Andaman and Nicobar Islands looks like a piece of beads strung together in the Bay of Bengal, straight out of a dream set. It is flanked by the beautiful and mesmerising North and South Andaman Islands and stretched till the Nicobar group of islands in the south. Consisting of about 556 group of islets, this magical land hosts some remarkable hidden gems that are far away from the usual touristy hotspots.
Believe me! There are some of these, which are equally, if not less, appealing and scenic than the usually known places such as Havelock and Neil Islands.
My journey to the islands was intended to be different and a bit daring, so to say. It was a solo backpacking trip, the weather was not conducive, and I would say there was never a single moment I regret being all alone. You can easily fly to Andamans from any city through Chennai or Kolkata (which is usually a two hours journey). International travellers and tourists would however need to have a permit to enter the islands, which can be comfortably availed from the authorities upon arrival.
So here’s my ultimate itinerary for you to plunge into the deep blue waters and virgin islands of Andamans and make an adventure trip yourself.
Long Island & Guitar Island
A tiny piece of natural wonder tucked away off the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans – Guitar Island – has a crystal clear white sandy beach that you can have all for yourself. It is not inhabited by human population except for few boats cruising and circumnavigating it for fishing. The entire beach is yours, just you, the sand, and the sea. Where else on earth can I find such a place, I wondered. But why this name, I asked curiously. “Its aerial view is in the shape of a guitar and hence its name,” says the forest department official who accompanied me to the island.
These officials braved the monsoons to bring me here to witness its breathtaking beauty. Located off the Long Island, Guitar Island has a picturesque and exotic aura that spells a magical charm. There is another spectacular beach you should visit once you are here – Lalaji Bay Beach – which is a perfect hotspot for beach combing, swimming and nature photography. It is situated on the northeast coast of Long Island and one would need a country boat ( a ride of 45 minutes from Long Island jetty) to travel here. You can reach Long Island by boarding one of the Andaman & Nicobar Administration operated ships from Port Blair. It would roughly take 4-5 hours (and about Rs. 600-700) to reach Long Island from Port Blair by ship (via Havelock/Strait Island). This place is off a touristy itinerary and quite understandably, there are very few staying options in this island. I stayed for a night at the ‘Vanashree’, the Forest Guest House (make sure you book it in advance). There is also a privately owned resort in this Island. The Forest Guest House houses 4 basic airy rooms, a manicured garden, flower plants, sandal wood trees and a view of the sea. You can get the most amazing fish fry here, which I had during my stay. The staffs are congenial, courteous and would give you your choice of the meal on time.
I requested for a dingy (country boat) to make the quick trip to Guitar Island. It was made albeit with a hovering overcast above us. After a brief 15 minutes drive, our boat anchored on the coast and I got off to set my footprint on the secluded and unbelievably quiet beach. Lots of sea creatures, sand crabs, hermit crabs, shells came through to the beach and I hurriedly captured them on my lens. One has to be really fast to photograph them. One blink of an eye, and they are gone, immersed beneath their sandy holes.
In the meantime, the overcast sky took even more threatening avatar. It continued to grow darker and darker. Fortunately, as a matter of precaution and to protect my camera, I had brought an umbrella. We moored back our boat after spending some time in the beach, chased the clouds and breezed past the choppy waves to reach Long Island.
Rangat in Middle Andaman
I got myself a boat ride of about an hour from Long Island (departed at 7 am) and reached Yerrata Creek near Rangat journeying through some of the most beautiful, calm, and pristine mangrove creeks. At the other side (Yerrata Creek near Rangat), my vehicle was ready to pick me up for my onwards journey. I had my breakfast on the way at Rangat (this is a bustling hub and you can find local shops and restaurants in the market. The Andaman Tourism department has its own guest house – Hawksbill Nest and presents a comfortable stay with local delicacies comprising of fish, prawns and crabs depending on their availability) and continued my journey.
Rangat is blessed with few remarkable eco-tourism spots such as Aamkunj Beach, Morice Dera Beach andDhani Nallah Mangrove Walkway. On my way, I first stopped at Aamkunj beach (8 km from Rangat) which is a long, sandy and patchy stretch interspersed with pebbles. You can enjoy watching the sea waves, or sit quietly for sometime at the eco-friendly benches such as log sofas and log teapoys. Next was Morice Dera beach (12 km from Rangat) which has been developed by the tourism and forest department as an eco-tourism hotspot. It has an unique twin rock formations right on the beach where you can walk along the ridges through a pathway. But the most exciting part was the 700 metres long Mangrove walkway at Dhani Nallah. It is an exemplary display of mangrove conservation efforts by the Andaman and Nicobar administration. The walkway takes you through the rich biodiversity of mangroves, palm trees, breathing roots, and Hathi Kaan Orchids. The walkway leads to a pretty long and exciting beach called the Dhani Nallah beach. It is a vast expanse of sand stretching from Curtbert Bay at one hand to as far as my eyes could go on the other hand.
