Untouched Paradise - Andamans

The Radhanagar Beach

Exotic Beaches, turquoise blue waters, dense natural foliage, beautiful sunrises, charming sunsets and an abundance of underwater life – That’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands for you! Through this blog-post, I would try to relive my experiences and share the itinerary which we (me & better half) followed.

Virgin Islands and Exotic Coral Reefs !

Situated around 1,400 kms from India (and 1,000 kms from Thailand), this cluster of nearly 600 islands (572 to be precise) on the Bay of Bengal offers everything, a traveller wishes for- from the cosmopolitan city of Port Blair to the ruins of Ross Island; from the pristine white beaches of Havelock Islands to the rich aquamarine life of Neil Island.  Forget Thailand and Goa, Andaman is home to the most award winning beaches in the world! Don’t believe me ? Read on…


Aerial view of the Archipelago 

Background

Some ‘Gyaan’:  Home to indigenous tribes (like Jarawas, Sentinelese, Onge and Shompen) since ancient ages, the earliest recorded history of the Andaman Islands began in early 18th century when the British established a penal settlement with 200 prisoners at Viper Island. Later on this jail was expanded to the infamous Cellular Jail, (popularly known as Kaala Pani) in Port Blair. Today, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are one of the 7 union territories of India, with the Andamans in the north and the Nicobars in the south.

Blessed by Nature !

How to Reach: The gateway and the sole entry/ exit point for Andamans is the city of Port Blair which can be accessed through 2 routes –by sea or by air. Port Blair is well connected with Chennai, Kolkata, Vishakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar and Delhi via air. Mostly all major airlines operate through these cities and take around 2-3 hours to reach the island. It is also possible to take a ship from Kolkata, Chennai or Visakhapatnam which takes almost 3-4 days to arrive in Port Blair and is less expensive than flights (Rs. 2000/- to 8000/-)

Note: Only BSNL, Airtel and Vodafone provide mobile services in Port Blair and Havelock Island whereas only BSNL works in Neil Island. Hotels charge an exorbitant rate of Rs. 20/- per minute for each STD call so come prepared!


The turquoise blue waters !

Day 1- Touching Base – Port Blair

Located on the east coast of the South Andaman Island, Port Blair is a small picturesque city elevated on a small hill. Just before landing at the Veer Savarkar Airport at Port Blair, the islands welcomed us with a majestic aerial view which left us wanting for more!  

Post landing, we checked into our hotel (Shompen Hotel- a 10 min drive from the Airport ; Tariff: Rs. 4,000-Rs. 10,000/-), freshened up and had a hearty meal after which we headed towards the first destination of our itinerary - Ross Island. The one thing that struck me was the cleanliness maintained by the civic authorities. With smooth roads, minimal traffic, lush greenery and ocean all around, it felt as if I was not in India anymore!

We reached the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex jetty in Port Blair from which we obtained our tickets for a 20 min ferry ride to Ross Island (Rs. 100/- per head for a to & fro journey). Entry fee for the Ross Island costs Rs. 30/-.

Ross Island


Towering palm trees at the Ross Island

Some ‘Gyaan’:  Ross Island was the erstwhile capital of the Andaman Islands for the British from 1858 until an earthquake destroyed the island in 1941. Later, during the World War II, the Japanese occupied the island and converted the site into a Prisoners of War camp. It was during this period that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who took the help of Japanese in his fight against the British, stayed at the Island for a day in December 1943. In April 1979, the island was handed over to the Navy, which set up a small post named INS Jarawa.


Herd of Deer amidst the ruins

Wandering Peacocks !

What we did at the Ross Island –
  • Relived the glory of the island’s colonial past by watching the dilapidated remains of the Chief Commissioner's house, the Presbyterian church, the overgrown ruins of huge water purifier systems and other ruins. 
  • Basked in the glory of the beautiful tall palm trees that dot the island in huge numbers. 
  • Witnessed the hordes of deer, peacocks and rabbits which roam freely here.
  • Went inside the war bunkers erected by the Japanese and got a feel how the Japanese protected the Island from outsiders through these bunkers.

Ruins of the Church

Ross Island

After wandering amidst the ruins of the Ross Island for nearly two hours, we took the ferry back to Port Blair and headed straight towards our next destination- Corbyn’s Cove Beach.

