Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a large group of nearly 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal. Though they are a part of India politically, they are closer to Indonesia and Myanmar than to the Indian mainland. They are grouped here with Southern India. They were just north of the epicenter of the Boxing Day quake of 2004, and were the site of dozens of aftershocks. The Nicobars were badly hit by the resulting tsunami, while the Andamans escaped with a few bruises. With the exception of Little Andaman Island and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, the rest of the tourist destinations are operating normally again.
- Port Blair - the laid-back capital of the Andamans and the sole entry/exit point. Spend a day or two here walking around and enjoying fresh seafood and seeing a couple of the nearby sites like Ross island, Wiper Island, Bambooflat Island leading to mount Harriet.
- Diglipur - take a road trip to the far north of the island chain, a base for visits to nearby Smith and Ross Islands.
- Mayabunder - Mayabunder is well connected to Port Blair via 240 km of Andaman Trunk Road. The overall distance curtails to 136 km if one opts to travel by ferry.
- Rangat - It is located around 210 km from Port Blair and one has to go through boat journey to reach at the silent place, Rangat.
- Havelock Island — the most visited of the islands, with the most (although still minimal) infrastructure; famous for beautiful beaches (especially Radhanagar and Kalapatthar), great snorkeling and scuba diving
- Rutland Island — beautiful mangrove forest and coral reefs welcome you to this, the least visited and most pristine of the islands
- Neil Island — quieter than Havelock, with nice beaches and decent snorkeling
- Wandoor — a relaxed destination in its own right, but known more as the gateway to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
- Baratang Island — mud volcano, limestone caves and mangrove creeks in backwaters
- Barren Island — an island with the only volcano in all of India
- Long Island — great if you're looking for Robinson Crusoe style camping; no facilities exist here, so you must bring all of your own gear and food
- Little Andaman — once popular for surfing, it was devastated in the 2004 tsunami; ask around in Port Blair to find out the current situation.
1,400 km from mainland India and 1,000 km from Thailand, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are one of the most remote spots on the planet. The original inhabitants are various aboriginal tribes who exist more or less out of the mainstream. There are some tribes who have had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the world. Of nearly 600 islands, only 9 are open to foreign tourists, and all of these are in the Andamans.
The islands exist in India's popular consciousness mainly because they were used as a penal colony by the British rulers to imprison rebels and freedom fighters, in addition to hardened criminals. Most of the inhabitants of these islands are in fact migrants from the mainland, some of them descended from the prisoners.
During World War II, the Andamans were the only part of India briefly occupied by the Japanese. While notionally handed over to Subhash Chandra Bose's Free India, in practice the Japanese held the reins of power. The territory was run brutally — suspected resistance members were tortured and executed, and when food started to run out towards the end of the war, people were deported to uninhabited islands to fend for themselves as best they could.
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Climate data of Port Blair
Mid-January until mid-May sees the best weather, and often the best diving conditions. The days are mostly sunny at this time of year, and the sea sometimes flat enough to reflect the clouds. The monsoon usually hits around late May, lasting until the end of July, and is probably the worst time to visit the islands – strong winds, frequent rain and low visibility underwater. August through November some occasional showers and slightly rougher seas are possible but diving can still be great at this time of year. The weather often takes a turn for the worse for the month of December through early January.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands stretch out almost 500 km in length, with the Andamans in the north and the Nicobars in the south. The main island, aptly known as Great Andaman, is divided into 3 portions - North Andaman, Middle Andaman and South Andaman. Port Blair is located on South Andaman.
Foreigners can hire a guide to communicate with local people. Most of the guides work as volunteers and have been serving tourists for many years. So try to get as much information as you can from these guides.
Non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport. If you plan to arrive by sea, you'll need to arrange your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa. Visitors usually receive a 30 day permit, although some travellers arriving without a confirmed flight back have only received a 15 day permit. Ask for the full 30 days in your application; if you write in your return flight date, your permit will be issued to end on that date, which will cause unnecessary pain if you choose to extend your stay or, worse yet, get unexpectedly delayed by weather.
