Andaman and Nicobar islands, a journey to a secluded serenity

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Tucked away at the corner of the Indian Ocean, with glittering turquoise waters and bordered by ancient jungle. The tiny secluded islands of Andaman with its sun-toasted beaches are far-flung and one perfect escape. Till today, this jewel of Indian Ocean has sustained the raw, rustic ambience it’s always known. Even, the continuous roll of tourists couldn’t tarnish the authenticity of the place. It surely has been made habitable with the basic amenities required for any tourist to travel with comfort. But, the flavor remains the same; untouched and pure. The population is a friendly blend of South and Southeast Asian migrants and also a small percentage of Negrito ethnic groups.

What would intrigue most would be the isolation and remoteness. Only 36 islands of the archipelago’s 572 islands are inhabited. From which, a small selection is open to the visitors. A 24/7 vacations spot, a trip to Andaman is in itself an adventure. There are several flights which go to and fro from India to the islands. But, cruising is an entirely different story.

The Andaman Islands comprise one part of India’s eastern-most state, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI), located east of the Indian mainland in the Bay of Bengal, in a roughly north/south line about 644 km northwest of Phuket, Thailand.  Together, the two islands make up of over 500 islets, and are separated by the Ten Degree Channel spanning 150 km. An Indian territory covering approximately 3,185 square miles, the islands have, in recent years, caught the attention of leisure tourists drawn to their stunning scenic beauty and interesting history. Long known for their great coral and fish life, for snorkeling and diving, the Andamans have attracted cruising sailboats for years, as the capital is only a 3 day sail from the Similan Islands.  Foreign boats are restricted to certain parts of Andamans and are not allowed entry to the Nicobar Islands to the south.

Port Blair Harbour serves as the entry point for visiting Nicobar and Andaman Islands

There are only three ports in India from where visitors can travel to Andaman by cruise; Chennai, Kolkata and Vizag/Vishakapatnam. The time durations from each destination are different, depending on the ship’s schedule. The cruises available from all the mentioned ports are run and managed by the Shipping Corporation of India. From the coast of Indian mainland till Andaman is a long and exciting journey of 3 to 4 days. There are almost 4 or 5 sailings from Kolkata, Chennai & Vizag reaching Andaman every month. Of all, the port of Chennai is the busiest with the most number of ships operating. There are in total five ships which run from India to Andaman; MV Nicobar, MV Nancowry, MV Swarajdweep, MV Harshavardhana and MV Akbar. As they are government-run, passengers might not find any luxury amenities. But, the whole experience of travelling by cruise is entirely different. In Andaman & Nicobar Island itself, there is an inter-island cruise/ferry which connects from Port Blair to Havelock Islands and Neil Islands. Some of them are Makruzz Gold, Coastal Cruise, Green Ocean, Sea Link Cruise, Express Bhagya and ITT Majestic. One thing to note that in June, July and August some of these cruises may not operate and the frequency reduces. Their schedule usually changes as per weather and season.

Although, the islands are bustling with tourists’ all-year-round, the best time to visit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is from November to mid-May. The Andamans are tropical with lower humidity than mainland SE Asia; there are 2 distinct seasons here; the Southwest Monsoon and the Northeast Monsoon.   The SW Monsoon blows from April or May until November or December and this is the rainy season, and also the season when there might be cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. It is not advisable to sail to the Andamans during the SW monsoon. The NE Monsoon blows from about December to April and is the dryer of the seasons. In January and February winds are generally light.

There is a long list of water activities that Andaman has to offer. Travelers can pick between activities like swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing or jet skiing. Below are some of the things to do in Andaman to keep the adventurous or non-adventurous side satiated.

Ruins-on-Ross-Island-Andaman Ross Island. The ruins of an abandoned 19th-century British settlement on Ross Island has long been consumed by nature.

Madhuban – It is an ideal trekking spot. The trail leading from Madhuban to Mount Harriet is very popular. It has indigenous flora and fauna, lush green forests and of course, breath-taking natural beauty. This is a zigzag trail, starting from Madhuban which is 20 kilometers from Port Blair by ferry. The mud volcanoes in Diglipur are a natural wonder and an amazing sight not to miss while in Andaman.

Limestone Caves Visit and Mangrove Kayaking – These caves are mysterious and exciting. The limestone caves are formed by sediment rocks and are gigantic. The ride to get here is beautiful by itself and the caves are mesmerizing. Passing through the narrow caves is thrilling and comes highly recommended. Yet another thrilling activity is Mangrove kayaking in Mayabunder. It comprises of 1/5th of the total mangrove cover in India. Paddling through this lush green mangrove is another of our favorite things to do in Andaman.

Birdwatching – The “Chidiya Tapu”, also known as the Birdwatching Island is home to hundreds of bird species. Birdwatching is one of the amazing things to do in Andaman have to offer to nature lovers. Birds in all colors, shapes and sizes can be seen and heard chirping all through the day. Look for the many magnificent birds that call this island home.

Island Hopping – Islands like Neil Island and Ross Island are fun half-day trips off Port Blair. Catching the sunrise or sunset at Neil beach comes highly recommended. A visit to Viper Island is for those looking for some serenity. The ruins of the political prison here make this a popular attraction. Viper Island is just 4 kilometers west of Port Blair.

Cellular Jail Visit – This jail has a pre-independence back-story to it. It is also known as “Kaala Paani Jail” and was used to jail political prisoners by the British. It is a striking reminder of the fight for Independence. Some notable political detainees like Vinayak Sarvarkar have spent time in this prison. The Cellular Jail hosts a spectacular Light and Sound Show. The show narrates the story of some of the prisoners and their struggles in jail.

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