The Emerald Islands of Andaman and Nicobar

June 27, 2013 By:

Table of contents for The Emerald Isles

  1. The Emerald Islands of Andaman and Nicobar
  2. The Emerald Islands of Andaman and Nicobar-II
The Emerald islands beckon

The Emerald islands beckon

The islands of Andaman and Nicobar are one of the two main island groups of India, the other being Lakshadweep. This Union Territory  comprises around 500 islands, scattered like green gems in the Bay of Bengal. This is what gives it the name, “The Emerald Islands”. The name Andaman, is derived from the name of the Hindu god, Hanuman. Over ages, the name was corrupted and evolved from Hanuman to Handuman to its present name Andaman. The Andaman islands are inhabited by people  indigenous ethnic groups and people  from the Indian mainland , mainly Bengalis and Tamilians . The Nicobar islands, comprise of mainly tribal people, of Burmese and Vietnamese origin. Unlike the Andaman group of islands, outsiders have restricted entry to Nicobar islands, due to the government policy of protecting the native tribes. Both island groups are rich with natural beauty, and have pristine beaches, forests, and warm, welcoming people.

Port Blair, the capital, was on our radar for a long time, and finally when we got the chance to go, we grabbed it with enthusiasm. Air India, Spice Jet, and a few other airlines operate flights from Chennai, Kolkata, and Bhubaneshwar to Port Blair. We chose to fly by Air India. Having like minded friends on this trip can really make the trip enjoyable. We had with us another family, who made our trip memorable.March is a good time for visiting the Andamans as it is not too hot.

There are a host of options for visitors to these islands. With one week of vacation time,  we tried to include as many activities as possible in our itinerary.  Before going to the Andamans, one should carefully and meticulously plan the trip. This is essential for a fruitful trip.Vacationers will have to catch ferries, note monument timings and book hotels way in advance to have a smooth holiday. One should also note, that since these islands are to the extreme east of the mainland, sunrise and sunset both, occur very yearly. In fact, the sun sets by around 5:30 in the evening.

 

Day 1- Port Blair

We left Delhi for Chennai on the eve of Holi, 26th March. After boarding the flight at around 8:30pm, we reached Chennai by 11 pm. We stayed overnight at a relative’s house before boarding the connection flight to Port Blair, early in the morning. Visitors may also opt to wait out in the airport. Since the Chennai airport is being upgraded, transit passengers may find it difficult to locate seats  to rest. Flyers should definitely try to get a window seat. The aerial view of the green islands, with sand bars receding in to the turquoise blue waters instills a sense of calm and enthusiasm as you look forward to the trip.

We landed at the Veer Savarkar Airport at 8 in the morning. We had booked our accommodation in a government guesthouse, right next to the Cellular Jail. Port Blair has lots of options to stay, and you can choose one based one your budget and reach.

Enroute to do seawalking

Enroute to do seawalking

To make most of our time, we quickly left our baggage at the guesthouse and left for our first activity- underwater seawalking. Seawalking is conducted by an agency called Sealink Adventures. It is one of a kind in India, and you do get to walk on the sea bed with professional divers. In Port Blair, seawalking is conducted near North Bay(which is better than the the one at Elephanta beach). Boats leave regularly from the Phoenix Bay boat jetty to the seawalking site. When we reached the pontoon, we were briefed by the staff on what to do and not to do when walking underwater. When you go underwater, a helmet with a glass opening is placed over your head. As you climb the ladder to go down, the pressure exerted by water does get to your head, and it can get painful. This pressure should be counterbalanced by holding your nose and blowing tight . Gradually when you reach the seabed, you will feel comfortable again. The overwhelming experience compensated for the momentary discomfort.

The seawalking pontoon

The seawalking pontoon

The view from underwater is breathtaking. Corals, oysters, sea weeds, colored fish  and the surrounding blue water is mesmerizing. Touching endangered species such as corals are  not allowed. The best part of the sea walk actually came when we fed pieces of bread to the  fish. As soon as you hold up the bread pieces, fish of different colors gather around you and it does get a bit ticklish but it is definitely a wonderful experience.  After 20 minutes of  “seawalking”, the divers  escorted us back up to the pontoon. When you climb up, one is likely to experience  the pressure factor again . At the end of it, the whole experience leaves you spellbound and the sparkling blue water always tantalizes you to go back underwater.

