There is a reason why calendars are considered good New Year gifts. Because, one of the first things an avid wayfarer like me, who has to divide time between work and exploring new terrains, does at the beginning of each year, is to check the calendar to find out what days of the week the national and public holidays are falling on. Things get even better when you know that you have long weekends lined up for you. Yes, 2015 was the year of long weekends and one of the upcoming long weekend was in early October (2nd-6th October). Here I had another opportunity to make a headway to a new terrain. This time it was to the Andamans. Floating in splendid isolation, east of the India mainland, is the archipelago (archaeological find) of 556 emerald islands, islets and rocks known as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This union territory is spread over a distance nearly 800 Kms from North to South with 37 inhabited islands.
Day 1- In Port Blair
An early morning flight from Delhi via Chennai and here we were at the capital of A&N island – Port Blair, a harbor located in the south Andaman. As I had booked the land arrangements for the trip in advance, our driver was already present at the airport to receive us and drive us to our hotel. A 15 minutes drive from the airport and we were at the heart of this beautiful town – Abardeen Bazaar. We checked in to J Hotel, a neat hotel strategically located in the city center and very near to major tourist attractions like national memorial cellular jail, water sports complex, corbyns cove beach etc. We freshened up and had a quick bite at the hotel’s restaurant as such we had planned to utilize the second half of the day to explore this green, ramshackle capital that sprawls around a harbor on the east coast of South Andaman and is the administrative nerve centre of the islands. The weather was quite clement and the sun shone bright amidst the clear blue sky. An ideal weather to explore this beautiful serene town. We left our hotel at around 2:30 PM and headed to Corbyn’s Cove beach.
The coastal road makes for a scenic journey to this picturesque beach, and passes several Japanese WWII bunkers along the way. As the car maneuvers through the twist and turns of the coastal road along the Andaman sea, one is mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the landscape that he witness in different avatars. A rainbow arising above the ocean enlivened the beauty of this picturesque landscape. A neatly bedded road stretching along the curvy periphery of a mountainous terrain on one side and a pristine blue sea running along the road on the other side, this was the sight that we had witnesses for good 4-5 kilometers. I wish I could drive a fancy luxury car on this road, nevertheless I contented myself with Innova. A 20 minutes drive from our hotel and here we were at this serene and unspoiled soft sandy beach, set in picturesque background of lush green coconut palms and pleasant blue sea. This coconut- palm fringed beach, is ideal for swimming, surfing and sun bathing. Also, one can zip across the ocean in a jet ski or a motor scooter. We were quite exuberant to experience the inviting water sports. We zipped across the ocean through a jet ski and what an experience it was. The adrenaline rush that you experience while you zip across across the blue pristine sea, is a sheer pleasure for a speed lover like me who loves to rule the waves without compromising on the speed. While maneuvering across the sea, we could clearly see the menacingly named Snake Island that is rumored to have a lot of deadly snakes. Such an exhilarating experience it was. Through with this, we browsed the local souvenir shop to take back some knick knacks. What’s better is that the prices here are lower than those in the city.
By 5 pm we headed for our next destination – The historic “Cellular Jail”, to see the sound and light show. As we drove back the picturesque coastal road, we could see the sun fading below the horizon. This splendid sight complimented the scenic coastal road. Such a mesmerizing scene it was. I must say this drive is a stunning visual treat. One very peculiar thing I noted was that in Andamans sun sets by 5:30 pm. So you might mistaken the time in the evening. In another 15 minutes, we reached the cellular jail. Here I would like to enlighten you with some quick facts about this historic monument. The Cellular jail is closely associated with the freedom struggle of India. The Cellular jail, built in 1896 was used by the British to transport Indian freedom fighters from the Indian mainland. Thousands of freedom fighters languished for years in solitary confinement in the cells of the Cellular Jail. Today, the Cellular Jail is declared as the National Memorial, a tribute to those who dared to raise their voices against the British rule. Some of the famous inmates of the Cellular jail were Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Dr. Diwan Singh Kalepani, Yogendra Shukla, Bhai Parmanand, and Maulana Ahmadullah. The saga of the heroic freedom struggle is brought alive in a moving Sound & Light show at the Cellular Jail. This show was a splendid experience all together.
