Posted by: getaway2india | October 7, 2009

Andaman & Nicobar Islands – India’s archipelago

Andaman and Nicobar IslandsIndia‘s archipelago

India’s tropical paradise amidst waving palms whispering to the oceans, sun kissed beaches with beautiful and colourful marine life, having the only live volcano in India and the primitive tribals whom time has forgotten. Time here stands still!

Map

Andaman and Nicobar Islands are two groups of islands (of a cluster of 572 islands of which 38 are permanently inhabited)  in the Indian Ocean to the east of India separated by the 150 km wide and deep ten-degree channel which has kept the life forms and cultures of the two groups of islands distinct.

The two groups of islands together form the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Its capital is Port Blair.
These islands are actually the peaks of a vast submerged mountain range extending from Myanmar to Sumatra. Together they look like a broken necklace over 800 kilometres of the Indian Ocean.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a Union Territory of India. Informally, the territory’s name is often abbreviated to A & N. So as in all Union Territories in India Alcohol would be quite cheap here as there is no tax ;-). The territory’s capital is the Andamanese town of Port Blair.

Damn its nearer to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia than India ….The Islands are 1400 km from mainland India and 1000 km from Thailand. They form one of the most remote spots on the planet. The original inhabitants are a bunch of aboriginal tribes who exist more or less out of the mainstream. There are some tribes who have had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the world. Of nearly 600 islands, only 9 are open to foreign tourists, and all of these are in the Andamans.

Andaman Trunk Road1 Andaman Trunk Road

First Inhabitants

The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 to 60,000 years, well into the Middle Paleolithic.

In the Andaman Islands, the various Andamanese peoples maintained their separated existence through the vast majority of this time, diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups. By the 1850s when they first came into sustained contact by outside groups, the indigenous peoples of the Andamans were:

In total, these peoples numbered somewhere around 7,000 at the time of these first encounters. As the numbers of settlers from the mainland increased (at first mostly prisoners and involuntary indentured labourers, later purposely recruited farmers), these indigenous peoples lost territory and numbers in the face of punitive expeditions by British troops, land encroachment and the effects of various epidemic diseases. The Jangil and most of the Great Andamanese groups soon became extinct; presently there remain only approximately 400–450 indigenous Andamanese, the Jarawa and Sentinelese in particular maintaining a steadfast independence and refusing most attempts at contact.

The indigenous peoples of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands. There are two main groups:

History
The Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer, Claudius Ptolemaeus, has included Andaman and Nicobar Islands in his maps prepared in the second century. Yet, we do not know much about the past except that the two groups of islands were inhabited by the Negritos and the Mongoloids for centuries and some passing vessels touched these islands.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were shrouded in mystery for centuries because of their inaccessibility. Information about these islands trickled into the modern world only during the 17th Century when these islands provided a temporary maritime base for ships of the Marathas in the 17th century. The legendary Admiral Kanhoji Angre harassed colonial shipping routes with a base in the islands. During the 18th century. In 1788, Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General of India, thought of colonizing the islands. He established the first British settlement on Chatham Island, near Port Cornwallis (present Port Blair), in 1789.

After the Great Revolt of 1857, the British established a penal settlement in March 1858. The first contingent of inmates consisted of 200 prisoners, mostly rebels from the Indian Army.
Initially, the convicts were kept in a jail at Viper Island – 15 minutes from Port Blair by boat. Subsequently, this Jail was abandoned and the convicts kept in the infamous Cellular Jail constructed in Port Blair during 1896 to 1906.

During the World War II, the Japanese occupied the Andamans from 21 March 1942 to 8 October 1945.
Netaji Subash Chandra Bose arrived in Port Blair on December 29, 1943 and hoisted the National Flag at Port Blair the next day. On October 8, 1945, the Japanese surrendered the islands to the British.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands became Independent on August 15, 1947. Now the islands have a Lt. Governor and send one elected representative to the Lok Sabha.

Effects of 2004 Tsunami – and the locals’ escape!

On 26 December 2004 the coasts of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by a 10 meter high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. At least 5,930 people (possibly an accurate estimate) were believed to have been killed on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands during the disaster. One of the worst affected island was Katchal and Indira Point, the southernmost point of India, which got submerged under the ocean- Just as Dwaraka, in Gujarat, might have got submerged as mentioned in the Mahabharata.