The North Bay lighthouse, featured on the back of a twenty rupee note

The North Bay lighthouse, featured on the back of a twenty rupee note

 

The lighthouse in the distance is the same as the picture above

The lighthouse in the distance is the same as the picture above

 

We returned back to the guesthouse quite satisfied, but still, tired. The connection flight, and then the seawalking had taken its toll on us. It was Holi too, because of which all the other places were closed. We decided to catch up on our sleep until the evening.

The biological park

The biological park

In the evening, we set out for one of the most scenic locations in Andaman- Chidiya Tapu. It is also called the “Sunset Point”, and as the name suggests, is home to a a zoo, or rather, a biological park. It is an hour’s drive from Port Blair, and we reached the place at around 5 pm, just in time for the sunset. However, we could not see the zoo as it closed at 4 in the evening. Chidiya Tapu is set in an idyllic location, facing the sea, and hills in the distance. In 2004, the tsunami had ravaged the place, uprooting many trees. Most of the tree stumps still lie on the sandy beaches, and adds  a rustic charm to the place. Seeing the rust coloured sun set over the distant hills is  a glorious sight. It is an opportunity for even the amateur photographers to capture portraits.

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

Dusk

Dusk

After sunset we had a quick tea, at a “canteen on the move”, outside Chidiya Tapu, before returning to Port Blair. We then retired for the night with great expectations from what was to come.

"Moonrise''

“Moonrise”

Day 2- Jolly Buoy and Cellular Jail

The name “Jolly Buoy”, might sound a bit quirky at the beginning, but it is in reality, a small island in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. This National Park was started with the aim of protecting marine biodiversity, as well other species of flora and fauna. There are two islands in this park which are open to the public.  Only one of these islands is open at a time for a period of  6 months. Jolly Buoy is one of them, the other being Red Skin Island. Reaching Jolly Buoy is a bit tedious. To reach the island, you will have to drive to Wandoor, which is 30 kilometres from Port Blair and takes about an hour by car. Wandoor is the hub of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, and it is home to a Marine Interpretation Centre. This centre provides information about the various species in the park. The most remarkable amongst them is the Great Saltwater Crocodile, which is around 15-20 feet long, and weighs one tonne. Infact, it has a biting force of 2 tonnes! This region is rampant with crocodiles and visitors need to be careful.

MG National Park

MG National Park

 

The Marine Interpretation Centre

The Marine Interpretation Centre

From Wandoor, you can take a ferry to Jolly Buoy. However, there are only 6 ferries, which operate on a first come first serve basis. They begin to operate from 9:30 am onwards. It is better to reach Wandoor by 9am, so that you can comfortably get seats.Once you are allotted a boat, the boat men take care and arrange for disembarking, coral sighting in glass bottom boat and snorkeling.  As soon as you get out of your ferry, you are taken in a “Glass Bottom Boat” to see the corals. As the name suggests,it has a glass floor, allowing you to see the corals and many bright fish. Then, they drop you on the island, where you are free to play at the beach, or simply relax. The beach at Jolly Buoy is a picture perfect one, with the white sand and turquoise waters complementing each other. After playing in the beach, we decide to do snorkeling, which is conducted by the ferry staff itself. Jolly Buoy is supposed to be one of the best sites in Andaman for snorkeling, with its exotic corals.Snorkeling involves wearing a mask with a tube to breathe, and floating on the surface of the water. By putting your head in the water, you can see the corals underneath you. You can opt to do either a small round around the place, or a bigger round on extra payment.  We opted for a small round first, and truly, it was a wonderful experience. You can see all kinds of corals, from the huge  boulder corals, to navy blue coloured starfish, and oysters. If they take you further, you can actually see the shallow beach giving way to the deep seabed. All in all, visiting Jolly Buoy is a must in Andaman, and it is perfect for families who are out to have fun.