Tips: It will be a good idea to book land arrangements and hotel booking in advance, if you are planning a trip to A & N Islands during the peak season ie. October-May. There are limited number of cabs available in Port Blair, thus there are times (specifically during December-January) when it is quite challenging to arrange for the cabs.
Day 2 & 3 – Ross Island and Havelock Island
The next day we were to head for the Havelock Island by a catamaran ferry which was scheduled for 3 pm. With the first half of the day available with us, we planned to explore a small island called “Ross Island” which is quite near by to Port Blair. A 10 minutes drive from out hotel and we reached “Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex”, a small harbor located in the heart of Port Blair. It offers an array of aqua-sports: banana rides, jet skiing, para sailing, speed boat rides, rowboat paddling, you name it!. Also, from this harbor one can take a speed boat or a ferry to visit the Ross island, a small island which can bee clearly seen from this complex. We zipped across the sea in a speed boat and within few minutes minutes we reached this jungle-clad ancient island. The boat screeching the wind as it zips across the sea, is an experience in itself. Visiting Ross Island feels like discovering a jungle-clad Lost City, à la Angkor Wat, where the ruins happen to be Victorian English rather than ancient Khmer. The former administrative headquarters for the British in the Andamans, Ross Island, in its day, was fondly called the ‘Paris of the East’ (along with Pondicherry, Saigon etc…). But the cute title, vibrant social scene and tropical gardens were all wiped out by the double whammy of a 1941 earthquake and the invasion of the Japanese (who left behind some machine-gun nests that are great fun to poke around in). As we navigated through the island, we could easily correlate the known facts about this islands. We could see the ruins of some of the buildings that were built during British period. Though they have now been engulfed by the roots of huge trees but watching these buildings makes one nostalgic. The place boast the ruins of a British Church, Mansion, Market etc. While we maneuvered through these archaic British structures, we felt as if we were traversing in a setup for a haunted movie. It did give me some goosebumps. As we moved further, we discovered a lovely view of the open sea. We walked down further to reach a small bridge that takes you near by to an old light house. We strolled over this bridge, reveling in the cool breeze and enjoying the amazing sea view. Next we headed back to the starting point as such we had to board the ferry at 3 pm. On our way back we spotted a number of Peacocks, Deer and Ducks amidst the forest. Just as we reached the sports complex, it started raining. We had a quick bite at a restaurant at the complex, while we waited for the rain to top. Realizing that we just had half an hour to board the ferry, we left for the jetty.
Just as we reached the Jetty, the next step was to board a bus that takes all the passengers inside the jetty. The transfer wasn’t that easy as it seemed. All thanks to the heavy rain that continued for last half an hour. Things were haywire at the bus stop, as such there were limited buses and to add to it people who were to be dropped over here didn’t de-boarded the buses because of rain. It was all chaos that was around, with assemblage of aggravated people waiting to board the bus. We too were stranded in this chaos, emphatically waiting for this mess to get cleared so that we could board our ferry on time. We some how managed to get into the bus, but it was already 3:00 pm here itself. On further scrutiny with the bus driver, we got to know that all the people boarding the bus have to board that ferry only and thus because of rain the ferry has been delayed by 15 minutes. This came as a relief to us. Finally, after this struggle and getting drenched in water, we reached the catamaran ferry – “Makruzz” and to our surprise we weren’t really the last one to board the ferry. Makruzz is high speed catamaran passenger ferry and takes about 90 minutes to reach Havelock. Another option to travel to Havelock is a government ferry, though it takes around 2.5 hours to reach Havelock but it is much cheaper than Makruzz. We settled on the comfy cushioned seats of the ferry and munched in some nick knacks while we waited for the ferry to make a move. In another 15 minutes, the “Makruzz” progressed into the blue ocean waters. As the “Makruzz” engulfed thorough the incessant ocean, all we could see was the mainland fading away only to be replaced by blue ocean water. This indeed was a visual treat. To enhance the travel experience, a travel show on Andamans was aired on board. The show exhorted us to explore the adventure activities such as Scuba Diving, Sea Walk, Snorkeling etc. in this beautiful hinterland called “Havelock Island“. A smooth one and a half journey and here we were at the Havelock Island Jetty. Just as we stepped out of the ferry, it felt as if we were into a different world altogether, with color of ocean water changing to emerald blue complimented by a pleasant weather. We couldn’t wait to explore this wonderful island.