Ross and Smith Islands in North Andaman
A boat ride of almost 15-30 minutes from Aerial Bay jetty in Diglipur (North Andaman) brings you to the exquisite Ross and Smith Islands in North Andaman.
The Administration has maintained some remarkable eco-tourism initiatives in Smith Island. These are bare minimum given that the duo islands are yet to take off in the national and international tourism circuit as a popular tourist destination. But I felt these were adequate – there were about 10-15 thatched huts, sitting arena, adequate hygiene facilities, changing room, a couple of swings (jhula) set romantically amidst coconut trees, and beach reclining chairs. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was unexpectedly calm and quite. The waters in the eastern side were still and peaceful as if it’s a swimming pool. When you are here, take advice from the forest and tourism officials if you want to swim across its beaches.
Ross and Smith Islands are perfect for witnessing the sunrise, beach combing and sunbathing. You can literally walk across the sandy stretch connecting the duo islands during low tide. Do take proper precaution and advice from the tourism and forest officials in case you want to attempt swimming in the beach waters.
Hutbay in Little Andaman Island
Get yourself a chopper ticket from the state run Pawan Hans Limited inter-island chopper services to fly from Port Blair to Hutbay. A ticket for Hutbay would cost you Rs. 2625 and you can comfortably reach there in 45 minutes. However, there are daily ships from Port Blair that will take you 5-8 hours depending upon their speed.
Hutbay boasts of hosting the best surfing destination in India. It’s not an exaggeration and when you visit this isle, you would believe. Located in Little Andamans, Hutbay hosts the longest beach of Andaman and Nicobar Group of Islands – 22 kms1 stretch – from Netaji Nagar at one end till Butler Bay beach at the other hand via ‘Kalapathar’ (black rock). The Butler Bay beach which is gaining popularity among domestic and international surfers for its exquisite sea surfing waves is teemed with activities during the winter and summer months. A host of few private resorts flanking the Netaji Nagar are offers surf boards on rent (however, do check with them prior to your arrival). There needs to be adequate infrastructure facilities in this beach but you would be mesmerized by the golden sandy stretch that this place offers. If you are not a surfer, you can still go for snorkeling, sun bathing, or boating amidst its clear waters.
Once you have had your fill from the sea and the sand, you can head to a nearby waterfall which is the only surf water fall in Andamans. It is located inside a forest and would require you to make a short jungle trek of 10 minutes from the main gate passing through some nallahs (creeks). There is a small entry fee of Rs. 20 per person and a vehicle charge of Rs. 20. Andaman’s only waterfall beckons you tucked away inside the verdant and thick rainforests. The sight of this bewitching 20 meters pristine waterfall will surely enthrall you. You can take a dip beneath its crystal clear waters, surrounded by bamboo and banana plantations and get a thrilling bath.
While on your trip to Little Andaman, you can stay at one of the private eco – resorts at Hutbay or the government owned APWD guest house. Room tariffs at the private resorts range from extremely reasonable Rs. 400 per night while the APWD guest house (which can be booked through the Directorate of Tourism) charge about Rs. 500 per bed per night. Most of these private resorts also offer two wheelers to tourists for sightseeing at Rs. 300 per day. There aren’t any luxury or high end resorts in Hutbay yet.
Top places to see in Andamans: Andaman and Nicobar consists of 556 islands.1 Your top itinerary should include Ross & Smith Islands, Baratang Caves, Havelock Island; North Bay and Ross Islands (multimedia sound and light show) in Port Blair; Hutbay (Little Andaman).
Top things to do: Nature walk, jungle trekking, snorkeling, banana skiing, jet skiing, scuba diving, kayaking in Havelock; Sea walking in North Bay Island; Light & Sound show in Ross Island; Sea surfing in Hutbay
Hotels: You can choose to stay at any of the hotels and resorts owned and operated by Andaman & Nicobar Administration; or choose a range from budget to luxury category at offered by private players. Book through reputed tour companies or websites. For booking government resorts, you have to contact the Directorate of Information, Publicity and Tourism in Port Blair.
Best time to visit: October to April for its irresistible charm and beach life. But the weather is unwaveringly beautiful throughout the year and you may choose to come any time of the year. I chose to come in the Monsoons to see the magical Andamans during the rains.
How to travel: You can fly from any city of the world to Port Blair via Kolkata or Chennai. There are direct flights from New Delhi via Kolkata/Chennai.
Permits: Foreign tourists and travellers to Andamans need a Restricted Area Permit which can be easily received upon arrival at Port Blair. However, domestic and international tourists and travellers are not allowed to visit Car Nicobar group of islands. Domestic tourists are allowed to visit Campbell Bay – the southernmost tip of the archipelago – which has the landmark Indira Point, the southernmost tip of India.
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