Corbyn’s Cove Beach

The only beach of Port Blair, Corbyn’s Cove is a beautiful coconut palm fringed beach located 8 kms from the heart of the city. The coastal road leading upto the beach is bewitchingly beautiful with palm trees lined up on both sides of the road.

What we did–
  • Gazed at the ocean while relaxing on a beach bench (hired for Rs. 10/- per hour)
  • Gorged on the spicy “Mirchi Vada’s” with yummy chaat masala sprinkled on it. (Rs. 25/-)
  • Gulped tender coconut water! (Rs. 25/-)
  • Enjoyed the cool breeze while watching the sun set far away in the horizon (Priceless !)
Relaxing by the Beach

Son Et Lumiere at Kalapani Jail

After watching the sunset, we went to see the famous “Son-Et-Lumiere” (Light & Sound Show) at the Cellular Jail (also known as Kalapani). The show depicts the history of the tainted Jail along with the saga of the heroic freedom struggle.  The tortures meted out to the freedom fighters, who were held up in this jail are brought alive in the show through use of innovative lighting techniques and heart touching rendition of patriotic songs.

The Light & Sound Show at the Cellular Jail

यह तीर्थ महारथियों का है, मत कहो इसे कालापानी,
तुम सुनो, यहाँ की धरती के कण - कण से गाथा बलिदानी”.

What we came to know-

  • The prisoners were beaten and forced to work like bullocks to oil mills, grinding mustard seed, around and around. Even when the prisoners were sick, the doctors would certify ‘fit for work’.
  • Each prisoner was given a bowl and a piss-pot where they could relieve themselves only twice a day. (The rest of the time they were not permitted to go back to their cells as had to work continuously). The bowls full of urine and stool would be cleaned only once a day. 
  • Food that was provided to the prisoners consisted of gruel that was riddled with white threads of worms. Unfiltered water and living in unhygienic conditions led to the deaths of many inmates due to malaria, TB and diarrhoea.
  • If the prisoners sat on a hunger strike, the British would try to force feed them. If that did not work, a rubber catheter would be inserted through the nostrils and into the gullet and so to the stomach. A solution of milk, eggs and sugar would be poured via a funnel. In certain cases rectal feeding was also tried. Mahavir Singh and many other prisoners lost their lives as the liquid filled up their lungs instead of reaching their stomachs.
  • Hundreds were used as “Guinea Pigs” by prison doctors who experimented on the malaria affected prisoners by giving them unwarranted dosages of Cinchona which led to their deaths.
The show left us wondering how much pain, the freedom fighters had to go through so that we could enjoy our “Independence”! On that thought we retired for the day.

The Cellular Jail during Son-Et-Lumiere

Note: Two Hindi shows are showcased on all days at 6:00 pm and at 7:15 pm except on Monday, Wednesday & Friday when second show is in English at 7:15 pm. Entry fee for Adult is Rs. 50/-

Day 2- Port Blair

Coral Safari

The next morning, we rushed to the Phoenix Bay Jetty post breakfast for our underwater sea adventure in a semi-submarine!  Like a security check in an airport, we went through a similar (albeit watered down) procedure before entering the semi-submarine named “Coral Safari”. The semi- submarine boat, has an air-conditioned under water chamber with 100 seats with large glass windows tilted at 45 degrees to witness the marine life in the middle of the sea (around 45 mins from Port Blair near the Jolly Buoy island). For those who are averse to scuba diving, this is the next best alternative to witness the amazing view of the life hidden below the sea.

What we saw-
        
  • Hordes of colourful fish swim by,
  • Some not so colourful coral reefs,
  • Occasional glimpses of crabs, sea cucumbers, snails, molluscs and octopuses

Coral Reefs beneath the surface of the Ocean

Note : The Tariff is steep at Rs. 1,850/- per adult.  On can experience the same by doing deep sea Snorkelling in Havelock or Neil Island at much cheaper rates.

A visit to the Cellular Jail

Post our Coral Safari, we headed for a second visit to the Cellular Jail - this time to see the jail cells and memorials whose story we had earlier witnessed at the Son-Et-Lumiere a night before.

The Cellular Jail

Some ‘Gyaan’:  Constructed between 1896 and 1906, the Cellular Jail was a colonial prison used by the British especially to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. Many notable freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar, Batukeshwar Dutt and Yogendra Shukla among others were imprisoned here as the remote islands were considered to be a suitable place to punish the independence activists. Today, the complex serves as a museum and national memorial monument.