A ten minutes drive from the Jetty through the narrow roads amidst the green forest and here were were at our resort “Dolphin Resort“. This is a government owned beach side resort and is one of the most sought after resorts of Havelock Island. The resort is located besides the Vijay Nagar Beach. As we maneuvered through the green lawns of this picturesque resort we could see emerald blue sea on our left and beautiful cottages sprawled over lush green lawns. It seemed as if we were walking in a dream land. We knew there was a lot to explore in around this resort, but we kept this for tomorrow as such we had planned to go to “Radha Nagar Beach” in the evening. A 200 meters stroll from the reception lead the way to our cottage, where we tucked our bags, freshened up and thereafter left for the “Radha Nagar Beach”. Here I would like to highlight that Havelock is endowed with bewitching sandy beaches, one of them being the “Radha Nagar Beach”, located on the western side of the island and is one of the most sought after destinations, having been rated as one of the best in Asia by Times Magazine.
A twenty minutes drive through the narrow roads, with Coconut and Supari trees running along the road amidst the lush green forest, lead the way to the beach. A long crescent shaped beach, with silver white sand was what we witnessed at the first glance. The beach looked extremely gorgeous with its brilliant, pristine and emerald blue water. Fringed with green cannopy of rain forest on one end and aqua green, clear water on the other end, it beckons everyone to the azure sea. Small shacks just at the entrance of the beach complimented the beauty of the beach. We were all hypnotized by the spectacular opulence of this beach. Anyone can fall in love with this majestic beach, be it an adventure lover or the romantic soul. We spent some time strolling on the silver sand along the shore. As we walked we could here the sound of waves gently splashing against the beach. It was almost 5 pm and the sun had started settling in beneath the horizon. The sunset from this beach is famed as being the picture perfect view, but as the weather was very cloudy all we could see the dusk falling rapidly. We could see the shades of clouds changing from white to orange. This looked beautiful. This beach is also safe for swimming, but we kept this for our day time visit to this beach. By 5:30, the sun had settled itself amidst the horizon and we could note the intensity of sea waves increasing. It is advisable to not go inside the water after sunset. Having spent good one and a half hours at the beach, we could vouch for the rankings put up by Times Magazine. Through with this joyous experience, we headed back to our resort. We had our supper and just dozed off as there was a lot to catch up the next day.
The next day we woke up to the sound of gushing rainfall. The dusky shade of the swelled clouds looked spectacular. The rain over incessant emerald ocean added to its beauty. Though we were enjoying this visual treat, at the same time we were a bit jittery as to whether we’ll be able to make up for the planned visits for the day in this heavy rain. Thankfully the rain stopped in some time but the weather remained cloudy. This came as a relief to us. This day was the most sought after day in the whole trip as such we had planned to do Scuba Diving in the emerald waters of Andaman sea. Yes, the sea around the Havelock Island offers excellent scope for adventure water sports like Snorkeling, Scuba Diving and Sea walking. Just by a though of it, comes a chorus of delirium to experience the alluring underwater world. This ought be the adventurous experience ever. While we ate our breakfast at the restaurant, the photo frames mounted on the wall, which depicted scuba divers exploring marine life, boosted the fervor to experience the Scuba dive. Through with our breakfast, we headed to experience the underwater thrill. A 15 minutes drive from our resort and here we were at the dive shop named “Ocean Tribe”. A narrow passage from the main road through a small habitation leads the way to this dive shop. As we strolled through the passage we could see beautiful compact stay homes nestled along the passage, whose occupant were mostly foreigners. This seemed to be a popular place among foreigners as we could see them hanging around and relaxing in their compact stay homes. As we maneuvered further, we could see the passage opening up to the beach. Just before this is the “Ocean Tribe” dive shop. At the dive shop, we spent good half an hour or so in taking cognizance of the know hows of Scuba Diving. All thanks to the experienced diver who debriefed us to the idea of Scuba Diving and persuaded us to experience Scuba Diving. We were exhilarated to explore the marine world, but at the same time we were a bit skittish as well. Finally, we signed up for the dive and were told to wait for half an hour until the boat which will take us to the dive site arrives. Each of us were aligned with a dive instructor who were to train us and take us through this magical journey. We wore the dive gear post which the instructor illustrated us on the next steps for the dive and trained with some sign language that is essential in the scuba diving. Suited up in our gear, we clambered