Permits can be extended by 15 days in Port Blair, for a maximum single stay of 45 days, although this extension is granted only in, to quote the local police guidelines, "deserving cases". You must then leave the islands and can return after 72 hours. The permit is checked when arriving at most islands, checking into hotels and booking ferries, and must be surrendered when you leave the islands, so don't lose it.
The permit allows overnight stays in the following locations: South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (except tribal reserves), Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding Boat Hobday Island, Twin Island, Tarmugli Island, Malay Island and Pluto Island). Overnight stays in the park are with permission only.
The permit allows for day-trips to: South Cinque Island, Ross Island, Narcondum Island, Interview Island, Brother Island, Sister Island and Barren Island which can be visited on board vessels only with landing possible.
Indian nationals do not require a permit to visit the Andamans. However, permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are rarely given. Application on a prescribed form may be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.
For now the only way to reach the Andamans by air is from the Indian mainland to Port Blair. There are talks of opening up flights from Bangkok, which could drastically change the situation in the islands, but as of 2009 these remain just plans. Flights can fill up in peak season and immigration doesn't look kindly on people arriving without confirmed flights back, so book a return ticket and change the flight date if you decide to hang around longer.
- Air India flies from Kolkata and Chennai. They charge a much higher rate for foreigners than Indian residents.
- Spicejet offers a flight direct from Chennai to Port Blair.
- Go Air now flies daily from Kolkata to Port Blair, and from Delhi via Kolkata.
Flights to Port Blair are not really "low-cost", if compared to the same airlines' mainland India flights, but still cheaper than any other way to get to islands. Price varies significantly with date, so if your travel dates aren't fixed, you can save significantly by choosing the right day to fly. Advance booking (available on respective airline's website) at least several days before trip is recommended.
Port Blair's Vir Savarkar Airport is probably one of the most quaint and idyllic airports in India. There is a scenic view point where the whole airport can be seen. There are no night flights as the airport is handed over to the Indian Air Force after 3pm.
It's possible to take a ship from Kolkata (c. 60h), Chennai or Visakhapatnam (almost 4 days) to Port Blair. It is less expensive, however, at only ₹1961 (as of November 2011). Facilities are basic, though and many prefer to sleep on the deck rather than in the cramped bunks. The ferries can take up to five days to arrive depending on weather and various other variables. This can be quite frustrating for many.
Andaman and Nicobar are a vast archipelago, and aside from some erratic, infrequent and expensive helicopter shuttles and a pricy seaplane service to Havelock Island, passenger ferries are the only way to get between the islands.
All passenger transport in the islands is handled by the government-run Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS), which also runs the ferries back to the mainland. The DSS operates basically two kinds of vessels: small "tourist" ferries, and larger "local" ferries. Despite the names, fares are more or less identical on both, at Rs.150-200 one way from Port Blair to Havelock Island.
Tourist ferries seat about 100 people in padded bucket seats in a notionally air-conditioned cabin (which can still get sweltering hot). While you can access the top deck, there are no seats, shade or shelter outside. These boats are fast(er) and seaworthy, but top-heavy, and sway quite a bit in high seas. There is no canteen on board, so bring snacks or at least drinks.
Local ferries are considerably larger, seating up to 400 in two levels: padded "bunk" or "luxury" seating upstairs, and plain old benches on the "deck" downstairs. Neither class is air-conditioned, but ocean breezes keep temperatures tolerable, and a canteen dishes out chai, samosas and bottled water. Due to their larger size, they're more stable in heavy seas, but take about twice as long as tourist ferries to get anywhere.
There's a new a/c catamaran ferry from Port Blair to Havelock. Tickets are 650, 750 or 1000 (which gets you a leather seat and your own TV) and can be booked from a dedicated ticket booking window at Port Blair, thus avoiding the queue barging, and through your guesthouse (or wild orchid, emerald gecko & andaman bubbles) on Havelock.