While newer settlers of the islands suffered the greatest casualties from the tsunami, most of the aboriginal people survived because oral traditions passed down from generations ago warned them to evacuate from large waves that follow large earthquakes:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4181855.stm

There are 572 islands in the territory, of which only approximately 38 are permanently inhabited. Most of the islands (about 550) are in the Andamans group, 26 of which are inhabited. The smaller Nicobars comprise some 22 main islands (10 inhabited). The Andamans and Nicobars are separated by a channel (the Ten Degree Channel) some 150 km wide.

Flora

Map of Andaman and Nicobar Islands with an extra detailed area around Port Blair

Andaman & Nicobar Islands are blessed with a unique tropical rainforest canopy, made of a mixed flora with elements from Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and common floral strains. So far, about 2,200 varieties of plants have been recorded, out of which 200 are common and 1,300 do not occur in mainland India.

The 3 type of vegetation

The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. The Middle Andamans harbours mostly moist deciduous forests and North Nicobar only Grasslands.

North Andamans has the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers – deciduous forests.

The north Nicobar Islands (including Car Nicobar and Battimalv) – have only grasslands and no evergreen forests.

Timber

Andaman Forest abounds in a plethora of timber species numbering 200 or more, out of which about 30 varieties are considered to be commercial. Major commercial timber species are Gurjan (Dipterocarpus spp.) and Padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides). The following ornamental woods are noted for their pronounced grain formation:

Padauk being sturdier than teak is widely used for furniture making.

Burr and the Buttress formation in Andaman Padauk are world famous for their exceptionally unique charm and figuring. The largest piece of Buttress known from Andaman was a dining table of 13′ x 7′. The largest piece of Burr was again a dining table to seat eight persons at a time.

The holy Rudraksha (Elaeocarps sphaericus) and aromatic Dhoop/Resin trees also occur here.

Fauna

This tropical rain forest despite its isolation from adjacent land masses is surprisingly rich with a diversity of animal life.

Fish in the Clear waters

Fish in the Clear waters

Mammals

About 50 varieties of forest mammals are found to occur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Some are common, including the Andaman Wild Boar. Rodents are the largest group with 26 species, followed by 14 species of bat. Among the larger mammals there are two common varieties of wild boar, Sus scrofa andamanensis from Andaman and S. s. nicobaricus from Nicobar, which are protected by the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Sch I). The Spotted Deer Axis axis, Barking Deer and Sambar were all introduced to the Andaman District, though the Sambar did not survive. Around 1962 there was an attempt to introduce the Leopard, which was unsuccessful because of unsuitable habitat. These were ill-considered moves as exotic introductions can cause havoc to island flora and fauna. Interview island (the largest wildlife sanctuary in the ANI) in Middle Andaman holds a population of feral elephants. These elephants were brought in for forest work by a timber company, which subsequently released them when it went bankrupt. This population has been subject to research studies.

Birds

ANI has also 270 species of birds (including commons); the Nicobar island group has a higher commonness than the Andamans and there are a total of 14 species common to ANI. The State Bird of the Andamans is the Andaman Wood pigeon. Some common birds of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are:

Most Spectacular Butterflies of the World!

Andaman Butterflies

Andaman Butterflies

With about 225 species, the A&N Islands house some of the larger and most spectacular butterflies of the world. Ten species are common to these Islands. Mount Harriet National Park is one of the richest areas of butterfly and moth diversity on these Islands.

Mount Harriet Park

Mount Harriet Park

Places to see:

Andaman Islands – North of Port Blair

The bulk of the 239 Andaman Islands comprise of North, Middle and South Andamans, which along with Baratang and Rut-Land form one landmass known as the Great Andamans.

Barren Island Volcano2

Volcano on Barren Island (135 Kms. from Port Blair) Barren Island is the only active volcano in India. The 3 kms. island has a big crater abruptly rising from the sea, about half a kilometer from the shore, and about 150 fathoms deep. Can be visited on board vessels.

Neil Island (36 kms. from Port Blair) This is a beautiful island with lush green forests and sandy beaches. It is the vegetable growing bowl of Andamans. Neil Island is an ideal holiday place for eco-friendly tourists. You can enjoy village life here. Hawabill Nest guesthouse of the Directorate of Tourism is situated here. It is connected by boat from Port Blair four days a week. There are beautiful beaches at Laxmanpur, Bharatpur, Sitapur and the bridge formation on the sea-shore (Howra bridge) are major attractions.

Golden Rock

Golden Rock

Andaman Cellular Jail - Similar to Guantanamo Bay

Andaman Cellular Jail

800px-Cellular_Jail_1

New Jails Under Construction

Jails "Under Construction" back then

  • Havelock Island – the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still minimal) infrastructure. Beautiful beaches, great snorkeling and scuba diving.