towards the beach from where we boarded a speed boat that were take us to the dive site. We were helped into the boats and clutched the sides all the way to the dive site. A 20 minutes zip through the emerald ocean and here we were at the dive site named “Wall”. As per the process we were to first get training in the shallow waters besides the dive site, only after this we can head for the diving. On reaching the sea shore where the water was quite shallow, we shifted to the dive boat. We could see scuba equipment like oxygen cylinder and diving mask stocked in the boat. We were helped by our instructor is wearing these scuba equipment. No matter how cumbersome the gear was but the minute we hit the shallow waters, all the excess weight of the cylinder vanished. It felt as if we are going for an underwater expedition similar to the ones shown on the National Geographic channel. Here in the shallow waters, our instructors trained us on diving essentials like breathing, sign language, maneuvering inside water etc. We spent good half an hour in getting acquainted with the diving process inside the shallow water. Specifically, getting acclimatized to the breathing process took some time as such we had to breath not from our nose but from our mouth. We were getting the jest of diving in the shallow waters and once we were confident on our skills that we learnt on last half an hour, out instructor steadily headed us towards the actual dive site. I could experience the adrenalin-powered frenzy as we moved further. As I floated back forth on the emerald ocean, all I could see was clear blue sky while I waited for the moment when I will be inside the marine world. Slowly, my instructor dispersed me inside the water. All I could see was blue water that wasn’t that clear and I could hear my breathing in and out through the dive mask. I could feel that slowly I was being driven deep inside the water leaving the shallow waters behind. As we moved further water became crystal clear and I could see bubbles coming out from the dive mask. From my first breath under water, I knew it was worth the wait. Down here the ocean was covered with life. Against a backdrop of bright sun light, grew bright green sponges, purple soft coral and red crustose coralline algae. Hovering above each coral were schools of tiny orange chromis fish – butterflies of the ocean. Suddenly I saw a diver coming up in front of me and clicking my picture amidst this beautiful world. As we ventured further deep inside the water, we could see a plethora of marine life bustling inside this sea, some of them being Octopus, stonefish and napolean wrasse. Every inch of this space was covered with healthy coral of varied mythology – branching, lettuce, table and boulder. The sun danced on this garden, casting ripples of gold everywhere. This was magical. It felt as if I am into a different world altogether. We enjoyed this mesmerizing experience for good 40 minutes. It is astounding that this idyllic spots exist just a dive away, sequestered in paradise. Back to the dive boat, we soaked in the last moments of seclusion. This experience had a strange romance. Like a lover, it made me feel special, privileged and removed from other seven billion people on the planet. Through with this magical experience, we headed back to the dive shop. Here we got a CD which had all our underwater pictures as well as a short video.
We had almost utilized the first half of the day on diving. We had planned to head for the Elephant beach in the second half, but we got to know that the Elephant beach is closed because of rough weather conditions due to which no boat plied to the Elephant Beach. So we decided to explore another beach today called “Kall Pathar Beach”. A 20 minutes drive from the dive shop and here were were at this picturesque beach. The beach gets its name from the surrounding village, which is Kalapathar Village and the black rocks (known as Kalapathar in Hindi) that adorn the coastline here. Kala Pathar beach is a relatively small yet lovely beach. Silvery sand and aqua green waters make the place exotic and exquisite. We could spot dead corals on the beach which is why it is not too suitable for swimming but sitting on one of these corals and just inhaling the fresh breeze blowing over the sea was an experience in itself. We also spotted some strange looking trees arising from the sea shore, which gave a picture perfect frame for a pic. We did planned to watch the sun set in the evening at this beautiful beach, but again as the weather wasn’t clear we missed this too. If you are looking for solitude, this is the place in Havelock ! Just carry a hammock, tie it around a tree on the beach, lay down in the hammock and enjoy the view or read your favorite author. We spent good two hours at the beach unwinding ourselves, post which we headed back to our resort. Being all day out, we were very ravenous so we decided to munch in some snacks at “Fat Martin Cafe”. This is a small cafe located at a walking distance from our resort. A nice place to relax and enjoy the cool shakes. Chocolate shakes at this place is heavenly. Having satisfied our appetite, we headed back to our rooms and just dozed off only in hope that the next morning we’ll be able to make up to Elephant Beach.
