Exotic Andamans host some amazing hidden gems
Andamans appears like a piece of beads strung together in the Bay of Bengal, straight out of a dream. It is flanked by the beautiful and mesmerising North and South Andaman Islands and stretches up to the Nicobar group of islands in the south. Consisting of about 556 islets, this magical land hosts some remarkable gems that are far away from the usual touristy hotspots.
Take an offbeat tour in Andamans to Long Island and Guitar Island, Rangat, Ross and Smith Islands and Little Andaman. I went during the monsoon. Imagine flying on a chopper through rain-laden clouds and seeing their dark reflection in the sea below! I was surprised to see a steady flow of tourists even in the rainy season. Contrary to popular belief, the spells of rains don’t last too long in the Andamans. A splash of rains for few minutes and then it’s bright and sunny as before! However, the waves remain choppy throughout the monsoons.
You can easily fly to Andamans from any city through Chennai or Kolkata (usually a two-hour journey). International travellers and tourists would, however, need to have a permit to enter the islands which can be availed from the authorities on arrival. If you want to experience Andamans in a new way or something completely different, here is my itinerary to nudge the adventurer in you.
Long Island & Guitar Island:
Guitar Island—tucked away off the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans—has an exquisite, white, sandy beach that you can have all to yourself. It is not inhabited by humans; but you can find fishing boats cruising nearby. The entire beach is yours: just you, the sun, the sand, the sea and the rich forest cover. Where else on earth can you find such a place? But why this name? It’s in the shape of a guitar.
Located off the Long Island, Guitar Island has a picturesque and exotic aura that spells a magical charm. There is another beach you should visit once you are here—Lalaji Bay Beach. This 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 four to five hours (and about Rs600-Rs700) 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 few options to stay on this island. I stayed for a night at the Forest Guest House (make sure you book it in advance). There is also a privately-owned resort on this Island. The Forest Guest House has four basics: airy rooms, a manicured garden with flower plants, sandalwood trees and a view of the sea. You can get the most amazing fish fry here. The staff is courteous and would provide your choice of the meal on time.
We came by a dinghy (country boat), with a dark, rain-laden cloud cover above us. After a quick 15-minute sail, our boat anchored on the coast and I set my footprint on the sands. The pervasive silence surrounding the beach is infectious: perfect for spending a quiet morning. You could only hear the birds chirping, sight the possible playing of fish on the waters and an amazing marine life. Lots of sea creatures, sand crabs, hermit crabs and 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.
Rangat is blessed with a few remarkable eco-tourism spots such as Aamkunj Beach, Morice Dera Beach and Dhani Nallah Mangrove Walkway. I first stopped at Aamkunj Beach (8km from Rangat towards Mayabunder and Diglipur) which is a long, sandy and patchy stretch interspersed with pebbles.
You can enjoy watching the sea waves, or sit quietly for some time on the eco-friendly benches such as log sofas and log teapoys. From Aamkunj, head towards Morice Dera Beach, 12km from Rangat. This has been developed by the tourism and forest department as an eco-tourism hotspot. It has a unique twin rock formation right on the beach; you can walk along the ridges through a pathway and indulge yourself for some time in solitude.
The most exciting part was the 700-metre-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 (elephant’s ears) orchids. The walkway ultimately leads to a pretty long and exciting beach called the Dhani Nallah Beach. It is a vast expanse of sand stretching from Cuthbert Bay at one end to as far as my eyes could see on the other hand. You may like to take rest at one of the eco-huts on the log sofas and benches at the beach.
Ross & Smith Islands
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. The Andaman & Nicobar administration has maintained some remarkable eco-tourism initiatives on Smith Island. These are bare minimum, given that the two islands are yet to take off in the national and international tourism circuit as a popular tourist destination. But I felt that these were adequate—there were about 10-15 thatched huts, sitting arena, adequate hygiene facilities, changing room, a couple of jhulas (swings) set romantically amidst coconut trees and reclining beach chairs. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was, unexpectedly, calm and quiet. The waters on the eastern side were still and peaceful as if it were a swimming pool. 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 at low tide. Do take proper precautions and advice of the tourism and forest officials, in case you want to attempt swimming in the waters.
Get yourself a chopper ticket from the State-run Pawan Hans Limited inter-island chopper services, to fly from Port Blair to Hutbay. This would cost you Rs2,625 and you can comfortably reach there in 45 minutes. However, there are daily ships from Port Blair that will take you five to eight hours, depending on their speed. The inter-island fare from Port Blair to Hutbay through the administration’s ship services is between Rs85 and Rs320, depending on the class (deluxe, first class, second class, bunk). Hutbay boasts hosting the best surfing destination in India. It’s not an exaggeration.
Located in Little Andamans, Hutbay hosts the longest beach of Andaman and Nicobar group of islands—22km stretch—from Netaji Nagar at one end up to Butler Bay Beach at the other via Kalapathar (black rock). The Butler Bay Beach, which is gaining popularity among domestic and international surfers for its exquisite sea surfing opportunities, is teeming with activities during the winter and summer months. A host of private resorts, flanking the Netaji Nagar, offer surf boards on rent; however, do check availability with them prior to your arrival. Although infrastructure facilities on this beach are not quite adequate, you would be mesmerised by the golden sandy stretch that this place offers. If you are not a surfer, you can go for snorkelling, sun-bathing or boating in its clear waters.
Once you have had your fill of the sea and the sand, you can head to a nearby waterfall—the only surf waterfall in the Andamans. It is located inside a forest and would require you to make a jungle trek of 10 minutes from the main gate, passing through some nallahs (creeks). There is an entry fee of Rs20 per person and a vehicle charge of Rs20. The sight of this bewitching 20-metre pristine waterfall will surely enthral you. You can take a dip in its crystal clear waters, surrounded by bamboo and banana plantations.
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 private resorts are extremely reasonable at around Rs400 per night, while the APWD guest house (which can be booked through the Directorate of Tourism) charges about Rs500 per bed per night. Most private resorts also offer two-wheelers to tourists for sightseeing at Rs300 per day. There aren’t any luxury or high-end resorts in Hutbay, yet.
Places to see in the Andamans: The A&N archipelago consists of 556 islands. Your 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).
Things to do: Nature walk, jungle trekking, snorkelling, banana skiing, jet skiing, scuba diving, kayaking in Havelock; sea walking in North Bay Island. Light & sound show in Ross Island; surfing in Hutbay.
Hotels: You can choose to stay at any of the hotels and resorts owned and operated by Andaman & Nicobar administration or from a range of budget- to luxury-category facilities 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: I would suggest October to April. But the weather is unwaveringly enjoyable throughout the year and you may choose to visit any time of the year. I chose to visit 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 the Andamans need a restricted area permit which can be easily obtained on arrival at Port Blair. However, domestic and international tourists and travellers are not allowed to visit the Car Nicobar group of islands. Domestic tourists are allowed to visit Campbell Bay—the southern-most tip of the archipelago—which has the landmark Indira Point, the southern-most tip of India.