Beach No 7 in front of Barefoot at Havelock

Havelock Islands has the diving bases. It is well organized. A large concrete surface allows easy assembling of the diving equipment in the morning. Departure with the boats to the dive sites is at 7:30 in the morning. These are essentially modified, local fishing boats and correspondingly small. Two dives are made. Return is in early afternoon (depending on the distance to the dive site). The divers don’t have to carry the tanks themselves. Large, well-marked barrels of water allow easy rinsing the various parts of the diving equipment. One boat trip with the two dives costs 3,000 Rupees including rental equipment. For the 6th dive a rebate of 500 Rupees is given. Furthermore, 15 % are reduced from the price, if you bring your own equipment. Payment by credit card costs 2.5 % extra.

A good restaurant is right behind the diving base. Furthermore, there exist 6 huts right there, which one can rent for 2,000 Rupees per day.

  • Rutland Island – is pristine, non-polluted and least visited island. Beautiful Mangrove forest and coral reefs welcomes you to the 274 sq.km island. There is also a 45 acre Totani Resort which has quaint little huts which can be used as a base camp for exploring the island. It is the ideal place for eco-tourists.

Totani Resort

Totani Resort

Totani Resort

  • Neil Island – quieter than Havelock with nice beaches and decent snorkeling.
  • Viper Island below:

Viper Island

  • Wandoor – a relaxed destination in it’s own right, but known more as the gateway to the
  • Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park which closed after the 2004 tsunami. It has re-opened since then and Jolly Bouy, Red Skin and Cinque island are due to be opened to visitors after October 2007. There was a lot of talk about all the corals there having been destroyed, but this isn’t the case; there’s still plenty to see. A good source of info would be the Anugama Resort which one passes before reaching the Wandoor Jetty.
  • Corbyn’s Cove below:

Corbyn's Cove Corbyn's Cove

  • Baratang Island – Mud Volcano, Limestone Caves, and Magrove Creeks in back waters.
  • A day trip from Port Blair to Baratang Island one has to expect to spend about 800 Rupees per person in a jeep with up to 10 tourists (@ exchange rate of  about 55 Rupees per Euro). The trip starts at 3 in the morning to 7 in the evening. For the unlikely case of meeting people of the native tribes, one should under no circumstances take photos of them. This is stressed repeatedly.
IMG_1540-Active Volcano - Mud Volcano

Active Mud Volcano - Baratang Island

Lime Stone Cave - Baratang Island

LimeStone Cave -Baratang Island

  • Long Island – great if you’re looking for Robinson Crusoe style camping. Nothing exists here, so you must bring all of your own gear and food.
  • Long Island

    Long Island - Tarzan's Island?

  • Little Andaman – remote and currently devastated by the 2004 tsunami, it was once popular for surfing. Check to see if things have reopened.
  • Jarwa Reserve

Getting in:

Non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport. (If you plan to arrive by sea, you’ll need to arrange your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa.) Visitors usually receive a 30 day permit, although some travelers arriving without a confirmed flight back have only received a 15 day permit. Ask for the full 30 days in your application; if you write in your return flight date, your permit will be issued to end on that date, which will cause unnecessary pain if you choose to extend your stay or, worse yet, get unexpectedly delayed by weather.

Permits can be extended by 15 days in Port Blair, for a maximum single stay of 45 days, although this extension is granted only in, to quote the local police guidelines, “deserving cases”. You must then leave the islands and can return after 72 hours. The permit is checked when arriving at most islands, checking into hotels and booking ferries, and must be surrendered when you leave the islands, so don’t lose it!

The permit allows overnight stays in the following locations: South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except tribal reserves), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding Boat Hobday Island, Twin Island, Tarmugli Island, Malay Island and Pluto Island). Overnight stays in the Park are with permission only.

The permit allows for day-trips to: South Cinque Island, Ross Island, Narcondum Island, Interview Island, Brother Island, Sister Island and Barren Island (Barren Island can be visited on board vessels only, no landing is possible).

Indian nationals do not require a permit to visit the Andamans. However, permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are rarely given. Application on a prescribed form may be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.

Andaman Islands

By plane

For now the only way to reach the Andamans by air is from the Indian mainland to Port Blair. There are talks of opening up flights from Bangkok, which could drastically change the situation in the islands, but as of 2009 these remain just plans. Flights can fill up in peak season and immigration doesn’t look kindly on people arriving without confirmed flights back, so book a return ticket and change the flight date if you decide to hang around longer.

