I just got back from a trip to the Andaman Islands. This chain of Indian islands is located in the eastern Bay of Bengal – quite far from the Indian mainland and closer to the coasts of southern Burma and Western Thailand.
The 572 islands of the Andaman and Nicobar islands have a rugged, untouched beauty. Their tropical rainforests, mangroves, white sand beaches, clear waters and coral reefs are what make them a popular tourist destination (though on a smaller scale than other destinations in India).
I arrived in Port Blair on a flight from Chennai and then took a ferry to Havelock Island. Having arrived towards the end of the tourist season and the beginning of the monsoon rains, I found a quiet tropical paradise. The highlight of the trip was snorkelling in the warm waters and discovering the coral reefs and tropical fish which are abundant here. Not surprisingly, this is a popular destination for divers. These islands have a rich flora and fauna, with many plant and animal species being unique to the islands. This is also the home to six indigenous tribes.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands were badly affected by the tsunami, some parts worse than others. Near Port Blair, there are some tsunami-affected areas which are a sinister reminder of the destruction caused by this disaster: a few skeletal houses, headless palm trees and tree trunks poking conspicuously out of lakes which were left behind by the tsunami.
The administration is keen on protecting the islands’ biodiversity. Only some of the islands are open to visitors. Foreigners need a special permit which is valid only for certain islands and a maximum period of one month. The permit also clearly states that photographing tribal peoples is a criminal offence. I didn’t come across any tribes, as they live on the more remote islands.
Being so far east from the Indian mainland but still observing Indian Standard Time, the days have their own rhythm: the sun goes down by 5pm and is up again at 4am the next morning. I also witnessed the onset of the monsoon rains with heavy showers happening mostly in the early mornings. I never thought I’d be happy to experience rain on a holiday, but after an exceptionally long and hot summer, the rain was more than welcome!