The humidity is unforgiving…the road, if not bone-rattling, is not velvet smooth you thought it would be…the customary check-in is not the best experience you will cherish for your life time…
The scenery changes slowly…first you see the coconut grove rustling gently in the salubrious air, then you find your feet sink in the powder-like pristine white sand, and when you wonder what the lonely tree is doing out there amidst the rocks, the azure sea expands before you like a mirage. Now you remember all the bed-time stories your gradma told you and the place you have etched in your memory. Here is heaven, my friend, in front you, in all its splendour, casting a spell or two or hundred on you. You are in heaven, right on our own earth. You are in Havelock Island, Andaman.
Ok. This is not a typical travellogue. There must be hundreds of blogs on the Andamans, so if you have come up to this point, let me assue you, dear reader, that I am not going to bore you with trivia that you can find elsewhere. I thought of putting my experience to help a fellow traveller who wouldn’t have found what they wanted to know about visiting the Andamans. When we planned our trip to Andaman, I couldn’t find the information that I needed. Maybe, it has to be the indexing or ranking mechanism of Google. The sites where the information that I needed didn’t pop up when I wanted them most. So, here is an honest attempt to provide you with practical information from my experience. If this could help you in preparing better for your planned Andaman trip, this little blog would have served its purpose. So let’s start without much ado.
Nothing can beat a planned holiday. We are not the ascetic kind, at least not me, to just roam around places without any plan. There are quite a few…ahem…beaches in Andaman, each providing a unique experience, which I can vouch from the four beaches that I visited. Some places are of historical importance, which may or maynot take much of your time depending on how deeply interested in history you are. If you plan your trip for more than 4 nights, list down the beaches and places that you want to cover. THEN INCLUDE TWO ITEMS FOR A DAY. If you are planning to go on a packaged-tour, which is good, then keep this in mind. The tour operators will try to cover only fewer places in a day. My tour operator covered only one place in two out of four days. I am not the kind of I-too-visited-that-place person, who tries to cover as many places as they can for the money they spend. But, idling for hours together in the hotel room when you have refreshed enough to go out and explore just one place is not the best touring option either.
Second, select the time when you visit Andaman. They say, winter months are the best times to visit. We wanted to give it a shot in the hottest time of the year–May–because that’s the only time available if you have a school-going kid. If you are from a hot place (that is any place in India, except the Himalayas), then you will not mind the humidity much. It is annoying yes, but tolerable.
And the time of the day to land? The earlier, the better. Land early so you can cover Port Blair first.
A surprising fact, at least for us. The day starts very early like at 4:30.
Like I said earlier, there are quite a few beaches to cover. Here is our itinerary.
Day 1: Port Blair
Yes. It is the administrative headquarters of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, so you will feel like you are in a typical mid-sized Indian town. It is not exactly scenic compared to the other places, but it has its own charm. Also, you land here either you take a ship or an airplane. So spend a day getting acclimatized to the Andaman weather, which is hot and humid like any other tropical place.
If you have taken an early morning flight, freshen up in the hotel and go for a walk around the place where you stay. We stayed in Hotel GBOceania, which I would rate at 3/5 for the decent room and decent food. Like I mentioned earlier, the trip started only at 2:30pm for us, so we had to kill the time. I later found that there is Chatham Saw Mill, which is worth a visit. You could cover this one in the morning.
For the evening, head to the Corbyn’s Cove beach, which is not the heaven that is Havelock, but is way better than most beaches that you find in mainland India. Since the day is hot, head to the beach in the late afternoon and spend an hour there. Kids will really enjoy this beach.
Then head to the historically important Cellular Jail. You can spend a good hour there. It is very well maintained. There is a sound-and-light show in Hindi and English in the late evening. If you are new to a show like that, you will like it for the novelty, else head to your hotel room to cool off for the rest of the night. Remember that the Hindi show starts at 6:00pm and goes for half-hour. English show comes next, so if you prefer English, spend some time in the small park off the Cellular Jail before the show starts.
