I know that a lot of people love the rain but I have never been one of them. Its alright once in a while when you get to see spectacular rainbows like this, but foggy rainy weather day in and day out depresses me excessively. This January in Delhi was particularly horrid and so, like an intelligent spoonbill, I flew south for the winter.
Most flights to Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar International Airport are via either Chennai or Kolkata. The flight from Chennai is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. All major airlines such as Air India, GoAir, Spice Jet and Jet Airways fly to Port Blair. Tickets can be expensive, especially around December-January, so I would recommend booking them in advance.
Things to Do:
1. Port Blair: Named after the naval surveyor Lieutenant Archibald Blair, it was colonised in the late 18th century by the British. It was here that the British established the infamous Cellular Jail, a penal colony for political prisoners from the Indian Freedom Movement. Today, Port Blair is a charming island town with stunning views of the Andaman Sea.
The first place to visit in Port Blair is definitely the Cellular Jail, which is known to most people as ‘Kala Pani’ (water of death; kaal- time of death and pani- water; however, usually translated to kaala pani or black water). Witness to the suffering of innumerable people, the cellular jail has been declared a national memorial.
Originally constructed with seven wings which radiate out from a central watchtower (like spokes on a wheel), it gets its name from the 690+ individual cells for the solitary confinement of prisoners. The jail’s design is cruel and impressive. Each cell was 4.5m x 2.7 m in size with a ventilator and no contact with any other prisoner was possible from the cells. Escape from the prison was impossible. Today, only three of the original seven wings remain.
Apart from the cells and watchtower, the compound contained a working area for prisoners, a whipping area and gallows, where three inmates could be hanged simultaneously.
The bell in the watchtower would toll thrice to signal their execution. It takes a visit to this place to realise just how much was sacrificed for the freedom that we have today. V.D. Savarkar spent 10 years here, it would take 10 hours to drive me stark, raving mad.
Useful Information: Open on all days except Mondays and National holidays. Visiting hours: 9:00 am to 12:30 am and 1:30 pm to 5 pm. Entry ticket: INR 10, Phone camera: INR 25, Video camera: INR 100, Film: Shooting: INR 5000 (per day with prior permission).
There’s also a light and sound show in the evenings: Hindi- 6:00 pm and English- 7:15 pm
INR 20 for adults and INR 10 for children (I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the light and sound show too much, but I suppose its one of those things that everyone has to go for)
After wandering around Cellular Jail, I would highly recommend a much-needed mood uplifting visit to Ross Island.
Ross Island is a small island about 800m away from Aberdeen Jetty in Port Blair.
It used to be headquarters of the British in Andaman till 1941, when it was rocked by a massive earthquake. It is now home to a number of incredibly friendly animals wandering amidst the ruins of a once opulent settlement. These ruins are now held fast by the roots of many trees that are growing around them.
Try and find Ms. Aunradha Rao to guide you around the island. The daughter of a man who was born on Ross Island, she has been visiting it since she was three and is the best person to show you the ruins of the bakery, the chief commissioner’s house and the swimming pool, among other monuments.
More importantly, she is a naturalist who loves Ross Island and all its inhabitants.
She will introduce you to Pari the squirrel, Amma the spotted deer, Chhick-Chhick the peacock and Nidar the bulbul. The animals are only allowed to be fed the food that she will provide, feeding them any junk food is punishable with a fine. In hindsight though, I do feel guilty about having fed the animals anything at all. Even those approved carbs can’t have been good for them.
Useful Information: Ross Island can be reached by taking a ferry from Aberdeen Jetty close to the cellular jail (Ferry at 8:30 am, 10:30 am and 12:30 pm- INR 350 both ways), Entry Ticket: INR 20, Guide: INR 300. There’s also a sound and light show here which I, sadly, missed.
The sun ought to be close to setting by the time you are done with Ross Island. If you aren’t catching either of the Sound and Light shows, it is a good idea to try and make it to Chidiyatapu (the island of birds) to catch the sunset.
Useful Information: It is about 25 km away from Port Blair on South Andaman Island so you ought to have about 45 minutes in hand for the drive.
Where to Stay: Any hotel on Marine Hill if you want this view:
Where to Eat: We had some nice Andaman fish curry and prawns in Seashell on Marine Hill. Sadly, no crab or lobster was available that day.
Nightclubs: Amaya in Seashell on Marine Hill has the same spectacular view as above and nice Pina Coladas.
2. Jolly Buoy Island, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park:
For the clearest water ever, head to Jolly Buoy Island. Its about a half hour long boat ride from Wandoor Jetty which is about 35 km from Port Blair.
There are mangroves, pristine beaches and crystal clear water for the best snorkelling ever. I saw many lovely schools of electric blue fish, corals, schools of neon yellow and pink fish, starfish, sandfish and clown fish. One of my companions also claims to have seen a baby shark! This is entirely possible, since they are actually found in the region. Sadly, many of the corals were destroyed in the Tsunami of 2004 and it will take decades for them to grow back to their former beauty.