Tips: 1) From Port Blair, government ferries run from 7 am till 3 pm for Havelock Island. These ferry rides usually charge around Rs.100 per person per trip. If you want to save some extra bucks go for the government ferry, else you can take the Makruzz, a high speed catamaran passenger ferry that takes about 90 minutes to reach Havelock. 2) Havelock Island offers excellent scope for adventure water sports like Snorkeling, Scuba Diving and Sea walking. Scuba Diving will cost you Rs. 3500, while sea walk will cost you 3200. If you want to have a good underwater experience, I would recommend to go for a Scuba Dive as one gets to explore the coral reefs. Snorkeling can be easily experienced at some beaches at Port Blair as well. 3) The best way to enjoy the Kala Pathar beach is to carry a hammock, tie it around a tree on the beach, lay down in the hammock and enjoy the view or read your favorite author.
Day 4 – Havelock Island and then back to Port Blair
I woke up the next morning to the sound of ranting rain. But this time there wasn’t any excitement instead the only thing that hovered in our mind was will the rain play a spoil sport for our plan today. Thank fully the rain did stopped in some time, but strong winds blew across the incessant ocean. We had planned to visit the Elephant Beach today in the first half post which we had to board our ferry for Port Blair. But things really didn’t worked our way as such the Elephant beach was closed today as well, because of rough weather conditions due to which no boat plied to the Elephant Beach. Having heard so much about this beautiful beach but at the end not making it through was very disheartening. We somehow assuaged ourselves only by realizing that some things (in this case the rough weather) are not in our hand.
With good 6 hours available with us at this beautiful island, we decided to make the best use of this time. Having explored the far away beaches from our resort, we were yet to explore the serene beach that run adjacent to our resort. Vijaynagar Beach is a long stretch of sand on the east coast of the Island, punctuated occasionally by rock section. Most of the beach is lined by mahua trees, whose trunk grow along he ground for many feet before they begin to climb vertically. Those trees have lent a distinct character to the sea front, and provide shades, close to the water. With such a idyllic sight, we couldn’t resist ourselves from taking a long walks along the sea. The walk was mesmerizing. As we moved away from from the resort’s beach line, we could see many dead corals on the white sand. Unlike the other beach, this beach is very serene and is not bustling with activities. Though we could see a lot of foreigners relaxing on this beach. I guess this was a popular beach among foreigners as a lot of home stays, which is preferred by foreigners, are nestled along this beach. With still some hours left to board the ferry, we decided to make a quick visit to Radha Nagar beach from where we would head for the Jetty. The beach looked spectacular amid the bright sunshine. The white beach stretched out in a languid curve, and as the bright sun cast a glorious glow on everything – the sand, the seas, the surf and the breeze. I was hypnotized by the spectacular opulence of this beach. This was different to what we experienced on our first visit to the beach in the evening. The central and the left side of the beach were crowded with domestic travelers trying their swimming skills amidst the sea waves. We too jumped in the water and swam for some time. This was so refreshing. The swimming was followed by a stroll on the right of the beach side that leads to a blue lagoon where we could see some European Hippies relaxing by the beach side. Blue Lagoon is the perfect place for snorkeling and we could also sight colorful marine life in those little pools between the coastal rocks during low tide. The beach was in a different avatar as to what we saw in the evening. Through with the beach activities, we tried out some local knick-knacks of this place. Just outside the beach we could see an array of vendors selling Coconut water, special fruit chat, souvenirs etc. Coconut water is the all time favorite , but the fruit chat was not the regular one. The fruit chat boasted a star shaped fruit named “Kamranga” along with the regular fruits like guava, apple etc. With a tangy taste, the fruit chat reflects the best traditional gastronomy of the Havelock Island. Its a must try.