Day 2: Havelock Island
Freshen up quickly because the ferries start early at around 7:00am from the jetty, so you better reach the place by 6:15am to complete the check-in formalities. Air-conditioned cruises are the best way to spend around 2 hours of onboard time before you reach Havelock. Tickets are usually covered in the package. If you must know, they cost 900, 1000, and 1250 bucks depending on the class you choose. There are usual attractions, such as TV and dance to the tunes of Hindi and regional hits on the upper deck.
Reach Havelock by 9:30am and check in to your hotel. Havelock is the real heaven that we visited, so try to cover at least two beaches in the heaven. There are no water games in Havelock per my understanding. You need to go to Elephant Beach, which you most probably will cover the next day, so spend your entire day in the beaches in Havelock. If you are staying in a resort like Dolphins–where we stayed–there are private beaches dotting Beach No. 5, which are even better than the world–famous Radha Nagar beach. So spend an hour or two there.
Head to Kala Pathar and spend some time there. Our itinerary didn’t include that, and I regret it to this day. Since Havelock is a small island where bikes, scooters, and bicycles are easily available for rent, you can take a bike and visit the beaches that are not covered in the itinerary yourself. If you love cycling, you can rent a single-speed cycle for 150 bucks a day and saunter around the town.
Radha Nagar Beach
They proclaim that it is one of the most beautiful beaches and awarded the best beach in Asia in year 2004. If you haven’t visited any of the private beaches, you would nod to the proclamation. But those private beaches were more appealing to us than Radha Nagar. But Radha Nagar beach is the ideal place to go for swimming. Kids and grown-up alike enjoy a dip in the water in the hot afternoon. Again, the pristine sand and clear-as-crystal water invite even the aquaphobic to venture out in the sea. While Beach No. 5 is mostly calm, Radha Nagar is ferocious, so stay alert for high tides.
Day 3: Elephant Beach
Water games are definitely there in your to-do list. We found two places that are great for water activities. Elephant Beach in Havelock and North Bay Island near Port Blair. Both are good, in my opinion, so select one. We went to Elephant because that is what was there in our itinerary.
Start early in the morning as you would need to complete all your merriment and return to Havelock to catch the 3:00pm cruise back to Port Blair. But do not miss the sunrise at Havelock.
Elephant is a short, 20-minute ride from the Havelock jetty. There is no place to stay or to have lunch, so better pack some food from the resort where you stay or add some more calories to your breakfast so you can have a late lunch after returning to Havelock from Elephant.
Snorkelling is complimentary to the boat ride. The tour operator would say they are adding snorkelling as complimentary as though they are providing it for you. No; it is complimentary to whoever takes the boat ride and included in the boat ticket. Once you reach Elephant, check the queues for the other time-consuming and time-bound activities, such as scuba diving, sea walking, or semi-submarine cruise. Each one is good and once-a-life-time activity, again at least for us, so as part of your homework list the activity you want to enjoy. Scuba diving and sea walking cost about 3500 per person and submarine cruise 1850. Scuba diving and sea walking are almost similar. You put in a swim suit, plonk the goggles, and hold the oxygen cylinder on your back, and you are ready for scuba diving. You put a 15kg heavy helmet that supplies air (oxygen) from the boat and slowly vanish into the sea bed at 20 to 30 feet deep, and you are doing sea walking.
We preferred sea walking and here is a bit of info on that. A small boat takes a group of five persons to a small ship anchored at about 200 meters from the sea shore. There they provide you the instructions on what to do and what not to do. Sea walking is a simple activitiy once you overcome the five-second fear when you release your hands off the ladder and plunge in the deep waters. The guides are there to guide you (actually control you) through the fenced area of about 50 meters. They take photographs (complimentary) and a three-minute video (1000 bucks) all while feeding the myriad fishes that storm the place while you watch in awe and try to touch a few of them. Though not an out-of-world experience, it is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Again, kids will enjoy it the most.