Useful Information: The first boat for either Jolly Buoy or Red Skin Island (also in Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park) leaves at 9:00 am from Wandoor Jetty so make sure you get there before that. (INR 550 to and fro). There are usually three boats leaving one after the other. Needs a permit so its a good idea to make arrangements in advance. The marine park islands are also a plastic free zone, so carry water in flasks or glass bottles. However, you won’t really be needing it since sweet, refreshing coconut water is available in plenty.
A short snorkelling session or a ride in a glass bottomed boat is included. I’d recommend the snorkelling, you can do a longer session if you pay extra there. Its worth it!
3. Havelock Island:
With white sand beaches and a sea that is azure, turquoise and every shade in between, Havelock is made for beach bums, island lovers and diving enthusiasts.
Reaching Havelock: The quickest way to reach Havelock is the Pawan Hans Helicopter service from Port Blair. It costs INR 1500 and takes about 15 minutes. On the way back you can take the Makruzz since flying is not permitted for 24 hours after diving. It cost us INR 1075 per person and took and hour and a half. The Makruzz travels to Port Blair via Neill Island.
However, despite the spectacular views (see above) and the fact that you can reach Havelock in 15 minutes, the helicopter can be rather loud, smelly (the fuel), uncomfortable and scary (especially for people like me who aren’t overly fond of flying). You also need to keep in mind that the helicopter can accomodate only 500 kg in weight (this includes the nine passengers). You will be weighed WITH your luggage so you can’t cheat by wearing the heavier stuff the way you do on airplanes.
Its still worth it though! You’ll be as fresh as a daisy when you reach Havelock in 15 minutes.
Diving: We dived with Blue Planet Scuba and Eco Diver Scuba. Eco Diver Scuba is PADI Certified and will take you diving off Lighthouse Beach.
Contact Details: Sajan Pulinchery, Eco Diver Scuba. Mobile: +91-95319-12345. Email: email@example.com
INR 4500 per person per dive (about 30-45 odd minutes). Snorkelling with Blue Planet Scuba was INR 2500.
Also most resorts offer diving packages so you might want to check out the ones on offer.
Beach Lazing: Radhanagar Beach (Also known as Beach No. 7). Its a long stretch of lovely white sand.
Useful Information: Open only till 5 pm. You can catch the sunset and then you have to leave.
Other Activities: Elephanta Beach
About 30 minutes by boat from the main jetty. Activities like snorkelling, seawalking, banana boating and jet skiing.
Useful Information: Snorkelling is free (not even remotely as spectacular as on Jolly Buoy Island), the other activities are WAY more fun (especially the banana boat). All INR 600 per person per activity.
Where to Stay?
1. Dolphin Resort on Beach No. 5 (for links and contact details see below). Try getting one of the super deluxe sea facing cottages if you stay here. The view is incredible. (INR 4500 per night) This is the sunrise you’ll get to see.
2. Barefoot Scuba on Radhanagar Beach (for link and contact details see below).
Getting Around the Island:
Rent a bicycle!! (INR 100 per day with a deposit, its all negotiable)
You can also rent a scooter (INR 300 per day with a deposit)
Where to Eat?
Anju Coco near Beach No. 5 (everything was great). They have chocolate momos too! The portion size is better than in Chick Chocolate in Mussoorie.
Wild Orchid (also near Beach No. 5): try the Burmese Fish, the Lobster and the dessert (they used to make a mean apple crumble, but its off the menu now)
Barefoot Brasserie: Beach No. 1 (near the jetty) open for breakfast only till 12 noon.
Hotel Lakshmi: The only place on Beach No. 1 where you’ll get food when everything else is closed. The proprietor Mr. Mandal will make Malabari Porottas with omelettes (chutney and pickle available upon request). The meal cost us INR 60 per person.
Relaxing the Island Way:
Make sure you go for an incredibly relaxing Aroma Therapy Massage at Al-Ameen Traditional Kerala Ayurveda Massage. (INR 1000)
They have centres on Beach Nos. 2, 3 and 5.
Contact: Mr. Jafar on 09933204503; 9476084139. Make sure you call and book an appointment. They are always booked to capacity.
Other Things to do:
Buy the delicious small Island Bananas from Mr. Ghosh at Beach No. 1. He will explain the hallucinogenic properties of the locally grown supari and give you some for free.
Drink lots of tender coconut water.
Look out for these beautiful creatures.
And, as always: Wear Sunscreen.
Sadly, the 6 days we spent there were not even remotely enough to cover everything. Next time I intend to visit the biosphere reserves, the limestone caves, mangroves and mud volcanoes at Bara Tang, the active volcano on Barren Island and watch the Olive Ridley turtles nesting at Diglipur. I also missed diving off Neil Island and surfing in Little Andaman.
The Andaman Islands are the perfect getaway for any kind of traveller. Whether you are a nature lover or a history buff or someone who wants to hike or bike your way through a place, eating and drinking along the way or someone who just want to dive and snorkel or even simply laze about on the beach, these islands were made for you. I can’t wait to go back!
For more information: