ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS
Archipelago - An Extensive Group Of Islands
Palm leaves dancing in the mild breeze, powder white beaches, the sound of waves breaking on a coral reef, lush, green rain forests and chirping rare birds - this is what the Andaman and Nicobar Islands essentially are. An archipelago of islands, islets and rocks, this Union Territory of India is home to some of the oldest tribes in the country. Though facilities for trekking, diving and snorkelling are available here, the best way to enjoy a trip to these islands is simply relax by the sea.
Located in the Bay of Bengal, this group of 572 islands lies 193 km away from Cape Negrais in Myanmar, 1255 km from Kolkata, and 1190 km from Chennai. The two important groups of islets are Ritchie's Archipelago and Labyrinth Islands. The Nicobar Islands are located to the south of the Andamans, 121 km from the Little Andaman Island. Of the total 572 islands, only 36 islands are inhabited. The Islands are located between the latitudes 6° to 14° North and longitudes 92° to 94° East.
The islands have a tropical climate. There is medium to heavy rain during the monsoon in the months from May to mid September and November to mid December. There is no extreme climate except rains and tropical storms in late summer often cause heavy damage.
Little is known historically about Andaman and Nicobar, a cluster of around 572 islands of which less than 50 are populated, stretching from the southern tip of Burma all the way down south till Sumatra in Indonesia. It is believed that Marco Polo was among the first from the West to set foot on one of the islands. Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha admiral had his base on the island in the early 18th century. From there, he attacked passing Portuguese, Dutch and English merchant vessels on their way to or from their various Asian colonies. In 1713, his navy even succeeded in capturing the yacht of the British Governor of Bombay. Despite many efforts by the British and later a joint military force of British and Portuguese naval forces, Kanhoji Angre was never defeated. He died in 1729.
The British established their first colony in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1789, which was abandoned in 1796. The British finally annexed the islands in the 19th century adding them to their empire. They turned it into a penal colony for Indian freedom fighters. The construction of the infamous Cellular Jail was completed in 1908. Hundreds of anti-British Indians were tortured to death or simply executed here. With the Second World War, Japanese troops occupied the islands and the local tribes initiated guerrilla activities to drive them out. When India achieved independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union.
Places to visit
Cellular Jail National Memorial
Cellular Jail, located at Port Blair, is a mute witness to the tortures meted out to the freedom fighters, who were incarcerated in this Jail. The Jail, completed in the year 1906 acquired the name, 'cellular' because it is entirely made up of individual cells for the solitary confinement of the prisoners. It originally was a seven pronged, puce colored building with a Central Tower acting as its fulcrum and a massive structure comprising honey-comb like corridors. The building was subsequently damaged and presently three out of seven prongs are intact. The Jail now a place of pilgrimage for all freedom loving people, has been declared a National Memorial.
Andaman Water Sports Complex
This unique complex has all possible aqua sports like paddle boats, Row boats, Glass bottom boats, Kayaks, water cycles, etc. Adventure water sports like water-skiing, wind surfing, speed boats, sail boats, gemini boats, water scooters with sea-water swimming pool,toilet and change room, childrens traffic park, nature walk, food plaza, etc. Andaman Water Sports Complex is first of it's kind in India, it is open on all days.
This aquarium cum museum has a collection of some 350 species of marine animals found on the island.
It is the nearest beach to Port Blair. It is 4 km from the airport and 10 km from the town. Bicycle is the best local transport which one can hire in Abeerdeen Bazaar to Corbyns Cove.
The islands are inhabited by tribals who are considered to be the original inhabitants of the Andamans. The tools used by them, their dresses and many photographs of their life style have been kept in this museum.
Samudrika Marine Museum
The five sections of this unique museum display history and geography of the Andaman & Nicobar islands. The displays include islands, the people, the tribals, their life-style, marine life and archaeology. There museum also has a sizable collection of shells and corals.
Mini Zoo & Forest Museum
Port Blair has a small Zoo which houses some of the species which are found no where in the world. 200 species of animals which includes the Nicobar Pigeon and the Andaman Pig. The salt water crocodile breeding programme has been very successful and the many crocodiles which were bred here are now in wild waters among the dense mangrove forests. Though these waters are also being used by the tourists for swimming but three has been perfect harmony between the swimmers and the crocodiles. Near the zoo is the museum maintained and run by the forest department. This unusual museum displays locally grown woods, including Pad auk which has both light and dark colours are present in the same tree.