Finally it was time to bid adieu to this beautiful beach and head to the Havelock Jetty from where we were to board the ferry back to Port Blair. Just as we reached the Jetty, it started raining. Things were getting messy as everyone thronged towards a shade. Thankfully the rain stopped in some time which paved the way for a smooth check in to the ferry – Makruzz. Tucked on the comfy seats, we waited to sail out further into the vast, watery wild. As we sailed, the wind picked up a little bit, as if heralding drama in the impending turn of events. Suddenly the smooth sail turned to a bumpy affair with the speeding ferry moving up and down against the harsh sea tides. All the passengers started screaming. Imagine a huge speed boat going topsy-turvy in the vast ocean. This was scary. Some passengers started feeling nauseatic. Few minutes later the captain announced that the disturbance is due the strong winds blowing across the ocean and there’s nothing to worry about and this would lessen up as we approach the land. This did came out as a relief but just then we experienced a huge bump as the speeding ferry crashed against the huge waves. The crew navigating the sail was alert and watchful. Then, after miles in the liquid world, solid land came into view. I had half expected that we would need to chase after the Havelock Island, or lie quiet for hours as if tracking a tiger, or view it sketchily through a storm, so its pursuit would match the drama behind its presence. Finally we reached Port Blair Jetty safely. I will remember this journey my entire life. From the Jetty, we went to our hotel. Too tired with such en enthralling experience, we had our dinner and just dozed off.
Tips: Do try the fruit chat at the Radha Nagar beach, its tangy taste will refresh you after a swim in the beach. Also, drink the all time favorite Coconut water here, which tastes much sweeter than the ones that you get in Delhi.
Day 5 – Port Blair
The first half of the day was spent in exploring the local market of Port Blair, the major one being the Aberdeen bazaar. Aberdeen bazaar is best known for shopping. The bazaar consists of many roadside stalls and even Government Emporiums. Souvenirs made of sea shells & wood-carvings, Handicrafts made by local artisans, Port Blair t-shirts and jewelry can be found here. Food items such as local vegetables and Sea foods are available here. There are restaurants offering different cuisines. Here the shopping is available at cheaper and reasonable prices. We shopped for some printed T-shirts with Andamans printed on it. Also, we bought some local souvenirs. While strolling through the market, we came across a bakery named Tilliya bakery. With mouth watering sweets at the display, we couldn’t resist ourselves from trying some of those. It tasted heavenly. Our stroll through the Abardeen bazaar was followed by a stroll in Gandi Park which was around a kilometer away from the other end of Abardenn bazaar. A well maintained park, with a nice lake located inside it. The trail along the periphery of the lake was amazing. Next, we were to head for “Chidiya Tapu”, a small beach located on the southernmost point of South Andaman district and is about 25 kms from main Port Blair city. On our way to this beach, we stopped at a restaurant named “Icy Spicy”. I must say this restaurant boasts the best vegetarian food in the Port Blair city.
An hour and a half drive from Port Blair and here we were at the bewitched sandy beach named “Chidiya Tapu”. The road traverses through dense jungle/rainforest that opens up along the coastline in a few places. This beach is small in size flanked with sea walls. Dotted with green mangroves and peaceful forest, it is a perfect place for nature lover like me. The place is also famous for its 46 varieties of endemic birds, white spotted deer and seasonal orchids. There are “beware of crocodile” signs along the way, and the sign on the beach at Chidiya Tapu reads “Beware: Crocodile Infested Beach.” Unfortunately, I didn’t see any crocodile, although my driver said they do see crocodiles every now and then. The beach is a paradise for collectors of sea shells because different varieties of colorful shells lie strewn all around. I did collected some of them. While Chidiya Tapu is probably the best sunset spot accessible from Port Blair, but we weren’t lucky enough to witness it as the weather was very cloudy. Nevertheless, we had a good time at this beach.
