Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Andaman and Nicobar are a large group of nearly 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal. Though they are a part of India, geographically, they are closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to the Indian mainland. They are grouped here with Southern India. They were just north of the epicenter of the “Boxing Day” quake of 2004, and were the site of dozens of aftershocks. The Nicobars were badly hit the by the resulting tsunami, while the Andamans escaped with a few bruises. With the exception of Little Andaman Island and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, the rest of the tourist destinations are back up to speed.

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Andaman and Nicobar islands are located in the Bay of Bengal. These islands are one of the few amazing islands in world, which has lots of hidden natural beauty on land as well as in deep sea also. Best time to explore the deep sea beauty in Andaman and Nicobar is from October to May. Water is clear at these beaches, which gives a very good visibility.

Regions

* Andaman group of Islands
* Nicobar group of Islands – off limits to tourists

Understand

1400 km from mainland India and 1000 km from Thailand, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are one of the more remote spots on the planet. The original inhabitants are a bunch of aboriginal tribes who exist more or less out of the mainstream. There are some tribes who have had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the world. Of nearly 600 islands, only 9 are open to foreign tourists, and all of these are in the Andamans.

The islands exist in India’s popular consciousness mainly because they were used as a penal colony by the British rulers to imprison rebels and freedom fighters, in addition to hardened criminals. Most of the inhabitants of these islands are in fact migrants from the mainland, some of them being descended from the prisoners.

During World War II, the Andamans were the only part of India briefly occupied by the Japanese. While notionally handed over to Subhash Chandra Bose’s Free India, in practice the Japanese held the reins of power. The territory was run brutally — suspected resistance members were tortured and executed, and when food started to run out towards the end of the war, people were deported to uninhabited islands to fend for themselves as best they could.

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Geography

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands stretch out almost 500 km in length, with the Andamans in the north and the Nicobars in the south. The main island, aptly known as Great Andaman, is divided into 3 portions – North Andaman, Middle Andaman and South Andaman. Port Blair is located on South Andaman.

Talk

In the Andamans the main spoken languages are Bengali and Telugu. Tamil, English and Hindi are widely understood by the inhabitants of the islands that are open to tourism.

Cities

* Port Blair – the laid-back capital of the Andamans and the sole entry/exit point. Spend a day or two here walking around and enjoying fresh seafood and seeing a couple of the nearby sites.
* Diglipur – take a road trip to the far north of the island chain, a base for visits to nearby Smith and Ross Islands.
* Rangat
* Mayabunder

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Other destinations

* Havelock Island – the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still minimal) infrastructure. Beautiful beaches, great snorkeling and scuba diving.
* Rutland Island – is pristine, non-polluted and least visited island. Beautiful Mangrove forest and coral reefs welcomes you to the 274 sq.km island. There is also a 45 acre Totani Resort which has quaint little huts which can be used as a base camp for exploring the island. It is the ideal place for eco-tourists.
* Neil Island – quieter than Havelock with nice beaches and decent snorkeling.
* Wandoor – a relaxed destination in it’s own right, but known more as the gateway to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park which closed after the 2004 tsunami. It has re-opened since then and Jolly Bouy, Red Skin and Cinque island are due to be opened to visitors after October 2007. There was a lot of talk about all the corals there having been destroyed, but this isn’t the case; there’s still plenty to see. A good source of info would be the Anugama Resort which one passes before reaching the Wandoor Jetty.
* Baratang Island – Mud Volcano, Limestone Caves, and Magrove Creeks in back waters.
* Barren Island – a volcano island and the only volcano in all of India.
* Long Island – great if you’re looking for Robinson Crusoe style camping. Nothing exists here, so you must bring all of your own gear and food.
* Little Andaman – remote and currently devastated by the 2004 tsunami, it was once popular for surfing. Check to see if things have reopened.
* Jarwa Reserve

Havelock Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

Get in

By Air
For now the only way to reach the Andamans by air is from the Indian mainland to Port Blair. There are talks of opening up flights from Bangkok, which could drastically change the situation in the islands, but as of 2009 these remain just plans. Flights can fill up in peak season and immigration doesn’t look kindly on people arriving without confirmed flights back, so book a return ticket and change the flight date if you decide to hang around longer.

* Indian Airlines fly from Kolkata and Chennai. They charge a much higher rate for foreigners than Indian residents.

* JetLite flies from Chennai to Port Blair, and from Delhi via Kolkata.

* Kingfisher Red, formerly Air Deccan, flies daily from Chennai.

Flights to Port Blair are not really “low-cost”, if compared to the same airlines’ mainland India flights, but still cheaper than any other way to get to islands. Price varies significantly with date, so if your travel dates aren’t fixed, you can save significantly by choosing the right day to fly. Advance booking at least several days before trip is recommended.

Port Blair’s Vir Sarvarkar Airport is probably one of the most quaint and idyllic airport in India. There is a scenic view point where the whole airport can be seen. There are no night flights as the airport is handed over to the Indian Air Force after 3pm.

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By sea

It is still possible to take a ship from Kolkata, Chennai or Visakhapatnam which takes almost 4 days to arrive in Port Blair. However, with the arrival of the flights that allow foreigners to fly for the same rate as Indians, and cost about the same as the boat, there is little reason to spend 4 days at sea unless you’re in it for the experience. Apparently at the same time of the new flights arriving the ship operators stopped letting foreigners into the most basic budget class, which would actually make this more expensive than flying.

Get around

Andaman and Nicobar are a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles, passenger ferries are the only way to get between the islands.