The original construction of the jail had seven wings (each having 3 stories), at the centre of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise an alarm if any of the inmates tried to escape. The jail was very unique for the fact that nearly 700 jail cells were constructed in such a way that it prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. Post-independence some wings were destroyed and a hospital was set up in its premises.

The Cellular Jail Compound


What we saw-
         
  • The prison cells where each inmate had to serve his term in solitary confinement 
  • The secure lock mechanism of the cells which prevented the prisoners to reach the padlock from inside even if they had the keys.
  • The vast corridors of horror, each heavy with a past of pains endured by the inmates
  • The Watch Tower (with an amazing view of Port Blair and Ross Island)
  • Work Shed for the prisoners where they would extract oil from seeds and prepare ropes from coir.
  • Veer Savarkar’s Cell
  • The dreaded gallows where many prisoners were hanged
  • The Torch of Tribute which burns 24x7 dedicated to the brave souls imprisoned at the Jail
  • 1857 war Memorial
The Outside corridors
The inner Corridors

The gallows

Timings – 9 AM to 12:30 PM, 1:30 PM to 4:45 PM. Open on all days except National Holidays. Entry fee: Rs. 30/-

Havelock Island

The Makruzz M.V.

Post our visit to Cellular Jail we bid goodbye to Port Blair (for a few days) and headed off to the Phoenix Bay Jetty to catch a cruise ride for Havelock Island. After the check in procedure we boarded the premium ferry “Makruzz” which took us to Havelock Island in one and half hours. (Other government and private ferries are also available, but Makruzz is the best! Timings : 1:45 PM daily. Fare: Rs. 1,100 to Rs. 1,300 per head.)

Some ‘Gyaan’: Havelock is one of the most picturesque natural island with beautiful white sandy beaches, rich coral reefs and lush green forested areas. It is one of the largest of the islands in the Andamans stretching about 12 kilometres in total with four awesome beaches. The most interesting thing about this island is that there are no petrol pumps ! All the vehicles run on the petrol which comes by ferry each day.  

Symphony Palms

Symphony Palms Cottages

Symphony Palms

We reached Havelock at around 3:30 PM and checked into our beautiful hotel Symphony palms Beach resort. True to its name, the resort which is located near the beach was dotted with hundreds of palm trees with cute wooden cottages beautifying the entire area.  (Tariff: Rs. 5,000-Rs. 10,000/-)

The Candle light Dinner by the sea

We had the evening to our leisure post which we had an awesome candle light dinner by the beach. With dim lighting, cool breeze, a singer belting out soulful numbers with his guitar and some delicious food- It was surely an unforgettable evening! (Charges: Rs. 2,499/- per couple)

Day 3- Havelock

Elephant Beach

Ride to Elephant Beach (the initials S.L. on our hands denote the name of our Speed Boat- "Sea Lion")

We started the day with a sumptuous breakfast and headed on towards the Havelock Jetty to visit the Elephant Beach (no elephants here!) . Now you must be wondering that why were we heading towards the jetty if we wanted to visit the beach. The answer to that is that the Elephant beach lies in the forested areas of the island, thus there is no motorable way. So there are only two ways to reach the beach- either trek through the forest (very adventurous yet risky!) or hire a motorboat from the jetty which would take a far lesser time.

Elephant Beach - You Beauty !
Note: The motor boat rides are expensive (but worth it!) with round trip fares ranging from Rs. 700-1000 per person. There are only a limited number of boats available on a first come first serve basis, thus it is recommended to reach the jetty by 8:30 AM to book your seat. Elephant Beach is approximately 20 minutes by motor boat from the Havelock Jetty (do not miss the lighthouse during the boat ride!). Also, Changing rooms, lockers and washrooms are available in all the beaches for a minimal amount.

Little colorful fishes swimming in crystal clear shallow waters

The island offers beautiful white sandy beach and an amazing coral reef which starts at a depth less than a metre. The white sand beach and the turquoise green waters have the power to entice any traveller. Water sport activities like jet-skiing, boating, snorkelling, kayaking and boating in the glass bottom boats are also conducted on this beach.