  • Indian Airlines fly from Kolkata and Chennai. They charge a much higher rate for foreigners than Indian residents.
  • Kingfisher Red , formerly Air Deccan, flies daily from Chennai and is often cheapest way to get to the islands. One-way fares start from around Rs 6000.

Flights to Port Blair are not really “low-cost”, if compared to the same airlines’ mainland India flights, but still cheaper than any other way to get to islands. Price varies significantly with date, so if your travel dates aren’t fixed, you can save significantly by choosing the right day to fly. Advance booking (available on respective airline’s website) at least several days before trip is recommended.

Port Blair’s Vir Sarvarkar Airport is probably one of the most quaint and idyllic airport in India. There is a scenic view point where the whole airport can be seen. There are no night flights as the airport is handed over to the Indian Air Force after 3pm.

Andaman Islands

By sea

It is still possible to take a ship from Kolkata, Chennai or Visakhapatnam which takes almost 4 days to arrive in Port Blair. However, with the arrival of the Kingfisher Red flights that allow foreigners to fly for the same rate as Indians, and cost about the same as the boat, there is little reason to spend 4 days at sea unless you’re in it for the experience. Apparently at the same time of the new flights arriving the ship operators stopped letting foreigners into the most basic budget class, which would actually make this more expensive than flying. Facilities are basic and, in a bizarre incident in 2003, an Israeli tourist was stabbed to death by the ship’s cook.

Getting around

Between islands

Ferry M V Baratang

Ferry M V Baratang

M/V Baratang, a “tourist” ferry

M/V Chouldari

M/V Chouldari

Ferry_MVChouldari_Inside

Inside Chouldari

mv_ramanujam

MV Ramanujam

Ferry_Ramanujam_Deck

Deck seating in the “local” Ramanujam

Ferry_Ramanujam_Badminton

Playing Badminton inside Ramanujam


Andaman and Nicobar are a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles, passenger ferries are the only way to get between the islands.

All passenger transport in the islands is handled by the government-run Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS), which also runs the ferries back to the mainland. The DSS operates basically two kinds of vessels: small “tourist” ferries, and larger “local” ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at Rs.150-200 one way from Port Blair to Havelock Island.

Tourist ferries seat about 100 people in padded bucket seats in a notionally air-conditioned cabin (which can still get sweltering hot). While you can access the top deck, there are no seats, shade or shelter outside. These boats are fast(er) and seaworthy, but top-heavy, and sway quite a bit in high seas. There is no canteen on board, so bring snacks or at least drinks.

Local ferries are considerably larger, seating up to 400 in two levels: padded “bunk” or “luxury” seating upstairs, and plain old benches on the “deck” downstairs. Neither class is air-conditioned, but ocean breezes keep temperatures tolerable, and a canteen dishes out chai, samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they’re more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.

In high season demand often exceeds supply, so book your tickets at least one day in advance, either through a travel agent or directly at Port Blair’s harbour. Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notably cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. If you’re prone to sea-sickness, pop a pill an hour before you get on board.

Within islands

  • Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
  • Taxis are available in Port Blair. They are usually the rather vintage Ambassador cars and often not very well maintained. It is slightly more expensive than the Auto-rickshaws, but a more comfortable way to get around the island.
  • Scooters & Motorcycles are available for rent in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. At Port Blair 2 wheeler would cost around Rs. 350 p/day and at havelock it would cost around Rs. 150 – Rs. 250 per day with a security deposit of around Rs. 750 – Rs. 1000.

Place to stay:

Dolphin Resort

Dolphin Resort

Sea Shells Hotel

Sea Shells Hotel

Andaman AC Villa

Andaman AC Villa

Do

  • Snorkeling – is a fun ,popular activity done at North Bay,MuaTerra Beach and Havelock Island.The equipment is cheap, and can be bought or rented.
  • Surfing was possible on Little Andaman Island, but the island was devastated in the 2004 tsunami. Stay tuned.
  • Scan corals reefs in glass bottom boats off Jolly Buoy Island, at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, 29 km from Port Blair.
  • Check out India’s only active volcano on Barren Island, but make sure it’s actually smoking before you start on the overnight boat journey.
  • Take the Andaman Trunk Road, and be the zipping-in-the-car-idiot to the curious Jarawas. The ride is long, but the journey that takes you through some gorgeous reserve forests and up to Maya Bunder and beyond, is worth it.
  • Revisit Havelock just to taste the red Snapper in Burmese garlic sauce at Benny and Lynda’s Wild Orchid Beach Resort.
  • Make a new list. Add scuba diving and sea cow spotting. Do some moon-bathing while planktons swim in a phosphorescent sea.

