Andaman Islands Islands Everywhere.
Andaman and Nicobar. A cluster of more than 600 islands. As a child I always wondered how difficult it would be to pick the ones you want to see. Later I learned that only about 10 of them are open to tourism. I found it difficult to pick from them as well.
My childhood friend from school (6th grade) and I planned a trip to Andaman in the monsoons of 2014. We were meeting after 16 years since we were separated from school in 1998. Teary eyed, happy to find each other at the airport, we hugged.
We began our 10 day journey starting from the usual – Ross island, Chidiya Tapu, Wandoor etc. but the real deal was this not so little island situated far off from Port Blair called Little Andaman. Getting there is not everybody’s cup of tea.
A giant ferry operates between Port Blair and Hut Bay (Little Andaman) twice a day (schedule and frequencies depends on the season) which mostly carries goods and locals. Theoretically it takes about 8 hours but actually, it took us 12 hours. Getting the tickets might be a challenge so it’s always advisable to be flexible with the travel plan. Locals might know little or nothing about the nitty gritties of less travelled islands. We booked our tickets for an overnight ferry (I like to call it a ship because of its sheer size) it was an all night journey that started off at 8pm. The ferry had bunk beds, when we found ours, we were not sure if want to be there. We realized all eyes were on us. Most of the passengers were men, big eyed curious men. It wasn’t scary or anything, but it was just uncomfortable being among them. We requested the captain to help us out with a different sort of arrangement and got to know that this ferry has a few rooms as well that can be booked. The people at the ticket counter won’t tell you that. Unfortunately, they were all taken. But there was a small nursing room which had three beds (two empty beds and one occupied by a patient). The captain offered us that. and we took it without wasting another second. The view from the ferry was mesmerising. Sailing into the black ocean under a full moon is a rarity only a lucky few can experience. We slept in our gatch-beds swaying, dreaming and waking up to a deep blue ocean peeping through the porthole window. What a view!
At port Hut Bay, we weren’t haggled by the usual taxi drivers or hotel agents and why would they. There are no tourist in Little Andaman. We took a shared taxi and like usual tourists told the driver to drop us off at the beach. We’ll find our accommodation there. We were smart, independent, experienced travellers and don’t need a plan or prior bookings right? Wrong.
The Jeep driver dropped us outside a jungle and pointed towards the beach that was nowhere to be seen. Curiously we walked through the jungle which was full of massive ancient trees with barks as wide as a meter. For some good deal of time we kept walking through the dense canopy of the jungle making circles only to stumble into a different world where there was bright sun and sea… Whoa! It was a shocker! This was the first time either of us had seen a virgin beach. A beach which was untouched by any human intervention. For miles and miles, this crescent shaped beach had not a single soul lurking on it except ours. Excitedly, we left our bags, stuff and clothes on the beach and hurried into the cold water. For that moment we were like anamed couple of kids excited to see a mud pool made by pouring rain. Soon we realized that the currents were quite strong to swim and pulled ourselves out. And yes, there were no accomodations on the beach.
We started to walk back to same direction where we came from. There is just one road that connects all the villages and markets on the islands, and towns and markets are given a number not names. We found an amazing home for ourselves in one of such settlements called Its run by a family of three, an old loving couple and their son Laxman.
GREENWOOD RESORT here’s the link to their Facebook page
The place was lush and beautiful, the rooms clean and airy the hosts became our family. I noticed a specific style of body tattoos on Amma (the old lady) which I had seen many time when i was really young and then it hit me. I asked her if she’s from Chattisgarh? and yes. She belong to one of the tribes in Bastar area of Chattisgarh where I used to go often as a kid with my family. My father would have about a hundred pictures of the tribals from there. The family came to Hut Bay about 30 years ago to find work here. Find work in Hut Bay??? Unlike the other parts of Andaman that survived the Tsunami, Little Andaman was brought to ground. And Amma’s family is one of the survivors. There is still an abandoned temporary medical ward that was set up by red cross in their back yard, which is a little high up in their property that reminds of the terror they must have gone through. Their house had been completely devastated and so were the kitchen plantations but they never lost hope and build it up again. We were lucky to have found them. Amma would make really amazing food with the vegetables that they had grown in their plantations and for rest of the time, we would go to the market and buy fish, vegetables and bring them back to Amma and she would happily cook them for us. She’s a very generous woman and so is her husband. At certain moments we were stuck with the ferry business and they would come to our rescue by connecting us to their eldest son Ram who lives in Pondicherry. Laxman, a very quiet polite guy would always assist us with our plans and helped us in whichever way he could. Amma also told us that the next time we plan to come to Little Andaman, she would send Laxman to Port Blair so that we don’t have to travel alone.
Little Andaman is such untouched beauty, every shell on the beach has a snail in it. There were no idle shells on the beach, they were all walking. The plantations, they looked like someone has planted to most exotic creepers and shrubs on every corner of this island. There was a beach which was full of flowers. There was a lagoon that was formed due to a rock formation that separates it from the sea. It fills up with the waves crashing on the other side of the rocks and empties as they recede.
A waterfall hidden in some 3 kms within the jungle. When I say jungle, I mean jungle. A leech infested, damp and dark canopy which opens up into a secret waterfall. It was like you see in the movies. A magical place that only exists in imagination. Spending time at the Beach/lagoon and then going to the waterfall to rinse in the freshwater became a convenient routine.
When you go to a place so pristine and untouched, you need to understand the impact that you will leave behind. This place is very clean and plastic free but its only a matter of time. Once people realise its potential for tourism, more and more people will pour in which means lots of plastic waste that will be left behind. The locals are uneducated and don’t really understand the importance of keeping this delicate environment intact. This is the case in Havelock Islands, where untrained, unauthorised people are taking tourists to snorkel at the highly sensitive coral reefs leaving humongous areas of dead corals behind and then moving on the the next. There are no laws in place to tackle this problems. There are basics the we as responsible tourists should consider.
Minimal use of plastic. Always take your plastic back (Remember that if you don’t it will be dumped in the sea)
Don’t but packaged water, refill your bottles with filtered water. Put iodine tablets / chlorine drops to further purify it if you’re not sure.
Always dive/ snorkel with certified professionals.
Our next stop was Havelock and it had been raining profusely there. It was monsoons after all. We found a place which had Bamboo huts. Stumbling upon reptiles was a usual scenario now and we were warned about snakes already by our host. The beaches in Havelock are heavenly. This is where they say that the water is turquoise and the sand white and it’s absolutely true. Some of the beaches are tidal, which means they disappear twice a day and re-appears when the tides are back. Do check that prior to decided where you want to stay. This was a new phenomenon for me and we were at a resort at beach no.5 which said “beach view cottages” and I looked at the owner in surprise and asked where’s the back and where’s the view? In from on me, were dry rocks. Apparently the water comes at about 5 in the evening and early in the morning.
We were facing a lot of trouble with the ferries since it was monsoons, the seas were rough, plus there was independence day when the govt decided to suspend all ferries. We were worried about missing our flight. But everything turned out fine. Mesmerised by our experiences especially in Little Andaman, we flew back to where our homes were with the desire to return again to this mystical island and explore more.