In high season demand often exceeds supply, so book your tickets at least one day in advance, either through a travel agent or directly at Port Blair's harbour. Ferry ticket booking has now been computerised. This means you can book any ferry from any jetty - i.e. Rangat to Havelock from the Diglipur ferry jetty. This obviously depends on the computers working! Services may be changed or cancelled at short notice due to inclement weather, notably cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. If you're prone to sea-sickness, pop a pill an hour before you get on board.
- Auto-rickshaws are available in Port Blair and on Havelock Island.
- Taxis are available in Port Blair. They are usually the rather vintage Ambassador cars and often not very well maintained. It is slightly more expensive than the Auto-rickshaws, but a more comfortable way to get around the island.
- Scooters & Motorcycles used to be available for rent in Port Blair, however, its not very easy to get one now. Auto-rickshaws may be the best way to move around the city. However, in Havelock Island they are the best option to enjoy a ride to the Radhanagar beach or around. It may cost you around Rs. 150 - Rs. 250 per day with a security deposit of around Rs. 750 - Rs. 1000.
The only place with historical attractions of note is Port Blair, which houses both British-era colonial buildings, including the notorious Cellular Jail, and a few World War II bunkers dating from the brief Japanese occupation.
- Jolly Buoy Island: It is a beautiful island where one can see underwater coral reef by snorkeling or Glass bottomed boats. This island requires prior permission to visit and does not have any food outlets, so one has to pack their own food. Also, plastics are banned in this island. Typically 3-4 ferries leave daily morning and return by 2pm. Private arrangements are also possible.
- Scuba diving - Havelock Island is the main dive destination, but the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park has reopened. South Cinque Island is another possibility, enquire at Anugama Resort at Wandoor. One of the dive shops on Havelock was talking about opening a shop in Diglipur soon, which would open up newly discovered sites.
The best dive sites in the Andamans are in very remote locations and are impossible to get without a private yacht charter. The dive sites around Havelock are actually very ordinary by Andamans standards. The best diving in the Andamans is: Barren Island (an active volcano), Narcondam Island (an extinct volcano), Invisible Bank (an extensive seamount approx. 100 miles Southeast of Port Blair) and 4 spectacular but unnamed sea mounts off the west coast. There is also a good wreck dive just south of North Brother Island. There are a small number of companies that operate live aboard diving and adventure charters in the Andaman Islands. Be aware that many companies that advertise Andaman Islands trips have never been there before.
- Snorkeling - is a fun, popular activity done at North Bay, MuaTerra Beach and Havelock Island.The equipment is cheap, and can be bought or rented.
- Surfing was possible on Little Andaman Island, but the island was devastated in the 2004 tsunami. Stay tuned.
- Scan corals reefs in glass bottom boats off Jolly Buoy Island, at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, 29 km from Port Blair.
- Check out India's only active volcano on Barren Island, but make sure it's actually smoking before you start on the overnight boat journey. The island is protected by the Indian Navy, and permissions are not granted for visiting the Barren Islands.
- Don't take the Andaman Trunk Road, You don't want to be the zipping-in-the-car-idiot to the curious Jarawas. The ride is long, and the journey that takes you through some gorgeous reserve forests and up to Maya Bunder and beyond, but it's not worth to destroy the lebensraum of the native people for that.
- Spot some sea cows and moon-bathe while planktons swim in a phosphorescent sea.
Andaman and Nicobar islands are extremely famous for their beaches and diving expeditions but shopping can be an enjoyable experience too.
In Port Blair, you will find main shopping center offering variety of seashell and coral souvenirs. Aberdeen Bazaar is considered as a prime commercial center which houses various government approved shops such as Khadi Udyog outlets and Cottage Industries Emporium.
Apart from the main shopping center, some other shopping places to explore include Prem Nagar, Machi Lane, Delanipur, Goalghar, Phoenix Bay and Junglighat. All these spots are located within the range of 3-4 km from Aberdeen Bazar.
Furniture designed from local wood and mother of Pearl jewelry is extremely famous here. Handicrafts made from cane, ashtrays walking sticks and some eye catching lamp shades created from coconut shell are the best souvenirs to bring home.
