Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy
  • Despite having zero Covid-19 cases, people here continue to take precautions like wearing masks.
  • Havelock Island not only offers some stunning beaches, but it also has some of the top diving destinations in the country.
  • If you are hankering for some serious digital detox there is no better place than Havelock - there is limited to zero connectivity on the island.

Earlier this month, Dr. Niveditha Vasireddy, a psychiatrist from Visakhapatnam, travelled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The archipelago, of around 300 islands in the Indian Ocean, is a Union Territory of India, which if you look at the map seems closer to Thailand and Myanmar than to India.

She tells Business Insider, not able to control her excitement, how she has never imagined experiencing such clean and untouched white sandy beaches in India. "I mean, you can expect such an experience in countries like the Philippines, but in India... my mind was blown,” she says.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Abhimanyu Mukherji

Advertisement
The picturesque white sandy beaches of the Andaman Islands are not considered by most as an option for a beach vacation. And perhaps it is for the best, because as is the case with most popular tourist destinations, the more touristy they become, the more we expose the location to environmental risks. But if responsible tourism is your jam, and you do not mind paying a little more money for a truly magical experience, then the Andaman Islands is the place to visit.

Dr. Vasireddy, along with a few friends, decided to ditch the idea of vacationing in Goa and chose a place where they can get away from it all — plus, there was the added advantage of the location being COVID-free. In fact, it was the first place in India with zero active cases as of 03 February 2021. Regardless of the fact, she was pleasantly surprised that people on the Island continue to take safety very seriously and said all the locals were wearing face masks. In case you forget to wear yours, they will politely inform you that if you don't, you will get 'challand’ (a challan).

Please note that it is mandatory to present an RTPCR Covid negative test at Port Blair. The authorities validate the test against the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) website. Only once the validity is confirmed do the officials stamp the document, and without this stamped paper, you will not be allowed to take the ferry to any of the Islands. Flights from all major cities of the country, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi, land at the capital Port Blair.

Advertisement

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy


HAVELOCK ISLAND

The island not only offers some stunning beaches, but it also has some of the top diving destinations in the country. It is an excellent place to learn deep-sea diving so that you can explore the underwater marvels. Havelock Island is one of the few places where inexperienced divers can try out a single dive instead of signing up for a full course. The water is teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, stingrays and much more. It also has a healthy population of colourful live corals. The best part is that you don't need to be a swimmer to try scuba diving. The crystal blue waters are so clear that you can always opt for snorkelling if you want to skip scuba diving. There is also an excellent night kayaking expedition that takes you through the mangroves. The unreal experience of watching the water bioluminescence below and the sky filled stars above cannot be paralleled.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy

Advertisement
There is so much to see in Havelock that it is best to hire a bike or cycle. But we must warn you that while happily cruising on well-made tar roads you may land up literally nowhere. "Some (roads) took us to beaches and others just abruptly ended by fields or the forest," Dr. Vasireddy tells us.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy

Beaches

Radhanagar Beach (Beach No.7), Elephant Beach, and Vijaynagar Beach (Beach No.5) are some of the most well-known beaches in Havelock.

Advertisement
Radhanagar beach is flanked by the ocean on one side and lush rainforest on the other. This west-facing beach is ideal for catching the sunset. You can also walk down to Neil's Cove, a secluded spot perfect for sunbathing and a spot for swimming in shallow water.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Dhiman Mukherji

Elephant beach may not be easy to get to, but the beauty of the place more than makes up for the effort. The beach features some bleached driftwood and logs that provide an excellent backdrop for a photo-op. This is also an ideal place to go snorkelling.

Vijaynagar beach is where the buzz is. This is where most of the restaurants, hotels and snorkelling centres are situated. The beach faces east and is, therefore, a great place to catch the sunrise. However, because the water is shallow and strewn with rocks, swimming here is not the easiest.
Advertisement

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy

Food

The local food, if idyllic surroundings are not enough, is usually a combination of Indian and continental cuisine that is absolutely delicious. Dr. Vasireddy recommends - Fat Martin's Cafe in Vijaynagar that serves south Indian food including a delicious Nutella dosa; Anju Coco that strangely enough serves the "best biriyani”; Something Different serves excellent continental seafood pizza and amazing desserts ; Moonlight Cafe is great for seafood . The restaurants here are a seafood lovers paradise, serving up a fantastic variety of fresh red snappers, calamari, prawns, and so much more. That being said, there are plenty of vegetarian options too.