Eat

Tandoori fish at Lighthouse Residency, Port Blair

Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local dhabas on Havelock, fish abounds. Basic Indian food is also available, though quite expensive, because many ingredients have to be imported. Resort restaurants on Havelock can also whip up a limited set of more or less Western dishes.

Drink

  • Fresh coconuts are popular and widely available.
  • Alcohol is available in some restaurants and at ‘English Beer & Wine Shops’ in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. The beers will not be cold when purchasing across the counter, except in local bars. Alcohol per say is extremely cheap as compared to the mainland.
  • Local bars are dingy and for some odd reason is very poorly lit giving it a very eerie feel to it.
  • There is no Pub culture or even a Dance Club. It is extremely underdeveloped in that sense but the beauty of the place will make you forget ever wanting to go to a pub.

Stay safe

The Andamans are a fairly safe destination. Tourism is still in its early stages which makes it almost hassle free. That said, you should keep your wits about you as you would anywhere.

The Andaman Islands are the home of some of the last uncontacted tribes of Eurasia. These tribes have resisted modernization for some time. An example of these tribes is the Sentinelese tribe, who inhabit North Sentinel Island. They maintain their sovereignty over the island and are hostile towards outsiders. However, as a tourist, you will go nowhere near them, so this is not really an issue.

The Andaman Islands are home to a population of Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), which can grow up to 30 feet in length (although rarely more than 16 feet, the biggest on record being 28.7 feet long). While they are of course capable of attacking humans it is extremely rare to find these reptiles anywhere near a public beach as they prefer mangrove river systems, although they are very common on beaches within close proximity to river mouths and estuaries. That being said, don’t expect anything near population sizes you’d experience in Australia or New Guinea.

Stay healthy

Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally no more so than mainland India.

Contact

The Indian country code applies here (91) and the area code for the entire Andamans is (3192). So, from outside India, you dial +913192xxxxxx. Within India, you dial 03192xxxxxx.

Mobile phone coverage nominally exists on many islands, but the coverage is poor and dropped signals are the norm. State owned BSNL, and private operators Airtel and Vodafone-Essar are the operators providing mobile services there. Landlines are frequent in Port Blair, but more erratic as you move around the islands.

Internet access is slow but tolerable in Port Blair, and glacially slow and unreliable anywhere else. Don’t count on being able to do anything more than check your mails, if even that.

Respect

Tourism is still relatively new on the Andamans and as such the traveler has a special responsibility in guiding its development. Leave the bikinis on the beach, and even then use discretion. Remember that this is India and local women are very conservative in their attire. Alcohol should be consumed on the premises of your hotel. The quiet and peacefulness of the islands are one of its best assets… help to maintain these. This is emphatically not Goa, and any attempt to turn it into that would be absolutely shameful.

Administrative Website

http://www.and.nic.in/

Dos and Donts for Tourists:

http://www.and.nic.in/C_charter/IP_T/visitor.htm

Official Tourism Website:

http://tourism.andaman.nic.in/

Hotel E-Booking:

http://www.and.nic.in/ebook/

Cities

  • Port Blair – the laid-back capital of the Andamans and the sole entry/exit point. Spend a day or two here walking around and enjoying fresh seafood and seeing a couple of the nearby sites.
  • Diglipur – take a road trip to the far north of the island chain, a base for visits to nearby Smith and Ross Islands.
  • Rangat
  • Mayabunder
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Responses

  1. What a nice description of these islands – I just love to vist by end of this year, 2011 ! Thank you

    • This is such a nice post… Give you all you want in one stop… lil bit of everything…
      Now I really can’t wait to goto the Andaman’s … november…here I come…. 😀 😀

  2. This is such a great blog… 🙂 Gives you a lil bit of everything you coudl possible want to know… 🙂 Thanks a lot.. now i really can’t wait for the trip to the Andamans…. November here I come….. 😀 😀
    Thanks again.. 🙂

  3. very good picturers …thank you vory much .

  4. very nicely described…. I just visited in oct 2011 and its just a dream place to go… very interesting and enjoyable place… must have a visit…!!

  5. AWESOME post … just get whatever i wanted to know..well done !!!

  6. Very rapidly this web page will be famous amid all blogging visitors,
    due to it’s fastidious articles or reviews

  7. Great web site you have here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing
    like yours nowadays. I really appreciate individuals like you!
    Take care!!


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