In December 2007, I toured the Andaman Islands with my family. We travelled for about two hours in an Indian Airlines flight from Chennai to Port Blair. Travelling to Andaman can be slightly difficult as it is connected to only Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam by air and sea. Though the sea route is more economical, it can be uncomfortable at times.
The moment you step out of the Veer Savarkar Airport, you are greeted with the beauty of this exquisite land and the refreshing smell of salty, unpolluted air.
The best time to visit these islands is between November and May. The climate is also very pleasant; it remains tropical and humid throughout the year with the temp varying from 24 to 35 degree Celsius.
Port Blair has buses, taxis and rickshaws for commuting. However, we had already arranged for accommodation and transport with a travel agent. The hospitality sector in Andaman is pretty good, if not great. We stayed at Hotel Shompen. In fact, in Andaman, all the hotels are named after birds or indigenous tribes.
Our flight had landed in Andaman at noon and after lunch and a good rest, we headed for cellular jail which is perhaps the only reminder of Port Blair’s grim and dark past and is the reason why it was called ‘Kaala Pani’. It was used by the British to imprison Indian freedom fighters. Seven wings were originally constructed out of which only three remain.
I just stood in awe and gaped at the prison cells guarded by heavy iron gates (amazing piece of craftsmanship). It was heart wrenching to even think of spending your entire life in the confinement of those dark, solitary cells. We also attended the light and sound show which describes the history of the jail beautifully. We attended the show in Hindi and were left wiping away tears from our eyes by the end of it. I would advise people who are comfortable in Hindi to go for the Hindi show because I do not think that the one In English would have the same effect.
We visited the Samudrika Navy Maritime Museum which had a spectacular display of shells and mollusks. On our way back to the hotel, I was filled with a serene, calm feeling. Just a day, and these islands made the hustle-bustle of home seem like a far away illusion.
On our second day, we took a cruise to the three islands-Ross, Viper and North Bay. There was a lot of commotion while boarding the ferry as everyone struggled to get to the seats on the side to get a clear view of the outside. However, once I started gazing out, all I could see were islands that we had left behind, islands to the right and islands to the left surrounded by glistening water. I was lost in the tranquility of the place-its raw, natural beauty. I almost felt like an intruder trying to fit in the serene atmosphere of the islands.
Ross Island was the headquarters of the British during World War – II. However, one can now see designs of British Ships and weighing balances on display and even the ruins of a church. The next stop was Viper Island. According to our tour guide, the island derived its name from a ship that was wrecked nearby. It houses a dilapidated jail that was used by the British to imprison convicts. Our last stop was North Bay which is a beautiful island full of coral reefs. It has hardly been touched by human habitation.
Apart from the tourists and about twenty families that inhabit the place, it is largely full of dense mangroves and mounds of coral reefs and shells scattered all over its shores. It is also a major destination for snorkeling. The experience of moving in and out of coral beds and coming eye to eye with fish is truly delightful. For those who are not into snorkeling or scuba diving there is a provision to travel around the island in glass boats and observe the corals.
The experience was unforgettable and is sure to be a delight for all travelers, but the place lacks basic infrastructure. There was not a single restroom or changing room in North Bay, which made snorkeling near impossible for the females and even the ferry that was used was not very clean and comfortable.
On our way back to the hotel, we visited the Anthropological Museum, which illustrates the lives of the aboriginal tribes through models and pictures.
The food in Andaman was much better than what I expected. I am a vegetarian and was fearful of having to feed on packaged foods but there was delicious South Indian food available almost everywhere. It also had a fair variety of sea food.
Our third day was spent at the Havelock Islands. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by deserted beaches, lovely corals and crystal clear water. And on our final day we visited the Corbyn’s Cove which is the nearest beach to Port Blair.
Back at the Veer Savarkar airport, I could not help but feel a little irritated at my family for planning such a short trip when there was so much more I would have loved to explore in this tropical paradise. Nevertheless, I promised myself that I would be back soon. Andaman has a natural beauty that can not only be seen, but can be sensed in its calmness and serenity. It is a must visit for anyone looking to experience the sea at its best or just looking to take a couple of days off and relax.