For me, a good holiday destination is one that gives you a new experience – a place away from the routine and mundane. I had heard good things about the Andaman Islands. My expectations from the place were promise of clear blue waters, diverse and rich aquatic life, mouth-watering food and a quiet but adventurous place, and I wasn’t disappointed on any of the counts.
I travelled with three other friends, but Andaman is a place you travel to alone. You can travel by bike and there are a ton of friendly pubs and restaurants where you can meet fellow travellers. I have never travelled with an agency as it doesn’t give the flexibility to be spontaneous. For example we were at Chidiya Tapu, which is the southern most point of the Andaman Islands. We had heard from a British traveller of an old lighthouse atop a hill and apparently the view from there at dusk is spectacular. We trekked uphill, which took us a couple of hours. What we saw just blew our minds. We were standing at the southernmost tip of the Andamans. The ocean was all around us and the sea breeze was so strong it could take you along with it.
One piece of advice, the forest guest houses in these locations have probably the best properties and views. In many offbeat places, they are the only accommodation available.
When we reached Port Blair, we stayed at a home stay. The owner was a retired navy commander who also owned an island where he had a large plantation. We made a conscious decision to spend at least two days in a place so as to soak in the all aspects.
Port Blair had a lot of museums. We visited a few restaurants that were recommended very highly by many websites. I didn’t think too much of the places as they seemed to mimic city hotels widely experienced in many metros.
The cellular jail is a must visit and the light and sound show stirred patriotic feelings amongst most in the crowd. It was totally worth a visit.
Another place that can be visited from Port Blair is Jolly Buoy Island. It’s quite touristy and part of most tour itineraries. We rode to the jetty and from there a ferry took us to the island. There are glass bottomed boats and snorkelling trips. The prices are quite high as compared to other places in the Andamans, but the snorkelling experience at Jolly Buoy was probably the best we had throughout the trip: colourful sea life and our first tryst with the ocean. One word of caution, we experienced strong currents there so probably not such a good idea to venture out on your own. You can hire a guide who takes tourists around pre-designated areas.
From Port Blair we hired bikes and rode to Chidiya Tapu. The ocean literally touches the road at a number of places. The crashing waves are like a symphony, it was a fantastic experience.
We came to Chidiya Tapu with one thing on our minds – scuba diving. Chidiya Tapu is rumoured to have the clearest of waters and best sea life. We headed for the waters and got acclimatised to the ocean and gear. None of us had dived before so the instructor spent an hour teaching us the basics. Next day was the big day and we were supposed to experience the clear waters at Chidiya Tapu. But unfortunately, there was a small storm in sea and the sea bed kicked up a lot of dust and that reduced visibility during the dive. So the scuba dive at Tapu was a damp squib. But we stayed at a lovely wooden duplex owned by a retired navy man and ate the best crab masala I have ever eaten in my life.
From Tapu we headed back to Port Blair to board our cruise to Havelock. To travel to Havelock one has two options: government ferry, which takes about 2.5 hours and the Makruz, which takes about 90 minutes. A sea plane also operates on this route. The flip side of the Makruz is that it’s light and hence a little choppy.
High points at Port Blair
The scuba dive: We hired Barefoot Scuba, an agency famous for its choice of dive sites. Among the regular spots is a ship wreck dive site that is supposed to be really good. However, you need to have certain certificates before you can take on more complicated dives. Our site was close to a lighthouse and the water was perfect. Visibility was about 15 metres and we saw a variety of fish and sea animals. For me, the scuba dive was one of those hair-raising moments; you realise how tiny you are with regard to the vastness of the ocean. The ocean engulfs everything and transports you to a different world. All external noises are drowned and all you hear is your own breath. We swam with fish, followed schools of fish around the waters. It was quite magical. Most of the corals are dead after the tsunami, but the colourful fish are a treat. One advise – control your breathing, your dive lasts longer. Take a gopro camera. It’s fun to relive the dive!
Food: Skip the fancy restaurants and head to a place called Golden Spoon. They dish out the freshest sea food in the island. We had snapper and lobster there. The uniqueness of the restaurant is that the owner scoots off to the fish market and shows you the fish before cooking it for you. It’s grilled in a banana leaf with garlic and butter. Both the lobster and the snapper were fabulous. The tastes were just out of this world.
Trek to a beach called Elephant Island: The trek has elephant hooves all around as they are generally used to carry timber from the forest. The beach is nice and perfect for snorkelling. I suggest you take your own gear and hit the water. Sea life is not as good but definitely worth a visit.
Apart from the adventure sports I have mentioned, there is also sea walking, and fishing expeditions. I haven’t tried these out. Havelock has a lot of options in accommodation. Chidiya Tapu has just two or three places.
With a budget of 35,000 per head, picture perfect locales that would give any international beach a run for its money. What with mouth-watering cuisine and adventure activities – the Andamans is a must visit.
(As told to Janice Rodrigues)