Andamans, India : Tune in, Drop Out

When you are in the Andamans you can’t not peace out! So this holiday was a little different from all the hyper monkey business I am usually up to. I actually spent most of my time here chilling on the beach and getting amazing massages.

Andamans has a world of its own. Port Blair, the capital, still seems like a part of India with its busy markets and roads but as soon as you get on the jetty to the gorgeous islands you feel completely removed. We were so excited to see the islands that we decided to head to Havelock Island almost immediately after landing at Port Blair.

Ferry Ride

The naval captain of the ferry was this really friendly guy who enthusiastically kept pointing islands to us- big chunky clusters of hilly land and several tiny ones strewn around. The ferry from Port Blair to Havelock Island took us about 4 hours. At the end of the four hours we felt like we had complete insider’s information on the islands from the captain.

I don’t think I can ever forget the sheer blue around us and the refreshing sprays of water on our faces as the ferry pierced through the calm waters.

Havelock Island

The first thing that strikes you when you are approaching Havelock is this nest of trees in the middle of the sea. The water is crystal clear and supremely calm.

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The vibe of the island instantly makes you lazy! We spent days on the beach just lazing around with the super friendly, forever scratching beach doggies. There were at least 7 of these furries on our beach. I want the life of a beach dog! Chase other dogs (or your own tail) round and round the beach, amuse yourself with the crabs coursing in and out of their tiny homes, get belly rubs and treats from kind strangers, and go for nice, long sunset swims. What a life! Sigh.

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

The shack we stayed at, Emerald Gecko had adorable little bamboo huts and a private beach (Havelock No. 5) at Rs. 1000 (15USD) a night for two people. Most of the shacks around rent out snorkelling masks and water floats. The water is very shallow so you can just take the float out in the middle of the sea and lie there for hours. The beach is lined with huge trees so if it gets too sunny you can take a book or a Kindle and chill under the trees. My usual day at Havelock would be wake up-swim- get a massage- swim- eat- swim again, such bliss!

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

Havelock has amazing restaurants with some of the best sea food I have ever tasted. We went to this restaurant called Fat Martin’s, slightly on the expensive side with each dish being around Rs. 300 (about 5 USD) but absolutely worth it! Their signature dish Prawns in sweet mango gravy was melt in the mouth delicious. Their other sea food preparations were pretty amazing as well – the butter garlic prawn, banana wrapped fish and the grilled pomfret.

You could also rent cycles and cycle around the island. The roads are lined with paddy fields and there are tons of beaches like Kala Pathar just a ride away.

Scuba Diving

Andamans is known for it’s Scuba diving and snorkelling facilities. We went with a PADI approved dive centre called ScubaLov. The water visibility was not so good on that particular day but we saw tons of fish, corals and marine life. I am more of a snorkelling person than a scuba diving person cause I love swimming and I feel claustrophobic in scuba gear. It took me a while to master the whole breathing through the mouth, clearing ear blocks, getting water out of the mask thing. I remember suddenly spotting Nemo (the clown fish) and getting really excited. First I forgot to breathe and then I started breathing really hard and fast. I took a while to calm down and regulate my breathing to continue on. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if I spotted a shark!

Our dive instructors were quite fun, they kept pointing out sea plants to us that would shrivel up if you moved the water around them. There was a point when we were suddenly surrounded by a school of really colourful parrot fish. For me this was a first and an incredible experience.

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Radhanagar Beach

This beach is a tuk-tuk ride away from Havelock 5. You could also rent a motorcycle and ride to it. This beach is ranked the best in Asia and the 7th best beach in the world. I honestly preferred Havelock 5 beach to Radhanagar. Radhanagar was pretty crowded and not as calm.

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

We stopped for a snack right outside. There were carts filled with all sorts of fruits, star fruit being the most popular. It is slightly sweet and very sour, with a dash of masala (spices) it made for an interesting treat!