All passenger transport in the islands is handled by the government-run Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS), which also runs the ferries back to the mainland. The DSS operates basically two kinds of vessels: small “tourist” ferries, and larger “local” ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at Rs.150-200 one way from Port Blair to Havelock Island.

Tourist ferries seat about 100 people in padded bucket seats in a notionally air-conditioned cabin (which can still get sweltering hot). While you can access the top deck, there are no seats, shade or shelter outside. These boats are fast(er) and seaworthy, but top-heavy, and sway quite a bit in high seas. There is no canteen on board, so bring snacks or at least drinks.

Local ferries are considerably larger, seating up to 400 in two levels: padded “bunk” or “luxury” seating upstairs, and plain old benches on the “deck” downstairs. Neither class is air-conditioned, but ocean breezes keep temperatures tolerable, and a canteen dishes out chai, samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they’re more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.

In high season demand often exceeds supply, so book your tickets at least one day in advance, either through a travel agent or directly at Port Blair’s harbour. Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notably cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. If you’re prone to sea-sickness, pop a pill an hour before you get on board.

* Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
* Taxis are available in Port Blair. They are usually the rather vintage Ambassador cars and often not very well maintained. It is slightly more expensive than the Auto-rickshaws, but a more comfortable way to get around the island.
* Scooters & Motorcycles are available for rent in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. At Port Blair 2 wheeler would cost around Rs. 350 p/day and at havelock it would cost around Rs. 150 – Rs. 250 per day with a security deposit of around Rs. 750 – Rs. 1000.

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See

Most people come here for the beaches and the scuba diving, especially on Havelock Island and Neil Island.

The only place with historical attractions of note is Port Blair, which houses both British-era colonial buildings, including the notorious Cellular Jail, and a few World War II bunkers dating from the brief Japanese occupation.

Do

* Scuba diving – Havelock Island is the main dive destination, but the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park has reopened. South Cinque Island is another possibility, enquire at Anugama Resort at Wandoor. One of the dive shops on Havelock was talking about opening a shop in Diglipur soon, which would open up newly discovered sites.

* Snorkeling – is a fun ,popular activity done at North Bay,MuaTerra Beach and Havelock Island.The equipment is cheap, and can be bought or rented.

* Surfing was possible on Little Andaman Island, but the island was devastated in the 2004 tsunami. Stay tuned.

* Scan corals reefs in glass bottom boats off Jolly Buoy Island, at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, 29 km from Port Blair.

* Check out India’s only active volcano on Barren Island, but make sure it’s actually smoking before you start on the overnight boat journey.

* Take the Andaman Trunk Road, and be the zipping-in-the-car-idiot to the curious Jarawas. The ride is long, but the journey that takes you through some gorgeous reserve forests and up to Maya Bunder and beyond, is worth it.

* Revisit Havelock just to taste the red Snapper in Burmese garlic sauce at Benny and Lynda’s Wild Orchid Beach Resort.

* Make a new list. Add scuba diving and sea cow spotting. Do some moon-bathing while planktons swim in a phosphorescent sea.

Cellular Jail

Eat

Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local dhabas on Havelock, fish abounds. Basic Indian food is also available, though quite expensive, because many ingredients have to be imported. Resort restaurants on Havelock can also whip up a limited set of more or less Western dishes.

Drink

* Fresh coconuts are popular and widely available.
* Alcohol is available in some restaurants and at ‘English Beer & Wine Shops’ in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. The beers will not be cold when purchasing across the counter,except in local bars. Alcohol per say is extremely cheap as compared to the mainland.
* Local bars are dingy and for some odd reason is very poorly lit giving it a very eerie feel to it.
* There is no Pub culture or even a Dance Club. It is extremely underdeveloped in that sense but the beauty of the place will make you forget ever wanting to go to a pub.

Stay safe

The Andamans are a fairly safe destination. Tourism is still in its early stages which makes it almost hassle free. That said, you should keep your wits about you as you would anywhere.

The Andaman Islands are the home of some of the last uncontacted tribes of Eurasia. These tribes have resisted modernization for some time. An example of these tribes is the Sentinelese tribe, who inhabit North Sentinel Island. They maintain their sovereignty over the island and are hostile towards outsiders. However, as a tourist, you will go nowhere near them, so this is not really an issue.

The Andaman Islands are home to a population of Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), which can grow up to 30 feet in length (although rarely more than 16 feet, the biggest on record being 28.7 feet long). While they are of course capable of attacking humans it is extremely rare to find these reptiles anywhere near a public beach as they prefer mangrove river systems, although they are very common on beaches within close proximity to river mouths and estuaries. That being said, don’t expect anything near population sizes you’d experience in Australia or New Guinea.

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Stay healthy

Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally no more so than mainland India.

Respect

Tourism is still relatively new on the Andamans and as such the traveler has a special responsibility in guiding its developement. Leave the bikinis on the beach, and even then use discretion. Remember that this is India and local women are very conservative in their attire. Alcohol should be consumed on the premises of your hotel. The quiet and peacefulness of the islands are one of its best assets… help to maintain these. This is emphatically not Goa, and any attempt to turn it into that would be absolutely shameful.

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District(s)     3
Established     1956-11-01
Capital     Port Blair
Largest city     Port Blair
Lt. Governor     Lieutenant General Bhopinder Singh
Population
• Density     356,1521 (32)
• 43 /km2 (111 /sq mi)
Language(s)     Nicobarese, Bengali, English, Hindi,Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam
Time zone     IST (UTC+5:30)
Area     8,250 km2 (3,185 sq mi)
ISO 3166-2     IN-AN
Footnotes[show]
Population data as per the Indian Census[1].
Website     tourism.andaman.nic.in/