This one of the Asia's largest wood processing units. It is located on Chatham island. Some of the woods being processed here are termed as rare. One can find the wood like Padauk too.
Once the administrative headquarters of the British this place is deserted today. Where once manicured lawns occupied space and umbrellas adorned the pool side daily services were held in the Church but now forest & under growths have taken over. Peacocks and deers roam here. The place is in ruins and very sad but it is worth giving a look. On getting down at the Jetty, sign the visitors book as the island is under the Navy and take a look at the small museum to get an idea what this place must have looked in those days. Corbyns Cove, 7 kms from the town of Port Blair, it is one of the most magnificent beaches in Andamans. Nearby is the Snake island surrounded by coral reef. Though the water is very tempting is advisable not to swim in these water as the current is very strong.
Like the Northern Andamans, these islands have been the reserve for the Onge tribe. But the tribe has been confined to south of the Island. These reserves are out of bound areas. Other wise the islands are being developed to be tourist friendly. The waves make this place good for swimming but bad for snorkelling. There is police station where one has to register his arrival. The main beach of Little Andamans is at Butler Bay which also a camping ground for people.
The Andaman trunk which through the Middle Andamans have the Jarawa reserves. Jarawas are the native and are very hostile to visitors. So any vehicle passing beside the reserve carries heavily armed gaurds. Independent travelling in this area is discouraged. But the island is open to the tourists and accommodation & other facilities have been provided. Tourists can also visit Rangat and Mayabunder islands.
Diglipur is the place where one spend his night. Recently Kalipur beach is being developed for tourist purposes.
Again this island is full of Bengali settlers. The main attraction of these islands are not the picturesque white sand beaches or turquoise water or the coral reefs but the Dolphins, Turtles and very large fishes attract most of the tourists. It is 45 kms from Port Blair.
This is a Government owned farm for research in various kinds of agricultural products predominantly spices. This farm is 15 kms from Port Blair and has new variety of Cinnamon, Pepper, Nutmeg and Cloves.
These predominantly Bengali populated islands are 40 kms from Port Blair and offers good beaches for snorkelling. Though some of the corals have been damaged nevertheless it is a very scenic spot to be. Here the beach are numbered and beach number 1 has some lovely hammocks under trees which are very popular among the campers. There is also a fresh water well. One can watch very large fish from these islands. But becomes difficult to cross the corals to the sea during the low tides.
A tiny fishing village with beaches and mangroves, Chiriya Tapu is 30 kms from Port Blair. From Chiriya Tapu there is a beach which is well known for snorkelling.
Mt Harriet & Madhuban
One can take a ferry service from the Chatnam wharf to Bamboo flat. From there one can take a vehicle to Mt Harriet which is 365 m. A natural trail takes to the top and one can have a comfortable stay at the forest guest house. Towards the north is the Mt Harriet national park and Madhuban. One watch the elephants being trained to carry logs here.
Just 29 kms from Port Blair is this stunningly beautiful group of islands. The 15 islands form the part of the 280 sq kms Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. If on a tour from Port Blair, Jolly Buoy and Red skin islands are also visited. The scenic beauty of the islands is enhanced by mangrove creeks, tropical rainforest and the reef which support almost 50 varieties of corals.
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS
The islanders celebrate most of the festivals of the mainland due to the influence of the external society and the development that has taken place. Major festivals are Durga Puja, Pongal, Panguni Uthiram, and Onam. Other important festivals are Mahashivaratri, Janmashtami, Holi, Diwali, Christmas, Good Friday, etc.
The Island Tourism Festival is celebrated every year for 15 days between December and February in Port Blair. Dance performances from the troupes residing in different islands are organized. One of the major attraction at this festival is the Andaman Dog Show.
HOW TO REACH
By Air Five weekly flights between Calcutta and Port Blair and four flights between Chennai and Vishakhapattnam connect the islands to the mainland.
By Sea There are around three to four ships sailing between Haddo Jetty, Port Blair in the Andamans and Calcutta and Chennai on the mainland. There is one sailing from Vishakhapattnam every two months. The Shipping Corporation of India runs these sailings. The distances between Port Blair and some of the important cities on the mainland are Calcutta - 1255 km, Chennai - 1190 km and Vishakhapatnam - 1200 km
Local Transport The Directorate of Shipping Services maintains regular inter-island foreshore and harbour ferry services to cater to the needs of inter-island commuters. There are local buses, bicycles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, and taxis available for local transport on the islands.