Crystal clear waters and white sands !
What we did-
  • Gaped at the wonderful expanse of the turquoise blue ocean from the glittering white sands of the beach!!
  • Saw little fishes play in the crystal clear waters just above our feet
  • Saw beautiful coral reefs and large fishes while snorkeling (Rs. 500/- per head for deep sea snorkeling)
  • Saw some amazing dead trees with mind-blowing root formations!
  • Collected some dead corals from the sea shore (as souvenirs)
  • Ate some refreshing fruit chaat consisting of papaya (it tastes amazing there !), mangoes, grapefruit, oranges, apples and star fruit (Rs. 100/- per plate)
After spending hours on this lovely beach we headed back to the jetty and to our hotel to have our lunch. Post lunch, we freshened up and headed towards the most beautiful beach of India -  Radhanagar Beach.

Radhanagar Beach

Radhanagar Beach
Awarded as the 7th Best beach in the world by the Time Magazine and the best beach of Asia by TripAdvisor (Phuket’s Nai Harn Beach ranks at No. 3 and Goa’s Agonda beach ranks at No. 5), Radhanagar Beach is undoubtedly the prettiest beach in India. Fine white sands, turquoise blue waters, lined by lush forests and palm trees – these are a few words that could describe this beautiful beach. Sometimes words fail to express the beauty of a place such is the beauty of Radhanagar Beach.

At the Radhanagar Beach
What we did-
  • Sat endlessly and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the beach, the forests and lush greenery merging with turquoise blue waters of the Bay of Bengal.
  • Went up the small watchtower to witness the stunning beauty of the beach
  • Saw one of the best silver linings over the clouds

Cloud Play - Silver Lining at Radhanagar
  • Did the usual touristy things like making sand castles and drawing our names on the beach and then watching the waves to wash them down!
  • Witnessed one of the prettiest sunsets.
  • Sat under the gaze of the fragrant “Kewda” (or Keora) trees 
  • Felt closer to home- had some mouth watering Puchkas and Bhel. 
Taking back beautiful memories with us, we called retired for the day.


Under the shade of Keora Trees

The surreal Sunset !


Day 4- Havelock & Neil Island

Mangrove Beach

The Mangrove Beach

The very next morning we headed off to Beach No. 2 (also known as Mangrove beach / diving beach) to experience something which we had on our bucket list since long- Scuba Diving. However, the moment we reached the dive-site, my dreams were shattered as the diving instructors advised me not to participate in the dive as I had a blocked nose L . Although we saw the entire process as below –

The participants are made to wear wet dive suits and then given a basic training on scuba diving (Something similar to the training given by Katrina to Hrithik, Farhan and Abhay in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). If the participants are found fit for underwater diving, they are taken a few metres below the water along with guides who then show the wonderful marine lives hidden below the surface of water. The entire process takes around an hour and costs Rs. 2000/- to Rs. 2500/- per head. A certificate is also awarded to the divers who complete the entire dive. Prior reservation is recommended.

Those who are unlucky like me can enjoy the beautiful view of the mangrove trees and the corals underneath the sea bed. A word of caution though- The roots of mangrove trees are home to the venomous sea snakes (kraits). Our fellow divers were lucky enough (to escape unhurt) after witnessing a slithering krait post their dive.

The Mangroves

There are also other beautiful beaches like Vijaynagar and Kalapatthar which are worth visiting but we could not visit due to paucity of time. Trust me even 3-4 days are very less for exploring this beautiful island! Grudgingly, we bid adieu to this paradise to visit another beautiful one – Neil Island. We boarded the Makruzz ferry at 10 AM and reached Neil Island by 11:15 AM. (Tariffs: Rs. 800/- to Rs. 1,600/- per head)

Neil Island

Situated 36 kms north east from Port Blair, Neil is a tiny island blessed with natural beauty. Surprisingly, the island was uninhabited till 1960’s and later on mostly Bangladeshi migrants settled on this island. Trust me, most of the tourists which do not opt for visiting this island miss the real raw beauty of nature which Andaman has to offer.


Bharatpur Beach

Bharatpur Beach

Post docking at Bharatpur Jetty, we straight away headed towards the Bharatpur beach (even before checking into our hotel) to enjoy some delightful water-sports. A heaven for beach bums, Bharatpur offers a wide array of water-sports at dirt cheap prices. We opted for jet-skis and thoroughly enjoyed it.


