The Undiscovered Paradise
March 31, 2018
These islands stole a piece of my heart and I am longing to go back. When people refer to the Andaman Islands most people think of the Islands around Phuket in the south of Thailand. The real Andaman Islands are part of a string of 572 Islands knows as Andaman and Nicobar. These belong to India with flights running regularly from Chennai to Port Blair and a flight time of 2 hours 10 minutes. One of the islands has gained some attention in the news due to its aggressive native inhabitants, who refuse to be contacted by the outside world. Visiting North Sentinel Island along with some of the others is banned, not that I think it would be wise to go there anyway.
I love the mystery that surrounds this place, many of the islands are uninhabited and unexplored. Travelling between the islands felt like a scene out of King Kong, or Pirates of the Caribbean, sailing off into the unknown. Living on some of these islands really takes you back in time and allows you to become more in touch with your primal instincts. If you are one for adventure and really want to visit a natural paradise then Andaman should be number 1 on your bucket list.
My first experience of the Andaman Islands began with landing at Port Blair, I stepped off the plane to the deafening noise of 2 Hal Tejas fighter jets taking off, as the airport doubles as an airbase. We made our way into central Port Blair to our hotel, where we dropped off our luggage. Port Blair really is like taking a step back into a colonial British colony, mixed in with Indian culture. Even though Port Blair is not a bad place to explore, I used it purely as a means in and out of the Islands and would recommend just staying one night. In the evening, check out a local restaurant, food here is served in a traditional manner, with many dishes on one tray, fish is a staple base.
In the morning I took the boat to Havelock, you will need to arrange your tickets the day before, ask at your hotel and they should be able to assist you. The boat journey took close to 3 hours on an old ship that clearly used to be used for cargo. We sailed past several islands along the way, many of which look completely untouched. Once we arrived at Havelock, I realised just how worth it all the travelling had been. On arriving your passport gets stamped for a 28 day visa and then you’re free to wonder, we hopped in the first tuk tuk offering a decent price and made our way down the coastal road, stopping off to check out the hotels along the way. We ended up staying in very basic but comfortable bamboo huts set just a few meters from the beach.
After getting set up in our bungalow we went for a wonder around the island, at only 92.2km squared it’s not large but there is still a lot to explore. We discovered the local markets, at the fish market we met a local man named Ranjit, who after a short discussion and for a small fee agreed to take us fishing and snorkelling out on the reefs the following day. We found the locals to be friendly and welcoming with a much more laid back approach than those on mainland india. Having explored a small amount of the island it was clear that there were only a very small number of tourists, less than 20 I would say. After having some lunch, we stepped out of the restaurant to see the same driver who had driven us to our hotel, he recognised us and said he was going back home which was just passed our hotel and he would like to drop us off on the way for free.
The next day we were awoken by our Brazilian friend we had met the day before, eager to get out on the boat for the day. First however he had to complete his yoga routine on the beach, then we were off to find Ranjit. We climbed about his small traditional style fishing boat and we were off, stopping around 500m from the shore, we baited our handlines and dropped them off the side, it was mere seconds before we had bites, bringing in fish as heavy as 4kg with our bare hands. After around half an hour fishing it was time for snorkelling, we brought in the lines and moved closer to the next island (John Lawrence Island) along, into the shallow waters around the reefs. The waters were crystal clear with dozens of marine species around the reef. Unfortunately a lot of the coral was damaged by the Tsunami in 2004.
After tiering ourselves out freediving for lobster it was time to hit the next fishing spot, each location seemed to yield different species of fish and Ranjit knew exactly where to locate the boat for the best catch. We fished and snorkelled several other locations, until the day seemed to get away from us and it was time to head back to shore. Ranjit had slowly warmed to us throughout the day and asked if we would like to go out again on another day, of course we snapped up his offer. After arriving back, we selected the fish we wanted for dinner and the rest we donated to Ranjit’s family and the local villagers. After getting cleaned up we met Ranjit at a local restaurant where the chef had cleaned and baked our fish and provided several traditional side dishes to accompany it. We had a feast with Ranjit and several other tourists we met throughout the day.
The next morning it was off to explore the now disused Elephant training camp at the opposite end of the island and to have a wonder through the rainforest. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off and said to call once we were ready to be collected. There is no civilisation at this end of the island and I felt truly in touch with nature, the rainforest was bustling with life and just beyond the trees was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. After a few hours exploration we decided to call our driver, only to discover we had no signal. We had no choice but to walk the 14km back to the town, to make it more interesting we walked through the rainforest and along the beach. The sun began to set as we arrived back into town, mosquito bitten, tired and covered in mud, but the day was not a waste, we had a great adventure.
On our next day in the morning we were told of a hiking trail through the rainforest to the other side of the island, to an amazing untouched beach. 4 of us decided we would accept the challenge and set off in search of the entrance, the path was barely used and hard to follow. We had been hiking for a couple of hours before it began to torrentially rain, the ground turned to slop and our hiking booked were continually being pulled from our feet. We tied our shoes to our bags and continued barefoot. Further into the forest we came across 2 elephants and their mahouts, they were dragging huge trees along another path, presumably towards the village.
After around 4 hours the canopy cleared and we arrived at the deserted beach, with intermittent rain we decided to build a tepee from sticks and palm leaves, we crammed in and just took in the scenery around us. We couldn’t stay too long as it would soon be dark so we packed up and began the trek back to town, we arrived shortly before sunset. Later in the evening we met to toast marshmallows and drink rum around a fire on the beach.
It was time for another day out on the seas with captain Ranjit, we were again experiencing the wetter side of the tropical island weather but decided to set out anyway. This trip was similar to the last with a few different locations thrown in. On our return Ranjit asked myself and Jamie (friend from home) if we would like to go to his house for dinner. We got cleaned up and headed to his house, Ranjits wife had kindly prepared a fish curry for us. We sat in a circle on the floor along with his wife and children and they filled us in on island life.
For our remaining days we explored the island further, discovered some of its amazing wildlife and soaked up the culture along with some sun. We swam across to Peel Island and back, went to see the crocodiles in the lagoon on the other side of the island and much more. From Havelock you can take boats out to explore many of the other islands, our short time here allowed us to barely scratch the surface of what is on offer but we still had an amazing time. With a total of 572 islands you could spend a lifetime here and not experience it all but Havelock and the surrounding islands are a great place to start.
I made many new friends on this trip, many of which I still keep in contact with today. Sadly one of the amazing people I shared these amazing experiences with passed away just a few days after we left Andaman. RIP Frosty, you were an amazing guy with a big heart and it was a pleasure to have met you.
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