Known for it’s mesmerising beauty, Andaman and Nicobar islands marking the southernmost boundaries of India is an archipelago consisting of a whopping 572 islands!
Wishing to visit the islands since my schooldays, I finally managed a chance to witness the natural beauty there. Even though the area has become quite popular with tourists from India and abroad, which has led to the heightened footfall in practically every beach, the collective experience it has to offer does not fall short for anyone. Starting from the picturesque beaches to the crystal clear water, innumerous corals and sea shells, uncountable coconut trees, and the raging waves – the Andaman has everything a beach destination can offer, and more.
Landing in Port Blair after a two-hour flight, we were welcomed with rain and clouds, and after a 30 minute ride into the town we reached our destined hotel. One must note that the weather in this region is not predictable, and due to it’s proximity to the equator there’s a high chance of rain almost everyday. So if you are planning a trip there, do remember to carry an umbrella. In case you reach early in the day you can opt for a city tour to the museum and Chatham saw mill.
Resting till lunch we set out to visit the Cellular Jail in the late afternoon. Laden with history, the walls of Cellular Jail had witnessed many cries of pain, rage of protest and shouts of enthusiastic patriotism. The historic building has a powerful structural plan, and it also demonstrates the kind of work prisoners were made to do. Climbing up the steep staircase to the terrace you can step out for the salty breeze blowing in every angle from the sea. The lobby around the staircase bores every prisoner’s name and where they had come from during the British raj. Veer Savarkar’s (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a pro-independence activist, lawyer, poet, and playwright) cell in one corner of the building was allotted in such a way so that he could hear the cries of those who were hanged, the hanging chamber being just beneath his corridor.
After getting a taste of what freedom fighters went through during serving their prison sentences, we drove to Corbin cove beach to lighten up the mood. The drive on the way to the beach is quite a pleasant sight, you can also stop by the sea to stare out at the endless horizon, or pose for a couple of photographs with the roaring waves behind.
Corbin Cove is not a great beach, but just good enough to freshen you up with the roaring sound of the waves breaking on the rocks. As it got dark, we headed back to the city in the cellular jail to attend the light and sound show. This show gives all the details of the prisoners held in there, in the form of a story.
The next morning we set out for Ross Island. This tiny island is one of the most awe-inspiring places on terrestrial land in Andaman. The British colony had set up a church, and a bakery for their get-togethers here, and also a hospital and a sanatorium in the late 1780s. The little island was chosen over the others for it’s proximity to Port Blair, and for its raw display of vibrant natural colours. The dark blue of the sea, the reddish brown of the soil, and the vibrant greens of the trees, and the browns from the bricks of the deserted ruins will dazzle you. Deer and peacocks are found in abundance here, we were told. But I encountered upon only one male deer.
The same launch that takes you to Ross from Port Blair takes you to another island called North Bay. As the name suggests, it is a bay, an extension of the island of Port Blair and not a separate island. This place is famous for water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, glass boat ride, semi submarine etc. Unfortunately due to bad weather we could not try any of the water sports here. The only ray of hope that helped us survive was the glass boat ride, where you can see through the glass bottom surface of a boat and watch the live coral life underwater.
The next day we left early at 6 in the morning to go to Baratang island. The reason for an early departure is, to go to Baratang, one has to drive through a forest, an area protected for the aboriginals called jarwas by the Government of India. Every day, the security personnel allow cars to pass through in 4 convoys from either sides. The earliest convoy leaves at 6am, then at 9am, at 12noon, and the last at 3pm. If you are lucky, you might happen to have a chance encounter with the jarwas, even though one is not allowed to step outside the car in the forest, you can at least wave at them.
Setting out at 6 in the morning we reached the convoy entrance around 8:30, and reached the entrance to Baratang around 12 noon after crossing the forest. Taking a barge from there we crossed over the sea and booked our tickets for a speed boat ride through the mangrove forest to visit the natural limestone caves.
In what I can sum up as a long but mesmerising speed boat journey, we entered into the thick mangroves. And the feeling of adventure just doubled as I happened to see a sign that said: “Beware of crocodiles”. Once you take the thin stream entering into the mangroves — the light and shade of the area, the muddy water, the bottle green trees with their roots all clawed up on the water surface — they all blend in to produce a picture perfect destination. Once your boat is anchored, you have to walk down the path and through a beautiful forest and some farmlands to visit the natural limestone caves.
Those interested in forest walks or hiking will find an absolute pleasure to tread down this path of greenery. A narrow lane marked by continuous walking is welcomed by innumerable tall trees, and laden with mud, limestones, and strong roots of trees peeking out and then diving back in the soil.
The walk gets more exciting as you have to descend some rocky steps lined with cane railings to help the ones with vertigo. Guided by tiny birds singing melodiously, butterflies flapping their wings around you, and dragonflies soaring above your head in the sun, you reach a narrow entry to the white stone caves, and what lies ahead will just peak you enthusiasm one notch up higher.
The limestone formations are definitely something to ponder upon. With appearances like that of a tiger’s mouth, a crocodile, three large noses, and a Lord Ganesha, the hike to the dark caves is thrilling and worth walking 2kms for, up and down. In case you freaked out knowing the distance you’d have to walk, don’t fret. There are resting corners and shades for tourists to take a break during the walk.
Now, since the last convoy leaves at 3pm, one must finish their trek and return to the jetty by 2pm, to head back for a meal and then set out for the long drive through the forest.
(To be continued…)