insulaphilia (n): a love of islands
Even as we approached the Port Blair airport, I fell in love with the serene blue waters, stroked with sea-green as if painted in oil by a dry brush, skirting the islands scattered in the Bay of Bengal: a canvas stretched as far as the eye could see. A swift calm spread over me, as only one who has been to the sea and drunk it in might relate to. I was here.
As we exited the airport and headed for the hotel, I realised this: Port Blair is not what you’d call a typical village town. The image I had of Andaman being a solitary, cut-off-from-the-world place was quickly replaced by a developing little world where humans and nature coexisted – more than what most places can say about themselves. We rested a bit in our rooms and got ready to knock off the itinerary for the day.
First stop: the cellular jail. If you know anything about history, you know that Andaman is dipped in it. Andaman was an important part of India’s freedom struggle. The cellular jail served as a penitentiary for many a prominent leader of the struggle. Visiting the very cells these leaders were held in takes you back in time and ignites a sense of patriotism in the heart. From the top of the cellular jail, you can also see the lighthouse on the nearby Mount Harriet that is depicted on the backside of the ₹20 note. The light and sound show at the jail explains Andaman’s part in the freedom struggle, a must-watch for any history buff. The visit was followed by a leisurely walk around the town. After doing some window-shopping of local products and clothes, we headed back to the hotel.
What I didn’t realise until the next day is that Andaman, being much further east than Mumbai, has early sunsets and sunrises. 4:30 in the morning saw daylight breaking over the horizon; by 5:30, the day had started in all capacity. It was time to go even further back in history.
A visit to a local museum was followed by a ferry to Ross Island, another island immersed in history. The tiny island, which can be covered by foot in less than two hours, is home to peacocks, rabbits, and deer. The British and Japanese occupation of the place is now only evident through dilapidated churches, abandoned bunkers, and ruins of a cemetery. An unnerving quiet was settled over the place, and you could feel the history around you. A few hours after we returned, night fell. I didn’t know it then, but the next 2 days were going to be the best days of the trip.
The following morning, we checked out of the hotel and left for Havelock, where we’d spend the next 2 days. As the ferry slowed down, the island came into view. A quick ride from the port took us to our accommodations. For those of you who plan on visiting Andaman, the Sea Shell Resort is one of the very best resorts and offers everything from a comfortable stay to a multicontinental cuisine. What’s more, it even has its own beach! A two-minute walk from our villa brought us to the shore, where the tides landed the cool waves on our bare feet. The view was a postcard, with a boat tied to a rock, and trees that looked like they were uprooted, but in reality, were just mangroves whose roots snaked above the waters.
We roamed the property a bit, although only cursorily, and started for Radhanagar beach. Fun fact: this beach has been recognised as the best beach in Asia, and the seventh-best beach in the world, and not for nothing, I might add. The water here is all shades of blue, and some shades of green too. A necklace of sand lies between the sea and the dense growth of trees skirting the beach. We clicked a bunch of pictures and played some volleyball with the locals as the sun set over the now shimmering yellow waters, before returning to the resort.
The next day was scheduled for the Elephant Beach. There are two ways to reach the beach: take a boat or follow a short trek. We chose to follow the trek, and I’m glad we did. The path took us through a thick forest sheltered by trees forming a canopy, the ground covered in dry leaves that made the crunchiest sound as you stepped on them. We were the only ones on the trek at the time, and there was an atmosphere of absolute peace and quiet, disturbed only by the occasional chirping of birds and the buzz of insects.
The beach was, if possible, even more beautiful than the trek. The beach was devoid of humans, the water was bluer, the forest lusher, and the sand sparkled in the sun. Some distance away, a huge tree, bare of any leaves, had fallen, its branches kissing the water. A picture-perfect landscape. We climbed onto the branches and clicked a thousand photos. That’s when we saw in the distance, of course, were elephants coming out of the forest and going into the water for a swim. Never had I seen a sight so beautiful.
As we approached the water to go snorkelling, we saw, and I kid you not, jellyfish washed up on the shore. They must’ve been harmless since no one seemed to care that we stepped on some. Fifteen feet into the water and we could see schools of fish and reefs of coral from the surface of the water— that’s how clear the water was. We could only imagine what we’d see when we went scuba diving the next day.
We weren’t disappointed. As we stepped into the cool water and went below the surface, a silence spread from ear to ear, only broken by the swishing of water as we kicked and swam and made gestures to communicate. The half-hour of silence was one of the best times I’d had in a long time. The incredibly colourful corals, swarms of fish swimming around you, the rock beds and small caves that fish swam through— it was a world apart, and something you need to experience to appreciate.
The last two days went by quickly. A whole day was reserved for the Baratang island in the north of Andaman. The island is home to the Jarawa tribe, one of the oldest human races, largely untouched by modern civilisation. The people of the tribe could be seen running along the roads of the island (this used to be called the human safari, which has now been banned by the government) as we drove to another attraction on the island: the mud volcanoes. As the name suggests, these are little spouts of earth that ooze mud. But the volcanoes and the tribes alone aren’t worth the trip to the island. Fortunately, Baratang has several other tourist spots that make the trip worthwhile. There’s the Parrot Island, the limestone caves, the mangrove creeks, and several beaches and smaller islands, including the Guitar Island. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit most of the places, some of which were closed temporarily, while others we didn’t have time for, due to the massive roadblock that stalled us for several hours.
The last day we reserved for resting, packing, and some shopping of handicrafts and locally made articles to bring home for us and as gifts for others. Early next morning, we left for the airport for our flights. We brought home more than just locally made articles: enough pictures to post on Instagram for two months, a truckload of memories, and some of the sea-side calmness and coolness that we needed as we settled into our busy, boisterous everyday lives.