The charming, astonishingly diverse archipelago of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is far removed from the excesses and gloss of the coastal hotspots of Goa, Seychelles and Mauritius. Here are 10 things in the Andamans, including its capital Port Blair, that are likely to make your trip one for the memory-books:
Barefoot Scuba Resort
Havelock Island is the Andamans’ Holy Grail, a magnet for those in search of some spiritual and scuba manna. A two-hour journey from Port Blair’s Phoenix Bay Jetty on a rickety ferry takes me there. I land up at the Barefoot Scuba Resort on Beach No 3, and am met by a parade of divers, kayakers, snorkellers and random bohemians. The vibe here is lazily hypnotic, helped along by sea-facing duplex cottages, the rustic Café Del Mar and, if you really must exert yourself, a fantastic water sports facility that ticks all the boxes. Budget and bohemia don’t often make such amiable bedfellows.
The islands are a multi-ethnic, multicultural mélange. Come festival time and everyone’s game for one united party. I land bang in the heart of Durga Puja and am privy to an island-wide spectacle of colour, flavour and splendour. Likewise if you’re there during Diwali, Eid or Christmas, dive into the street spirit and immerse yourself in the cultural fervour
A chance encounter leads me to the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team (ANET), a grassroots NGO focussed on research and education in the Andamans’ rich environmental sphere. ANET’s assistant director Tasneem Khan takes me through their initiatives, including a collaborative programme that gives school kids first-hand knowledge of physics, biology and botany, all through scuba-diving. ANET’s base in South Andamans’ verdant majesty of Wandoor sports several thatched huts, a large two-storeyed wooden library / presentation centre and a transient community of volunteers, interns, staff and core ANET officials.
Picture this: a gorgeously overcast day, with a breeze blowing in from the sea, miles of ocean spread out before you and ahead, a plate of excellently grilled lobster. As dining experiences go, you could do much worse than Mandalay at the Fortune Resort Bay Island, up on Marine Hill in Port Blair. One of the island’s few rarefied cuisine options, Mandalay scores with its spectacular setting overlooking the Bay of Bengal, with the North Bay lighthouse in the distance.
Some things stay with you endlessly, irrespective of whether you have them on camera/film or not. The vision of Collinpur Beach stretched out in front of my eyes, with not a soul to disturb the picture, is now burned on my mind forever. This sandy white beauty lies southwest of the main island and getting there from Port Blair (a roughly hour-long journey through lush mangrove forests) is an experience in itself.
One of Port Blair’s oldest addresses, this resort guesthouse lies up in the hilly Haddo locale. It’s usually the go-to place for government officials, but don’t fret. You don’t need to be staying here to visit their restaurant and enjoy the view: miles of blue, punctuated by distant hills and the odd yacht, dinghy or sailboat. And if you do decide to splurge on one of their Rs8,000-a-night cottage villas, you’ll have balcony (and bathtub) seats to the sky and ocean playing off of each other in an unforgettable dance.
(Megapode Nest, +91 22 6150 6363)
A forest lodge situated deep in the forests of South Andamans, on the southernmost tip of the main island Chidiya Tapu, Wildgrass comes fresh off the oven. The resort is so new, it doesn’t even have a website yet. But what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in intimate uniqueness. You’ll stay in one of four wooden chalet-cottages, basic but comfy; you’ll look out from a raised balcony onto acres of lush wilderness; you’ll tuck into fish caught that very evening, and you’ll often have the resort’s amiable owners, retired Navy Commander Baath and his wife Mona, for company.
(Wildgrass - Contact Commander Baath on +91 9474204508)
A tiny, secluded gem that it doesn’t even feature on the average traveller’s map, Grub Island is a protected reserve—due to its habitat and fragile ecosystem—and is out of bounds for almost everyone. But if you’re fortunate enough to get invited by a forest official or some such, you’ll have front-row seats to a Robinson Crusoe-type scenario, complete with white sandy beaches, utter seclusion, mangrove forests, caves, limestone rocks and snorkelling. Time your visit here so that you’re making your way back from Grub to Wandoor as the sun begins its descent. The result: a stunning sunset as the island is rendered a dark silhouette, framed by manic orange skies and mysteriously calm waters.
This beach, located seven kilometres from Port Blair, wouldn’t figure too high on most locals’ recommendations. The beach itself is just a tiny, curvaceous speck of brown sand framed by palm trees, ideal for a spot of lazy sunbathing. But it’s the drive along Marine Shore Road from the heart of the city that will keep you coming back for more. You’ll have the breeze in your face, an endless ocean at your disposal and a constant audience with swaying palms, rolling clouds and the distantly ominous Ross Island.
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