Jolly Buoy in the background

Jolly Buoy in the background

Clear waters

Clear waters….

 

At Jolly Buoy

At Jolly Buoy

Picture perfect beaches on Jolly Buoy

Picture perfect beaches on Jolly Buoy

Mangrove Forests

Mangrove Forests

We left Jolly Buoy at 2 in the afternoon as we had to rush to the Cellular Jail. It closes by 5 pm and people cannot enter the premises after 4 pm.We reached Wandoor at 3 pm, after which we reached Cellular Jail in Port Blair at precisely 4pm. Barely making it through the gate, we went on to explore the dreaded  prison. The prison consists of 7 jail wings, arranged in the form of a star. Visitors get to see the  gallows and the areas where  the prisoners laboued while incarcerated. The jail has tiny cells of a fixed size, because of which it gets it name  ‘Cellular Jail’. In its heyday,Kalapani, as it was known then, was home to around 150 prisoners, all convicted for punishable acts against the British Raj. The most prominent amongst all prisoners was  Veer Savarkar, a staunch nationalist. In the Cellular Jail, you can see the cell where he was held for 10 years. While you see the entire premises, you are left with a sense of awe and inspiration. It is almost impossible to imagine how the prisoners at that time toiled and resisted the British atrocities in this remote land, thousand miles from the mainland. Even people who are indifferent to our country and how it got its independence, will be touched. Visiting the jail makes you think, think about how our forefathers resisted the British rule.

Cellular Jail

Cellular Jail

The gallows at the jail

The gallows at the jail

One of the many cells

One of the many cells

After the jail closed at 5:30pm, we went to the guesthouse to freshen up, before coming back for the light and sound show. It is said to be one of the best in the country, and takes you through the story of the jail, as well as the evolution of Andaman, from the time it was known as the dreaded Kalapani. For people who do not take guides while touring the jail, the show gives in-depth information about every aspect of the jail. In fact, we got to know for the first time ourselves that Cellular Jail was even occupied by the Japanese, during the world war.

Savarkar Cell

Savarkar Cell

The corridor....

The corridor….

Savarkar Cell

Savarkar Cell

When we reviewed the places to eat in Port Blair, we managed to make up a decent list of hotels. When we asked a few contacts in the city, we were recommended to go to a place called the “Lighthouse Restaurant”.It is set in a nice location, next to the Water Sports Complex. They claimed to to be experts in seafood, so with great expectations, we proceeded to eat at the restaurant. After going there, we ordered seafood, as well as vegetarian dishes like Gobi Manchurian for our vegetarian friends. However, contrary to our expectations, the seafood was not that great.  The vegetarian food was good, but not exceptional. From that day, we decided to eat in the guesthouse during our stay in Port Blair.

Cellular Jail at night

Cellular Jail at night

We were looking forward to our visit to Havelock the next day. Havelock Island, and specifically Radhanagar Beach, is one of the most scenic locations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. More about Radhanagar beach in Part II.

 

About Sishir Mohammed

Sishir Mohammed has written 9 posts at Ghumakkar.

My name is Sishir Mohammed. My hobbies include reading, eating, and of course- travelling. Being a foodie, I like going to places around India for beauty and traditional cuisine.

20 Responses to “The Emerald Islands of Andaman and Nicobar”


  1. Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Wonderful travelogue Shishir, nice description and very well taken shots.
    All the pictures are in excellent quality and I like ‘Moonrise’ picture.
    Cellular Jail – yeah, must be a touchy moment for all, who visits there.

    A trip to Andaman is pending for a long long time, from school days after seeing ‘Sabuj Deeper Raja’, a children’s film, shot in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is based on a story by Sunil Gangopadhyay and directed by the noted film maker Tapan Sinha. For all Ghumakkars, if you want to travel to Andaman & Nicobar Islands, you can opt for a trip by sea as well. It takes approx. 66 hours from Kolkata and a few hours less from Chennai & Vishakhapattanam…an experience you won’t be able to forget…I would definitely try to reach through ship, at least one way, whenever time permits to see the blue sea and the Islands.

