Paradise on Earth – The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar islands is the perfect getaway for all holiday makers interested in sports and adventure, and also for those who want to get closer to nature and enjoy a calm and peaceful holiday far from the maddening crowd. This place is not short of a Paradise in the Indian Ocean, with its sun kissed beaches, monuments, breathtaking underwater marine life, dense forests filled with Fauna and Flora and a variety of water and adventure sports like snorkeling, scuba diving and trekking.
Brief History & Inhabitants of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of more than 570 (of which 36 are inhabited) islands located in the Indian Ocean and are a Union Territory of India. They are found about 1500 Kms from the eastern coast of India and are one of the most remote spots in the world. Mention of these islands is found as far back in history as the 2nd century by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy and again in the 7th century. In the 17th century these islands became famous as prisons for the Indian freedom fighters that were sent here during the British rule. Most of inhabitants in the remote islands are aboriginal tribes most of whom have yet to come in contact with the modern world. The jarawa, Jangil (or Rutland Jarawa) the Onge and the Sentinelese (the most isolated) are some of the tribes inhabiting the interiors of these islands. But the more populated cities of these islands like Portblair and Havelock are occupied by settlers and their descendants who had migrated from Calcutta, Chennai, Vizag and other areas of mainland India.
How to get there?
Foreigners need a Restricted Area Permit to visit these Islands, which can be got at the entry points at Portblair. Indian Nationals do not require permit, but the Nicobar Islands are off-limits to all tourists.
Accommodation and Transport
Although tourism is still in its infancy in the Andaman’s, there are quite a few hotels, guest houses and quaint cottages available at most of the destinations, mainly Portbalir and Havelock. Passenger ferries are the main source of transportation between the many islands. For travel within the island, taxis, auto-rickshaws, cycles and scooters are also available.
Entry is banned for tourists into the Nicobar Islands and only around twenty five islands are inhabited in the Andamans. Broadly these Islands comprise of the North, Middle and South Andamans. The important places to visit in the Andaman include Portblair, Diglipur, Smith and Ross Islands, Rangat, Mayabundar, Havelock and the Barren Islands.
The capital of the Andaman Islands, Portblair, is like any other small Indian city, inhabited by mostly people from the mainland and belonging to different cultures and religions. There are a number of monuments, museums and beautiful beaches in and around Portblair.
This jail, famously known as Kaala Pani, symbolizes the hardships, torture and the inhuman treatment meted out to the Indian prisoners at the hands of the British. A good example of the colonial style of architecture, this jail took 14 years to construct. Located at Aberdeen, in Portblair, this building was originally a seven pronged brick structure with a central tower as its fulcrum, not unlike the spokes in a bicycle wheel. The cells were built in such a way that no cell member could have a view of the other! In other words all the prisoners lived in solitary confinement. During World War II, in 1942, the Japanese captured the island and freed the Indian prisoners. On August 15th, on the day of Independence, this settlement was closed down and now this jail has been declared a National Memorial. A sound and light show every evening takes the visitor through to the past and relives the saga of the freedom struggle.
The erstwhile capital of Portblair during the British Regime, this tiny island stands as a sentinel to the harbor at Portblair. The main seat of power during the British rule, this tiny island was fully developed; self equipped had all the facilities for a comfortable lifestyle.
Close to Portblair, Viper Island, houses the old jail where the British used to keep their prisoners before the cellular jail was built. The ruin of the gallows, where many a prisoner was killed, is still visible atop the hill.
The beaches in and around Portblair are beautiful with crystal clear waters. To mention a few:
The Corbyns Cove Beach is a beautiful picnic spot and is dotted with palm fronds. Remains of the bunkers used by the Japanese during WWII are still visible here.
Just north of Portblair is the North Bay Beach. The large variety of corals and marine life is absolutely breathtaking and offer excellent snorkeling opportunities to the visitor.
The Wandoor Beach, situated 25 kms from Portblair is mesmerizing with its crystal clear waters.
Chidya Tapu or the Munda Pahar Beach, as the name suggests, is also known as Bird Island. Here one can get a breathtaking view of evergreen forests, mangrove creeks and rich fauna and flora.
Fifty kms by sea from Portblair, this beautiful island with its white sandy beaches and lush forest cover is a spectacular sight for a tourist. The famous beaches here are the Radhanagar Beach and the Elephanta Beach.
The only active volcano in India is located in Barren Island. After remaining dormant for about 177 years, this volcano showed signs of activity in 1991 and 1994-1995. True to its name there are no inhabitants to be found here except for a few goats, rodents and bird species.
The other islands where tourists are allowed to visit are the Rutland Island, Neil Island, Baratang Island and the Long Island. The Little Andamans was devastated by the Tsunami which occurred in 2004 and this island has been off limits since then.
Adventure and Sports
Surrounded by some of the most beautiful lagoons in Asia, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to different types of adventures and water sports. The hilly terrain coupled with white sand beaches and coral reef allows tourists to indulge in sports like snorkeling, scuba diving and trekking.
Snorkeling: One of the best activities to partake in when in the Andamans, snorkeling is a water sport even for novices. To view the rich and diverse marine life and the rarest varieties of coral reef is an experience of a lifetime. Snorkeling sites in Andaman include North Bay, Red Skin, Jolly Buoy and Havelock.
Scuba Diving: with the assistance of certified divers, enthusiasts can enjoy the resplendent marine life and coral reefs found in abundance in these islands.
Trekking: The tropical rainforest canopy of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to a rich and diverse fauna and flora. Trekking expeditions through these hills offer the visitor a rare and unforgettable experience of witnessing the virgin beauty of these forests. Several trekking routes are available to visitors at Chidya Tapu and other places.
Apart from these sports other options are also available for those scared of going into the water. There are rowing boats, paddle boats and kayaks and also the glass bottomed boats which offer a clear view of the water below with its myriad and colorful fish and vast coral reefs.
Every moment spent during this holiday will surely be a treasure to be remembered for a lifetime!