Tips: 1) Do try out the sweets at the “Tilliya” bakery. This is a famous bakery in Port Blair and boasts good varieties of sweets and pastries. This bakery is located in Abardeen bazaar. 2) If you are a vegetarian and looking for sumptuous food, then “Icy Spicy” restaurant is the place for you. This is the best vegetarian restaurant in Port Blair.
Day 6 – Baratang Island
Here we were at our penultimate day of our trip, all geared up to head for the mysterious tropical island -“Baratang Island”. Baratang island is located between Middle and South Andaman Islands. Approximately, 110 Kms from Port Blair, it is another major attraction for most of the tourist visiting the islands. We woke up to our alarms set for 3 am and got ready immediately as such we had to start the journey by 4 am. We had to start early as there are three timing to cross the forest area (home to Jarwa Tribes), which leads the way to the Baratang Island. The first batch of convoy is released at 6 am, thus we had accordingly planned to leave from Port Blair. It was raining heavily, but without any delay we left sharp at 4 am. Amidst the darkness and gushing rain, we drove in hunt for the mysterious island. It seemed as if were playing a real time treasure hunt in which we were in hunt of this mysterious island. Steering through isolated roads, soon we left the city behind and passed through scarcely populated areas. A good two hour drive through the Andaman Grand Trunk road, which connects Port Blair to South, Middle and North Andaman, and here we were at the first checkpoint – Jirkatang. Here we joined the convoy of cars, all waiting to be dispatch in the 6 am batch. From this check point, the vehicles are moved in a convoy as such just after this check post starts the tribal area. The gates for the first convoy opens at 6 am. Just my a though of it one gets goosebumps. Here I would like to highlight that couple of decade ago people feared to stay or pass through Jirkatang because of attacks by the native tribes who usually used to come to these places in search of food. Until recently, government has made efforts to help and protect these tribes after which the attacks on people staying or passing through these places were reduced. With some time left for the gate to open, we munched in some refreshment at the local eateries located along the check post. Its hard to imagine that habitation exists in such a remote area. Thankfully, the rain eased a bit but it continued to drizzle. The gates were thrown open at 6 and the convoy commenced towards the tribal forest. The convoy was escorted by Police while crossing the forest. All the vehicles travel together with a speed limit of 40 and regular police patrolling happens to ensure the safety of tourist from the Jarwa tribes. The journey through tribal reserve was like a safari ride as we were going amidst dense tropical rainforest and looking for wild animals, Jarwa Tribals to be specific. It is recommended not to offer any food or take pictures of these tribes during this time. Interacting with them, giving them food or clicking their pictures is strictly prohibited and is a punishable offence. We were informed by our driver that chances of seeing the Jarwa tribe is quite less as it had been raining for quite long and the tribes usually don’t come out in the rain. Unfortunately , we didn’t see any tribe. This was disheartening. After passing through the tribal reserve we reached Nilamber Jetty. This was the second check point of our journey. We parked our car here while we waited for the ferry to arrive at the Jetty. From here we boarded a vehicle ferry, which took us to the Baratang Island. This ferry was not an ordinary one, but a massive one which could accommodate buses, trucks, cars & bikes. So unlike the fellow passengers in a normal ferry, here the fellow passengers were trucks, cars and bikes. We actually saw buses and cars being uploaded to the ferry which after which the passengers boarded the ferry. Amidst all the chaos, some 300-400 tourists board the ferry to cross the creek. It is a fish market ! This was a unique experience in itself.