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

We had lunch at a quaint little local seafood place – Rohit Restaurant, that served thalis (rice, chapati, fish curry, vegetables, pickle and curd). They also have random things on the menu like prawn maggi that sound strange but are yummy! Make sure you meet Kaka, this adorable host will make you feel right at home. He kept bringing us second helpings till we were nicely stuffed. He insisted on talking in English even though he knew we all understood Hindi. Such a confident and happy guy!

We were very hungry and couldn’t wait to devour the food, so here’s a post meal picture!

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

Rajan, the elephant

You can meet Rajan, the Hollywood elephant at Barefoot, Havelock. Having acted in several films during his hay-day, he is not your regular has-been, he’s still quite the star. Photographers, filmmakers and divers from all over the world still come to meet this guy. He loves to swim in the waters but only between December and February when the waters are calm. In the past you could have snorkelled with him but now this gentle giant is too old for such adventures.

Just look at that cheeky, toothy grin!

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Photo courtesy – Barefoot, Havelock

Neil Island

We stopped at Neil Island for a night on our way back to Port Blair. Lakshmanpur beach is full of gorgeous corals and shells in shades of blue, green and even maroon. Most of the shells, some bright green in colour are alive and they scuttle prettily across the white sands- quite a sight!

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

Monitor Lizards

Neil island is known for monitor lizards. During peak season they have a jungle tour where you can spot them. Apparently they serve monitor lizard meat secretly. It tastes a lot like chicken and is commonly eaten by the Great Andamanese tribe. For those of you interested in strange meats, this can be quite exciting.

Dugongs

From a particular cliff on the far side of Neil island if you are lucky you can spot these adorable sea mammals called Dugongs. They are huge and look like they are always smiling. They are like a mix between a hippo and a pig and are called ‘Sea Cow’ or ‘Paani Suwar’. They are extremely shy creatures but during season you can go snorkelling with them!

Look at that face!! I want one as a pet!!

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Photo Courtesy: www.wildlifesos.org

Natural Bridge

This is a natural structure built of corals. The bottom of the structure still has living corals. You should go here during low tide or it is pretty tough to get to this point. The path leading up to this has dead corals that were swept up during the tsunami.

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

Port Blair

We stayed at Port Blair just for a night since we didn’t want to spend too much time in the city.

Kala Pani

One of the major attractions of Port Blair is the Kaala Pani- Sound and Light show that takes place every evening at the Cellular Jail. This is where prisoners were shipped to during British Raj. It is heart wrenching but a must see.

Coconut shell stuff

Some stores in Port Blair sell handmade coconut shell jewellery and household items like tea cups. They are apparently made by the Nicobarese tribe. They are unpolished and have a nice hand made feel to them.

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Corbyn’s Cove beach

At Port Blair we were put up at Ripple Resort. The manager of the resort told us some pretty crazy tsunami stories of how they all had to climb to the rooftops and they could hear the deafening roars of the sea as the water came gushing violently towards them. Corbyn’s Cove Beach was the closest to our resort. The beach was nice and had a few decent restaurants around. Quite a let down after the Havelock experience but the drive back to the airport was stunning!

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Photo courtesy : Sapna Singh

We went to the Andamans for about 5 days and I can’t wait to go back for longer. I’m having a severe case of beach withdrawal right now!

DOs and DON’Ts:

  1. It’s best to book a government ferry to and from the islands as they are much cheaper than the private ones and it is advisable to book the tickets a little in advance especially during tourist season as the ferries especially the government ones fill up real quick. Make sure you get a seat closer to the dock if you are claustrophobic. Here is where you can pre-book the ferry tickets (the tickets open up 4 days prior to the date of travel)                                             https://trip.experienceandamans.com/ferry/government-ferry.html
  2.  On the beaches you can wear whatever you want but while in the city and taking the ferry I would advise women to dress a little conservatively.
  3. Non-Indians require a Restricted Area Permit to get into the islands so make sure your paperwork is in order before heading there.
  4. Make sure you wear shoes and comfortable clothes while visiting the beaches with corals. They are pretty sharp and can hurt you.

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