People like me whose heart skips a beat at the sight of the sea will find paradise on earth if they visit the Andaman Islands in India. I have often heard many of my friends boasting about trips to beaches in Thailand , Mauritius and so on yet in my (very very biased) opinion, this little wonder of our own country wins hands down. The islands never fail to mesmerize any visitor, they offer the irresistible concoction of history, scenic beauty and adventure. One can reach Port Blair, the capital of the Anadaman and Nicobar Islands by flights from Chennai and Kolkata, one can also travel by the sea from the same two places. It is approximately a two hour flight to Port Blair from Kolkata. We stayed at The Teal House, a government guest house but other attractive accommodations are available nearby. A special mention about a hotel called the Megapode Nest which is a little away from the hustle bustle (the little that there is), this place has wonderful cottages to offer which have a spectacular view.
The main historical place of interest would be The Cellular Jail in Port Blair. The 698 cells in the jail were designed to ensure solitary confinement for prisoners. The sight of the gallows, the oil grinder and the cramped cells compels any sensitive individual to pause and think for a while about the sacrifice of the freedom fighters who suffered endlessly to ensure freedom for the nation. The light and sound show in the voice of Om Puri further evokes the emotions and is also informative. The many wings of the jail are not intact, a few have perished in the second world war. Another place of historical interest would be the Viper Island having its own gallows and also a separate jail. The Ross Island which on a launch takes 15 minutes from Port Blair is one that is an abosulte delight to visit. The ruins of the open theatre, the church, the huge broilers, all evoke the sense of grandeur that the British had surrounded themselves with. The island has deer strolling about and the island with its beautiful facets enthralls the people, even reaching there is a delightful journey. The waters being crystal clear one can see swarms of parrot fish swimming as the boat approaches the island. If one side of the islands has a small beach a few metres in width the other side is a rocky one, one has to descend steps made out of coconut shells to reach that part. Moving about restlessly in the small puddles formed between the rocks jutting out one can see small colourful fishes, for the wireless ultra-tech generation its best described as “discovery channel live in action” .
The Corbyn’s Cove beach shaped like a crescent is in Port Blair itself, it is comparatively less pristine being in the city yet its beautiful. There is even a Ramakrishna mission situated in the city which my parents visited and liked. There is a water sports complex in the city which offers a range of activities like hiring water scooters, row boats paddle boats. The museum nearby is also a must visit. The islands of jolly buoy and the red skin island offer further variety of water adventure, as one can go snorkeling there amidst the corals. The boat journey to the islands is a long one and a scenic delight. The snorkeling gear can be hired, changing rooms are also located on the beach and the experience is totally worthwhile. The thrill of seeing a starfish lying listlessly almost touching your feet, and watching a swarm of yellow fishes swim past you, and staring at a weird thing which you just learnt was called a “sea anemone” , is unexplainable. If you are not afraid of water then do take the plunge, the glass-bottomed boats do not match up to this experience. One must take care of the safety measures too, the corals look like soft sponges but your feet can get cut (like it happened to my father) if you choose to rest your feet on them, they have spines. One thing that impressed me was that the environmental awareness there. Plastic bottles can be carried only by paying a considerable sum as deposit, this actually makes us conscious of not losing them around in the island somewhere.
There are many islands around which offer overnight staying facilities, like the South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except the tribal reserve), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island and Diglipur. I only visited Havelock islands and I can only imagine how beautiful the others might be. There are several good resorts and one can also camp on the beach. The beach itself is absolutely breathtaking; the sea with no rough waves is perfect for people who love a swim. The mammoth sized coconuts (one was enough for lunch for me!) are the perfect solution to the hungry soul. The local shop owners were mostly Bengalis who were originally from Bangladesh. One can get up- close- but not personal with the local Jarawa tribe members, there are bus rides organized for tourists which take them through these areas where they live.
My trip to this place has been one of the most memorable ones in my life and will remain so for ever. The place suffered considerable damage during the tsunami, many of the tourist spots were damaged but that is past and it will not deter people from going back there for having the time of their life!