Island.
Since our return ferry to Port Blair was at 4 PM, we started the day early. At 9 AM, we were out on the road, riding our bicycles to the second beach, the Bharatpur Beach.
If you missed out on scuba-dive in Havelock, you may try your luck here. Bharatpur beach was the first commercialized beach that we across so far with hawkers selling coconut water and souvenirs on the beachside.
I believe in buying souvenirs from the places a travel to as it creates a memory forever of the place and boosts the local tourism as well. So I spent a good amount of time at those souvenir shops.
Next, we rode to the Laxmanpur Beach. Tips again, do hire a guide. Laxmanpur Beach is famous for corals and if you won’t take the guide, you’ll not be able to see them. Our guide took us around the rock path around the island and showed us different corals. If on our own, we would not have gone a little far into the water. If lucky, you might be able to spot a starfish as well. Since you would have to go into the water, try to avoid shoes and slippers and go with the floaters. Don’t go barefoot if you don’t want any troubles with sea urchins.
After the mini coral tour, we enjoyed some coconut water and fresh mangoes. We came to our hotel, returned the bicycles, and had lunch before proceeding to the Jetty for our ferry to Port Blair. With a promise to come again, we bid adieu to the place.
We reached Port Blair later in the evening and spent the day at our hotel.
This part of the country gives you an opportunity to go back little in time. If one is interested in seeing the tribal people, visit the Baratang Island in the North Andaman and cross the tribal areas in a convoy en route. The major attraction at Baratang is the limestone caves, a boat ride through the backwaters and mud volcanoes. But unfortunately, the limestone caves are closed on Monday and since it would have been quite expensive to reach Baratang and not see the limestone caves, we skipped the option. Keep Mondays in mind while planning your trip. Many of the places for day-trips from Port Blair are shut on Monday.
We, therefore, decided to see the neighbor islands of Port Blair on that day. There are tours of North Bay Island and Ross Island from Aberdeen Jetty. You can buy the tickets at the time you reach the Jetty.
North Bay Island has one attraction that got its maximum fame from something that we carry in our wallets every day. The place in the picture on the back of the Rs. 20 note, the one with coconut trees, sea,and a lighthouse, is North Bay Island. There are plenty of water sports and activities that one can indulge in, though I personally would not recommend it for water sports if hygiene is important to you. But do climb up to the top of the North-Point Light House to get amazed by the scenic views.
Our last stop for the day and for the trip was Ross Island with quite a lot of history from the British Raj and the Japanese invasion of the Island during the WWII. The Island is under the purview of the Indian Navy. One of the top attractions at the island is you being able to walk side by side a group of deer. Like literally, you can touch them, have your own ‘Selfie with Bambi’ moment. Ross Island also holds a light and sound show in the evening.
We returned our hotel in the evening, took a stroll on the road later and found an amazing ice cream parlor, Milky Way. And not just the ice creams, they serve delicious pancakes and burritos as well. Don’t forget to try them if you stay in that area.
Later that night, we toasted to our trip to the truly untouched paradise. We made another entry to the diary of life experiences.
Ross Island. PC: Shelly Gupta
The blog has been written by Priya Saxena and it originally appeared on tripoto. Priya can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.