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Andaman Islands - Mystical but Definitely not Fictional By Shyam Amladi

Andaman - Havelock Island

Where is it?

The Andaman Islands form a pristine, beautiful and relatively untouched archipelago situated by the Andaman Sea in the Bay of Bengal. Only 36 of 572 islands are inhabited. Over 80% of the surface of these islands is protected forest.  It is 847 miles from Chennai, India, 547 miles from Bangkok, Thailand and 939 miles from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Port Blair, the capital, has the international airport; if flying from India, several cities have one-stop or non-stop flights—Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru. Some international flights are also available, although your best bet is to fly from one of the Indian airports where you have a choice of schedules.

In other words, it is a remote place from any major city.

History

Andaman Tribesman

Andaman came to the attention of the British in 1789 mainly for its abundant and rich timber and for gold, chromite and nickel. Several companies were stationed there till 2001 when Supreme Court banned all logging. The British found another use for the remote islands. They re-purposed it as a penal colony in 1858, unofficially naming it “Kala Pani” or “Blackwater” punishment, not because the water or sand of Andaman Sea is black, but because it conjured up an image of bleak, horrible future. The prisoners were all Indian citizens, mostly from Bengal and Punjab and mostly those who had fought to free India from the British rule—which was considered treason. Among the prisoners was a famous revolutionary-- Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who was sentenced to 50 years but released after spending 11 years in Andaman. Several forms of physical and psychological torture and even death by hanging were used to break the spirit of freedom fighters---from the time of the great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 till 1937 when the main jail was closed partially because of activist protests. Some of the torture methods—flogging of Indian prisoners by their fellow citizens, undernourishment, hanging in plain sight of prisoners, back-breaking work under atrocious conditions, metal neck and ankle chains.

Today this pristine group of islands is a favorite destination for tourists, for weddings and for meetings.

Highlights

Andaman’s 500+ islands compete with one another for scenic beauty, pristine waters, sunny, tropical climate (except for the rainy season – June-September), spectacular reefs and serene beaches. And did we mention you can play your favorite watersports almost year around.

The best times to visit is early May through October, and winter months, although Monsoons come in two consecutive periods---mid-May to August, a bit of dry period then September through November.

Things to See and Do

  • Port Blair
  • Capital of the Andaman archipelago, Port Blair is the main city, and where tourists fly into.

It is famous for the cellular jail, built by the British to house revolutionary Indian fighters who were trying to get the British to quit India. The light and sound show, recounting the history of the some of the gruesome, but courageous stories that occurred inside the massive jail, is worth watching.

  • There are 5 museums in Port Blair. We highly recommend the Zonal Anthropological museum. It contains a visual and 3-d history of the islands, its people, tribal history and the tragedy brought by frequent invasions and warfare.
  • Ross Island is just across the bay from Port Blair and has well preserved ruins (it is a Heritage site) from the British and Japanese era of occupation, including some beautiful century-old banyan trees
  • Viper Island, also 3-4 km from Port Blair, is famous for the jail that housed women prisoners, as well as night-time views of Port Blair, specially the brightly lit Cellular jail

 

  • Beaches

Radhanagar beach

There are about 20 beaches in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. While the waters are spectacular, some of these are forgettable; e.g. Kalapatthar beach is narrow and has floating seaweed that makes it difficult to enjoy a nice, comfortable swim.

The truly pristine beaches are on Neil and Havelock islands. Radhanagar beach, is consistently rated among the top ten beaches in the world. Similarly, Lakshmanpur, Elephant, Pathi Lavel and Bharatpur beaches are truly worth visiting, though some of them are not accessible except by boat or kayak.

Neil Island

  • Watersports

For scuba diving and reef viewing, there are a number of prime diving spots. Most of them are around the Havelock Island. And some in Neil Island.

Aquarium, areas between Havelock and Peel Island, Cinque Island and Fish Rock; on Neil Island, Junction, K-rock and the western tip of the island. Most dive depths are between 25 to 80 feet, some areas offer as deep as 160 feet.

 

  • Fishing

Spearfishing - ancient sport of the tribals

Andaman offers some of the most spectacular big-fish opportunities, on both east and west ends. The real big fish are found around 3-4,000 away from the shores, but you can also find fish as close as 300 feet.

The type of fish you can find are: Giant Trevally, Marlin, Amerjack, Tuna (Yellow Fin as well as Dog tooth, Giant Barracuda, Grouper and King Mackerel.

Giant Trevally

There is a reason – or several -  Andaman Island is gaining in popularity amongst the people in the Indian sub-continent as well as nearby Asian countries. The rest of the world is beginning to discover its magic as well.

Neil Island

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