The following items can also become a part of your shopping:
- Nicobaree mats
- Straw hats
- Palm crafts
- Dried coral crafts
- Bamboo crafts
- Wood crafts made of paduak (international quality wood)
- Beaded jewellery
- Mother of pearl artefacts like key chains and some other decorative items
A plethora of eateries, private and government shops make the shopping experience in Andaman and Nicobar truly memorable.
Caution: Always ask for valid bills from the shop owner or else you may get entrapped.
Seafood is the order of the day. From upscale restaurants in Port Blair to local dhabas on Havelock, fish abounds. Be prepared to pay a little more for good fish and seafood dishes than for standard Indian food, but it's well worth it. Basic Indian food is also available, and as cheap as on the mainland in most of the small dhabas. Resort restaurants on Havelock can also whip up a limited set of more or less Western dishes, but the resort restaurants are pretty expensive for Indian standards.
- Fresh coconuts are popular and widely available.
- Alcohol is available in some restaurants and at 'English Beer & Wine Shops' in Port Blair and on Havelock Island. The beers will not be cold when purchasing across the counter, except in local bars.
- Local bars are dingy and poorly lit, giving them a very eerie feel.
- There is no pub culture nor any dance club.
Booking A&N Tourism Accommodation
There are a variety of hotels around the islands which are run by Andaman & Nicobar Tourism. You can book all A&N tourism hotels both in person at A&N tourism in Port Blair, by phone on 03192 232694, or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org (currently they do not have access to email). Hours are 0830-1100,1400-1500.
The Andamans are a fairly safe destination. Tourism is still in its early stages which makes it almost hassle free. That said, you should keep your wits about you as you would anywhere.
The Andaman Islands are the home of some of the last un-contacted tribes of Eurasia. These tribes have resisted modernization for some time. An example is the Sentinelese tribe, who inhabit North Sentinel Island. They maintain their sovereignty over the island and will kill intruders. However, as a tourist, you will go nowhere near them, so this is not really an issue.
Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are present within suitable habitat throughout the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
While attacks on locals do occur every year within the island chain, the only attack on a foreigner within recent history occurred off the coast of Havelock Island in April 2010. While saltwater crocodiles generally remain within the rivers and coastal mangrove swamps, they do occasionally travel within the open ocean, as was the case in this attack. Attacks on humans in the ocean are very rare.
The main crocodile populations are around Little Andaman Island (Northern and Western sides), Interview Island and in the narrow straits that separate the main islands MacPhearson Strait, Andaman Strait, Homfrey Strait and Austen Strait. Crocodile populations are also known from many of the Nicobar Islands.
Andaman and Nicobar are malarial, although generally not more than mainland India.
The Indian country code applies here (91) and the area code for the entire Andamans is (3192). So, from outside India, you dial +913192xxxxxx. Within India, you dial 03192xxxxxx.
Mobile phone coverage nominally exists on many islands, but the coverage is poor and dropped signals are the norm. State owned BSNL, and private operators Airtel and Vodafone-Essar are the operators providing mobile services there. Landlines are frequent in Port Blair, but more erratic as you move around the islands.
Internet access is slow but tolerable in Port Blair, BSNL EVDO Sticks on CDMA Technology Works the best with Speed up to 1 Mbit/s,Bsnl 3g Gives speed around 100 kbit/s and ADSL is un-serviceable most of the times. Private Players like Airtel,Vodafone offers Internet Access Through GPRS & EDGE which is pathetically Slow. Reliance Internet Only works in the City but slow. Project for Inter Connectivity of Islands with Underwater international Chennai-Singapore marine cable is under Consideration. Once finished, this will offer Seamless and fast connectivity .
Tourism is still relatively new on the Andamans and as such the traveler has a special responsibility in guiding its development. Remember that this is India — local women are very conservative in their attire, and if you'd like to show sensitivity to their feelings, consider dressing conservatively yourself.
Alcohol should be consumed on the premises of your hotel only. The quiet and peacefulness of the islands are one of their best assets; help to maintain these.