Accommodation

Advertisement
There are plenty of hotels to choose from high-end Taj Hotels to more affordable options like Wild Orchid, SilverSand Beach Resort, Munjoh Ocean Resort and Symphony Palms Beach Resort. The hotels are clean, and most are environmentally conscious. Most hotels and restaurants on the Island provide only RO water and not plastic bottles, as is sadly the norm elsewhere. And if you choose to buy water, the local stores have nothing smaller than 2-litre bottles to reduce the amount of plastic used.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Bambooka, the government ferryNiveditha Vasireddy

How to get there

From Port Blair, the best way to get to Havelock is by ferry. The government ferry from Port Blair to Havelock takes around 2.5 hours but please note that the outside deck area has no seating, so you will have to bring something to place on the floor to sit on. The booking process is slightly cumbersome, but you can get a travel agent to take care of everything, which will still be cheaper than private options. MV Makruzz and Coastal Cruise are the private companies that ferry people across to the Island. They take around 1.5 hours to get to Havelock.
Advertisement

Connectivity

If you are hankering for some serious digital detox there is no better place than Havelock. There is limited to no connectivity on the island. BSNL is the only cellular service that works but the network is patchy. Hotels usually provide wi-fi access, but most are limited to the lobby area.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy

PORT BLAIR

Advertisement
While Andaman and Nicobar Islands' capital may not seem all that appealing as a tourism destination, there are plenty of places you can visit while here. There is a high probability of you spending the night there since the ferries to the islands do not operate at night. So depending on your flight timing, chances are, one way or the other you will have to stay in Port Blair.

If you opt to stay in Port Blair, Chidiya Tapu (Bird Island) is an excellent place to explore. The area offers some fabulous diving spots, including Mundapahad, ideal for beginners and the old shipwreck, a site for advanced divers and home to clownfish, schooling snapper, resting ray and lots of colourful corals. If you want to give the water a break, the place is an excellent spot for birdwatching. The mangroves and rainforests here play host to a bunch of migratory birds and flowers. You can also hike to Mundapahad lighthouse. ReefWatch Marine Conservation, in collaboration with Lacadives, offers an informative mangrove walk (when the tide is out) and informs you about the surrounding ecosystem.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Niveditha Vasireddy


Advertisement
Dr. Vasireddy decided to stay at the relatively new Big Tree Resort featuring only eight cabins, an in-house restaurant and a supremely friendly dog called Momo. Momo insists all guests should play with him and will bring you a coconut husk that you need to pry out of his mouth and throw so that he can fetch it, thus providing an excellent way to drive away the blues.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Dhiman Mukherji

Another site that may be worth a visit, especially if you are a history buff, is the colonial prison called Cellular Jail (Kālā Pānī) that is where most freedom fighters, including Veer Savarkar, were shipped off to before independence. There is an informative light show in the evening and the tour of the jail itself is quite fascinating.

Exploring the unreal beauty of the Andaman Islands
Abhimanyu Mukherji

Advertisement

BARATANG MANGROVE FOREST AND LIMESTONE CAVES

To experience the fascinating limestone caves and mangrove forests in Baratang Island, you will have to head to the Jirkatang check post (a little over an hour-long-drive from Port Plair), which marks the beginning of the area where the Jarawa tribes of Andaman Islands live. After the clearance is done, you can drive through Jarawa reserve forest, but note that taking photos is strictly not prohibited. Once you reach the other end, you have to take a ferry to cross the water and arrive at Baratang. Here you can take a permit and board a speedboat to ride through the mangroves and arrive at a trekking spot from where you have to walk for 1.2 km through villages to reach the spectacular limestone caves. The journey may sound daunting, but this is one of the unforgettable experiences you wouldn't want to miss. However, respecting the people's privacy and regulations, particularly of the tribals, is of paramount importance.
{{}}