Jet Ski at Bharatpur

What we did-
  • Enjoyed an amazing and thrilling session of Jet-Ski
  • Shopped some amazing souvenirs from local shops at throwaway prices. (do buy some amazing conch shells and local handicrafts) 
  • Developed a tan and got absorbed a lot of Vitamin D post our sunbathing session at the beach
  • Satisfied our hunger pangs by having the famous Andaman fruit chart and the ever refreshing coconut water
Post our rejuvenating experience at Bharatpur, we checked into our luxurious abode for the day- Summer Sands resort. Equipped with all modern amenities, Summer sands is a bewitchingly beautiful resort near to the Bharatpur beach (Tariffs- Rs. 6,000 onwards).

Summer Sands Resort


The tasteful decor

Lakshmanpur Beach

The entrance to the Lakshmanpur Beach

In the evening we visited the Lakshmanpur beach (interestingly, the beaches here are named after characters from Ramayana – Bharatpur, Lakshmanpur, Sitapur etc..etc..) which was by far the most raw and virgin beach I had ever seen. Passing through dense foliage of trees, we entered the beach where we were welcomed the serenity and tranquilness which presided over the white sands.


Lakshmanpur Beach

Golden Sunset !

What we did-
  • Enjoyed a long walk covering the entire stretch of the beach. 
  • Saw hundreds and hundreds of tiny snails crawling on the beach.
  • Saw the most amazing ‘golden sunset’ – It feels as if the entire horizon has been bathed with some golden hues!
Twilight at Lakshmanpur
  • Spent some time alone connecting with ourselves. Trust me, this beach has such positive and tranquil vibes, you will fall in love. Sitting alone, away from the maddening crowds in the lap of nature will make you feel so amazing. The strong breeze of the ocean, the chirping of kingfishers and egrets, the gentle sway of trees dotting the shore all this will feel so satisfying, you would never wish to leave this place.
  • Stargazed on clear skies under the brilliant moonlight and retired for the day !

Gazing at the horizon !

Day 5- Neil Island and Port Blair

Natural Bridge

Early morning we rushed to witness the most beautiful part of Neil Island – the Natural Bridge, which is a unique rock formation, that looks like a bridge. One has to walk for about 10 minutes on dead corals to reach this spot. Now you would be wondering, why would we lose some precious sleep early in the morning just to see a Natural bridge? Well the fact is that during low tides, some interesting sea creatures get deposited in the shallow waters which can be seen otherwise only during Scuba Diving / snorkeling.

The Natural Bridge

Our guide took us in those shallow waters and showed us a wide array of sea creatures like colorful fishes, starfishes, clams, mollusks, oysters, crabs, live corals , sea cucumbers and huge snails! We even saw some motion reacting and colour changing corals and realized that nature has so much to offer if we care to preserve it !

Starfish

The experience of holding a live snail !
Corals

Sea Cucumbers

Mollusks which hold the pearls

Post our rendezvous with the Natural bridge we packed our bags and bid goodbye to Neil island for our journey back to Port Blair. We boarded our Makruzz ferry from Bharatpur Jetty at 11:30 AM and reached Phoenix Bay Jetty at Port Blair by 1 PM (Tariffs: Rs. 900-Rs. 1,700/-)

Port Blair

After checking in at our hotel (Shompen), we freshened up and headed towards exploring the rest of Port Blair.

What we did-
  • Visited the beautiful Navgrah Munisuvrat Swami Jinalay (yes there is a Shikharbandhi Jain temple in Port Blair !!!) in the Radha Govinda Temple premises on the RGT road. Dedicated to the 20th Tirthankar, Shri Munisuvrat Swami the temple is situated on a small hillock with amazing views of the sea. The temple also houses shrines of Nav Graha’s and other demi gods and goddesses. Constructed by Singhvi brothers from Chennai, the Anjanshalakha was conducted by Acharya Shri Navratnasagar surishwarji maharaja and pratishtha was conducted by Babulalji Haran in 2014.

Navgrah Jinalay

The temple overlooking the ocean at a distance

Mulnayak Shri Munisuvrat Swami
  • Visited the Anthropological Museum and broadened our knowledge of the existing and lost tribes of Andamans.
  • Shopped at the buzzing Aberdeen Bazaar
  • Had mouth-watering Puchka’s at a local stall (even the puchka wala’s wear gloves and cover their heads to maintain hygiene !!!)
While we had much more to visit in Andamans, we had to sadly leave this paradise the next morning. But who knows – maybe another trip awaits us when we would visit the islands of Diglipur, Baratang (limestone caves) and Barren Island (India’s only active volcano)!!! 

Well what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head off to this beautiful paradise called Andamans !

Until we meet again !

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