Longstanding author of the Rough Guide to India Dropdown content, Nick Edwards, explains how the remote Andaman Islands have been slowly increasing their tourist profile but still reward the adventurous traveller with natural splendour unlike anywhere on the mainland.
The long emerald necklace of the
The archipelago is actually closer and more similar in appearance to the western coasts of Myanmar and Thailand. Indeed, India only really inherited the island chain by default, along with the off-limits Nicobar Islands, on independence from the British, who had used the islands as a useful marine staging post and grim penal colony. In doing so they partly displaced the half dozen distinct indigenous tribal groups who had previously been the only inhabitants. This process has continued since the islands were further colonised by mostly Tamil and Bengali settlers, although certain areas are still set aside for tribal people.
Today, while firmly on the tourist trail in
The only point of entry is the capital, Port Blair, named after an eighteenth-century English lieutenant. Most people fly in from
The town is a bit of an anomaly, however, with a mish-mash of concrete and corrugated iron buildings draped over verdant hills that dip down to the surrounding water. It says a lot about the Port Blair that its main tourist attraction is the Cellular Jail, a sombre reminder of its punitive past. A boat tour of the small islets in the bay, namely Viper and Ross, is also worthwhile, or perhaps a trip further afield in South Andaman to the Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park at Wandoor, but most people head for more rewarding destinations after a night or two.
Some visitors forego the dubious pleasures of Port Blair altogether and make a beeline on the first available vessel to
Although some would say Havelock is on the verge of becoming spoilt, it remains the only island to offer a wide range of accommodation and eating options – try the Red Snapper restaurant at Wild Orchid – plus it has the majority of diving operations. It also boasts the splendid arc of Radhnagar (aka #7), backed by towering mowhar trees and still home to Rajan, the legendary but now retired swimming elephant, who can be visited at Barefoot Resort. Havelock’s diminutive neighbour,
Many make the mistake of confining their visit solely to Havelock and maybe Neil, but there are a lot more places to be explored that will give you a real sense of being off the beaten track. The controversial (because it bisects the Jarawa tribal lands and is technically illegal) Andaman Trunk Road runs up from Port Blair through the three largest islands of South, Middle and North Andaman. Although the main settlements along the road are rather forlorn, ugly places, they are the access points for more splendid and much quieter beaches, most noticeably Kalipur in the far north, which can also be reached by taking a boat to Arial Bay. Ferries also stop at Rangat Bay and Mayabunder, home to many Karen people. From the latter, you can arrange a visit to pristine Interview Island, a wonderful nature sanctuary.
For those who fancy a more relaxed and relatively isolated refuge, one of the best options is
Best of all is
Return flights to Port Blair from Chennai or Kolkata can cost well over £200 during the peak winter season. Boat crossings from the mainland cost as little as £20. Road and sea transportation between the islands is very inexpensive, while the cheaper accommodations only cost £5–10 per night. Explore more of India with the