    Look forward to the next part…thank you for sharing.

    • Sishir says:

      Thank you Amitava. Taking the sea route is also possible, but it is time consuming. Visiting Andaman is a wonderful experience, and you come back refreshed.

  2. Kiran says:

    Nice and very informative with good pictures. Waiting for next part.

  3. Vipin says:

    Thank you, Sishir Ji for bringing Andamns closer to us. It’s the forth time i am hearing about Andamans since last week…one of my friend just left for Port Blair…:)…this weekend I was discussing about Jarawas with one of fellow ghumakkar & now your story on same…so it’s Andamans everywhere! The narrative was very good, so as the photos…though i could imagine some of the missing photos through your writing, but would have loved to see them in print at least (if not in real as of now…:), i can understand their must have been some hurdles)…

    Can one do a self supporting trip there without involving any travel agent? Look forward to learning about Havelock Island…

    • Sishir says:

      Thank you Vipin. It is tough to do a self supported trip as there are many aspects which are difficult to handle, like booking of ferries, hotels and so on. Furthermore, you will not enjoy the holiday if you are always involved in checking bookings. So, it is best to leave it to a travel agent

  4. abhishek kashyap 'trainman' says:

    This is i call as perfect ghumakkar post, with due objective satisfied..
    Tourism is incomplete without Knowledge gaining. and this post gave me enough .. :)
    happy to read it.saved it also. a worth post after a long here loaded with knowledge along-with fun.
    keep ghumming.
    blessings and wishes.
    ‘Vande Matram’

  5. venkatt says:

    Great Start Sishir. Looking forward to your Havelock travelogue.

  6. ashok sharma says:

    good post with very good pics.

  7. Rakesh Bawa says:

    Nice post Shishir Ji. An off beat place to visit. Hope u enjoyed a lot.

  8. Sishirmohammed says:

    Thanks a lot, we enjoyed a lot

  9. Abheeruchi says:

    Hi,

    Very nice and informative post.For me it is post full of knowledge.Good to know about terms like Seawalking and Snorkeling.I had never heard this term before, so I am happy that I had learnt something from your post.Is Seawalking is similar to Underwater diving?
    I am kind of Adventurous person, so really excited to read about.I had heard that there are many water sports also available at Andaman.One which I really wanted to do is Banana boat ride ?(Not sure whether this is correct term).Hope to learn more from your next posts at Andaman.

    Pictures are also very nice.

    Keep travelling , keep writing

    • Sishir says:

      Seawalking is literally like walking on the seafloor, and anyone can do it. Underwater sea diving requires training. Yes, Banana Boat rides can be done on Elephant beach in Havelock, I will mention it in the next post
      Thank You!

  10. Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Sishir,

    Nice breezy post about the Andamans. The water looked especially clear, blue and inviting.

    Maybe its the flight over sea that makes us Indians think we are in aforeign country and therefore do not litter fearing penalties!

    Want to see the Cellular Jail. The bit about the light house on the 20 rupee note is interesting.

    The photos are lovely!

    • Sishir says:

      Thank you Nirdesh. It is a place worth visiting. now, everytime I see a 20 rupee note, I get reminded about the journey!

  11. Nandan Jha says:

    For some reason, whenever I think of a creative comment, I realise that someone has already mentioned it. In this case, the 20 rupee thing stuck me. It certainly gives me boasting rights and at best a time-kill during high-spirited moments.

    Great info about sea walking. How much is the charge per person for such an activity and please also share the contact number of your provider, if you are satisfied with their services.

    I have read posts on Andaman in the past but this one has much more info and new things. Looking forward to part 2. Thank you Shishir.

    • Sishir says:

      Thank you Nandan !. Sea Walking costs around 3000 bucks per head, but it is well worth the money..
      As for the provider, you can call them on the number 100. (Actually, my father is in the police, so we were assisted by them in going from place to place! Haha) . It is not necessary that you use the services of an agent. If you research well and plan your trip carefully, then anyone can manage perfectly.



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