Upon reaching Baratang Island, we were welcomed by heavy rain. We sipped in some hot coffee at a local tea shop, while we waited for the rain to stop. In another half an hour the rain stopped and we headed to see the Mud Volcano. A 20 km drive from the Jetty took us to the trail head to Mud Volcano. Just as we reached here, it started drizzling. A 20 min walk from there amidst the tropical forest and we reached the mud volcano. This walk turned out to be a bit challenging as such the path became very slippery due to rain. Somehow, we managed to reach the much awaited Mud Volcano. For the lack of better words, it was not worth the effort ! It might be a geochemical wonder but for a layman like me it is just a dump of mud. There’s ‘nothing much to talk about’ reviews are an understatement to this sorry place. The volcano erupted on 26th January 2004 at 11.30 am just after the Tsunami waves and it supposedly does keep on erupting erratically. But today was not the day. Just as we reached back the Jetty, it started raining heavily. We munched in some knick-knacks at a local eatery out there, while we waited for the rain to stop. Unlike the shorter spell of rain this turned out to be an endless affair. Despite the heavy rain, we headed for the next part of the trail. We took a dongi(boat), which were to take us through dense mangroves to reach the starting point of the journey to reach the Limestone caves. We were provided with a plastic sheet to cover our selves from the heavy rain, but the sheer beauty of the surrounding prodded us to do away with any shelter and to just enjoy the spectacular opulence of the view. After a few minutes of our sail, suddenly our enchantment with the boat people waned and they seemed to sense it, too. We did not notice them disengage from our boat and drift away. Our attention was now focused on the dense mangroves that surged up over a liquid horizon. The dense mangroves were mostly covered with lush green vegetation – rose like welts across deep blue waters. Cameras worked overtime, shutters tripping as they swung around in arches across the waters-cape. As we sailed deeper into the forest of emerald-green moulds, we lowered our cameras to half mast. Natures’s canvas was way too spectacular to be compressed and seen through a viewfinder. Just as monotony started to creep in – yes an overdose of the spectacular can dull the senses – our dongi (boat) pulled into a little clove and docked alongside a towering outcrop. Here we disembarked and climbed up a flight of wooden steps that took us to a walkway leading to the lime stone cave. A trail through walkways made by cutting through dense forest and large stones opened into the gaping mouth of a rocky outcrop. We had entered the lime stone cave. Inside the cave the temperature is lower than outside. The cave contains beautiful cave formation. Limestone is mostly made up of the mineral calcite (calcium carbonate). Limestone is very soluble, meaning it is easily dissolved. Rain water picks up carbon dioxide in the air and a weak solution of carbonic acid is formed. This water can dissolve limestone over time, creating a cave. The stalactites and stalagmites which have withstood the natural process of erosion over time form different interesting shapes and figures like face of lion,huge hanging ceilings and we also spotted a Ganesha idol formation. Once more, our imaginations took flight and conjured up images as we strolled (sometimes working our way through narrow passageways) from one display cavern to the next. Through with this wonderful experience, we headed back to the Nilamber Jetty. By this time we were all drenched in water. Journey to this Island was an adventurous one.
While returning to Port Blair, all vehicles waited at the check post at Nilamber Jetty. Once all the vehicles reached the check post, the check post gate were opened and vehicles moved in groups. The normal time of opening this gate is at 2.00 pm. Security people board front and back vehicles (with rifle). The same forest journey was experienced till the starting check post towards Port Blair. This time luckily we did got a glimpse of Jarawa tribe, sitting besides a stream. As the tribe was somewhat far from our car, all I could see was a dark colored man having curly hair, sitting besides a stream. Our driver told that the tribe must have come out for fishing. Finally, after a day long expedition we reached our hotel in the evening. We had our dinner at Anandas restaurant located just a walk away from our hotel. This was a good restaurant and boasted good Non Veg delicacies. Too tired with the day long activities, we just dozed off in our rooms.
Tips: 1) Do carry an umbrella or a raincoat along with you whenever you are out. This is more of a necessity especially if you are visiting in the monsoon or the offset of monsoon season.2) It is recommended that you take the first convoy to reach Baratang as later there the traffic might increase.
Day 7 – Bid adieu Andamans
Finally, we were on our last day of our trip. Our flight was scheduled for 3 pm. The weather was quite windy today. With still some hours left, we made a quick visit to Cellular Jail, Anthropological Museum and the Chatham Saw Mill. Through with our last set of visits, we headed to the airport. It was hard to leave this wonder land, but I knew I was taking along a bunch of memories which will stay with me forever. Andaman Islands was not the only treasure in our ocean. I remembered the Andaman and Nicobar island map inside, and the hundreds of other little islands that dotted these waters and I was lured. Lets hope I get to experience another path breaking journey to the other treasures of the country’s blue.