The whole activity takes about 45 minutes, including the 15 minutes you spend on the sea bed. Now, head to the complimentary snorkelling. Since it is complimentary, it is not very special. A pair of goggles, a tube to breath through your mouth, and a lifebuoy to save you from drowning are what make the snorkelling equipment. The guide slowly leads you to 10-foot deep water so you can see the fish and coral reef through the goggles. It is a five-minute activity and here the guide would entice you to spend 500 bucks for a deep=sea snorkelling. It was not appealing to us, so we said no. Maybe, you can give it a try if you love the complimentary snorkelling experience.
Change rooms and rest rooms are available on the sea shore, but there are long queues in these places, so manage your time well so as to take the return boat to Havelock. The entire Elephant trip can be completed in 2.5 hours.
Have lunch in one of the OK-quality restaurants in the jetty. Barefoot is a multi-cuisine restaurant right in front of the jetty. Food is costly here and all the returning crowd swamp this place, but since we were hungry and had to catch the 3:00pm cruise back to Port Blair, we waited (im)patiently until we found a place and finished off the meal quickly.
Take the cruise back to Port Blair and spend the night at the hotel. This time, we stayed at Hotel Airport since GBOcenia was not available for the tour operator (we were informed well ahead of the trip, so we were OK). Hotel Airport was way better than GBOcenia with spic-and-span rooms and good (but costly) food. So if you are provided a choice to select either of these hotels, go for Hotel Airport and you won’t be disappointed. Also, as its name suggests, it is near the airport, which is convenient.
Day 4: Ross Island and North Bay Island
These places are not so great compared to Havelock, but as I mentioned earlier, if you want to do the water games in North Bay, you have no other option than to select this itinerary, as the boat ride covers both the places, not just one.
Leave the hotel room after your breakfast at around 8:00am, so you can take the 20-minute boat ride the the jetty. Usually the round trip covers Ross Island, North Bay, and back to Port Blair. On our visit, they changed it and we went to North Bay first. There is no beach to speak about here, so if you have skipped Elephant for your water activities, do all these here. We went for a glass bottom boat ride, which costs 300 bucks for about 10 minutes; you can have a glimpse of the marine life right from the boat. It was good.
After spending 2 hours there (if you indulge in any of the water activities or spend the time in the many stalls that sell keepsake stuff), head to Ross Island, which is a 10-minute ride.
Ross Island is a historical place. They say, the earliest settlers selected this island and led a lavish life as though they were in England. Swimming pool, bakery, provision store, printing press, power plant, water purifying plant…all the necessary amenities were there, all in ruins now. You can spend a good 15 minutes there under the scorching sun before heading to the jetty to take the boat ride back to Port Blair.
If you want to splash some money and buy authentic Andamanese stuff, head to Sagarika, the goverment-sponsored shop that sells stuff such as pearl, crystal, among other things.
Spend the night at the hotel.
Day 5: Return to Earth
The trip ends with the trip back to your destination from Port Blair. It is a small airport, so you can complete all the formalities in about half-hour.
You will not want to return from heaven (who will want, anyway), but any trip should end somewhere, and here you are boarding the flight back home with your heart and mind satiated. Until your next trip, though…
Here are some of the tidbits from our experience:
- The weather is tropical. We went there in the hottest month of the year–May. So you will want to put on lighter clothes. Cotton or Linen shirt with knee-length shorts is the best attire.
- Don’t forget to take sunscreen lotion unless you want to show off your sun-tanned skin.
- The day starts very early, which made me wonder if Andaman should observe a different timezone. So, if you want to see the sunrise, head to the beach by 4:30am.
- Carry enough water just in case.
- Andaman is heaven sans internet. BSNL and Airtel networks are the only options, but since getting the network itself is a bonus, forget about internet. If you are lucky, you may get internet in Port Blair.
- Again, since network connectivity is an issue, you will want to carry enough money for food and water activities (including the 3500 bucks for seal walking or scuba diving.) But, interestingly (or annoyingly) the 30 bucks entry fee to the Cellular Jail can only be purchased using your debit or credit card.
- We didn’t experience seasickness. But one of my friends who visited during July told me that he experienced a rough ride to Havelock and vomited during the return journey.