Havelock is the largest island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, and the most intensively cultivated, settled – like many in the region – by Bengali refugees after Partition. Thanks to its regular ferry connections with the capital, it is also visited in greater numbers than anywhere else in the Andamans. In recent peak seasons, as many as five hundred tourists can be holed up here at one time, which has led to an explosion in accommodation and the opening of the first tourist shops.
Havelock’s hub of activity is not the jetty village, which just has a few stalls, a couple of dowdy lodges, the odd restaurant and the police station, but the Main Bazaar, which you come to if you follow the road straight ahead from the jetty for two kilometres, passing Beach #2 on the way. Here you’ll find a greater variety of shops and places to eat, the only bank and the island’s main junction. The right turn leads nine kilometres through paddy fields and other crops before dropping through some spectacular woodland to Radhnagar (Beach #7), a two-kilometre-long arc of perfect white sand, backed by stands of giant mowhar trees and often touted as the most beautiful in India. The water is a sublime turquoise colour and, although the coral is sparse, marine life here is diverse and plentiful, especially among the rocks around the corner from the main beach (accessible at low tide). The main drawback, which can make sunbathing uncomfortable, is a preponderance of pesky sandflies.
As the nesting site for a colony of Olive Ridley turtles, Radhnagar is strictly protected by the Forest Department, whose wardens ensure tourists don’t light fires or sleep on the beach. There’s not much accommodation here but a clutch of dhabas provides ample sustenance for day-trippers. A couple of kilometres before the road descends to Radhnagar, a path on the right leads over a hill and down through some scattered settlements to far wilder Elephant Beach, although the only trunks you are likely to spot are those of huge fallen trees. Snorkelling here is good, and coral reefs are accessible from the shore, but it can be tough to find the way unless somebody takes you; look out for the start of the path at a sharp bend in the road with a Forest Department noticeboard in a small clearing, and then keep asking the way whenever you see a local.
If you take the left turn through the busier strip of Main Bazaar, the road leads on past beaches #3 and #5, where most of the beach huts and resorts are located. As on Neill’s north coast, these east-facing beaches, though exquisitely scenic, have fairly thin strips of golden-white sand, and when the sea recedes across the lumps of broken coral and rock lying offshore, swimming becomes all but impossible. After Beach #5 the road continues south for several kilometres before turning slightly inland and eventually petering out at Kalapathar beach. Here you can visit the Forest Department’s elephant training camp, although the sight of the gentle giants being rather ferociously whacked with heavy sticks is hardly an edifying one. The entire southern half of Havelock consists of impenetrable forest.