When you think of an Indian beach vacation, Goa comes to your mind instantly —the go-to place for all things fun and Feni. But there comes a time in life when you yearn for a less-intrusive locale, which is not inhabited by drunken tourists and wild party animals.
If you seek to be one with nature amidst the calming waters of the purest blue ocean, then you’ll fall in love with the Andaman Islands.
It’s totally worth waking at the crack of dawn to board that early morning flight to Port Blair. It’s a direct 2.5-hour flight from Kolkata or Bangalore, but if you are flying in from other cities, you may have to take connecting flights that can consume more than half your day. Among what’s mandatory is the COVID test from an ICMR centre and your Aadhar card. And if your documents are not authentic, you will not be allowed entry — right from pre-boarding to post-landing procedures.
Fifty shades of blue
Port Blair, the capital city, situated in South Andaman Islands, will instantly remind you of any Indian metro from the early ’80s. It has an old-world charm that reminds you of life in the pre-millennial area. The ten-minute ride from the airport to the imposing yet charming five-star hotel, we booked, built on a hill overlooking the ocean was the perfect venue to unwind after a long flight journey.
The city, like the rest of the Andaman, is all about beaches so you can take your pick from the fifty shades of blue — be it Corbyn Cove, Chidiya Tabu, Munda Pahar or Wandur Beach. Of course, the locals will also insist that you visit The Cellular Jail, also known as Kala Pani, a colonial prison used by the British to house political prisoners. However, if you are averse to revisiting the haunting past, then avoid it.
The sun sets early in the so-called winter months. Ironically though, the temperature is still 28 degrees on most days, despite the winter sea. It does, however, turn pitch dark by 6 pm. But the most wondrous part of this region is that you catch the sun languidly setting, toning down from a fiery orange to a muted pinkish-orange hue as it descends into the ocean. You get an opportunity to watch varied versions of the sunset; it could be from the ferry ride, while Island hopping or while simply chilling on the beach. The Island also pulls its shutters down by sunset, reminding you of a bygone era in which people did not step out of their homes after dark. That being said, you can, of course, head to dine at some of the popular eateries, as per your budget.
Lounging over cultural mixes
Lounge at bars here. The Amaya, a rooftop bar, was one such place, where you could hang out over some bite-sized snacks and cocktails of your choice. The restaurants at ITC, our hotel, also offer a great view of the ocean as you savour your meal. You can even head out to the popular eatery, The New Light House Restaurant, where they bring fresh seafood to your table for you to choose before they prepare the meal.
Take a pick from the sumptuous seafood options comprising fish, prawn, crabs and lobsters. Unlike most Indian cities, the Andamans does not have a special cuisine distinct to the islands. That is because the islands are truly a melting pot of Indian culture as people from Tamil Nadu and Kerala co-exist with the Bengalis from Kolkata. The cuisine, therefore, is a mix of various cultures.
The nicest part about being here is you can be equally comfortable communicating in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali or English as the locals predominantly speak these languages.
The ferry culture is a very integral part of domestic travel in the Andamans and you can choose from both private and Government operators, depending on your budget. But ensure you always book your tickets in advance as you may not get the ferry booking on your desired date otherwise.
All the places to see
From Port Blair, you can take the day trip to Ross Island and North islands. It’s a 20-minute scenic ferry ride to the rugged Ross Islands, which is a treasure trove of natural beauty. This former British colony was destroyed by the Tsunami but has stood the ravages of time. The Islanders have thoughtfully posted boards that highlight the lifestyle and hierarchical way of living during the British Raj.
Once you reach the island, you can take golf carts that ferry you around the hill even as the driver offers his expert comments on the locale. You will also be given some time to trek down the hill to visit the watch tower via a bridge over the crystal-clear waters. Don’t be surprised to watch spotted dears ambling across the forest region.
Our next stop was the North Island, which is further away. This is really a tiny spot of land, which has been turned into a tourist spot offering water-sport activities such as parasailing, snorkelling and diving. If none of this fascinates you, try the submarine ride that takes you to the bed of the ocean to see first-hand the stunning coral life. This twenty-minute excursion is truly life-changing — you realise there is a wholly different world that exists in the universe.
The best journey, though, was the 1.5-hour ferry ride to the most stunning island in Andaman — Havelock, which is an exotic mix of lush greenery and pure white sands. The Radha Beach here has been rated as one of the world’s best beaches and it is easy to see why. There is a team of 200 members manning the beach area, which has every conceivable facility built to make your beach day spectacular. But if you are looking for something more private, a piece of paradise, then the Kaalapathar Beach, with its natural foliage and a calm shore, will make you feel completely at peace. Havelock has lots of pretty little cafes and hotels you can choose from, be it to stay or hang out in. It is a common joint for people seeking to learn diving, with many of them spending a couple of days here just soaking up the sun, sea and the privacy.