This magical land has hidden gems that distinguish it from usual tourist hotspots, says Amit Sengupta
Andamans looks like a piece of beads strung together in the Bay of Bengal, straight out of a dream set. It is flanked by the beautiful and mesmerizing North and South Andaman Islands, and stretches till the Nicobar group of islands in the south. Consisting of about 556 islets, this magical land hosts some remarkable hidden gems that are far away from the usual touristy hotspots. There are some of these, which are equally, if not less, appealing and scenic than the usually known places such as Havelock and Neil Islands.
My journey to the islands was intended to be different and a bit daring, so to say. It was a solo backpacking trip, the weather was not conducive, and I would say there was never a single moment I regret being all alone. You can easily fly to Andamans from any city through Chennai or Kolkata (which is usually a two-hour journey). International travelers and tourists would, however, need to have a permit to enter the islands, which can be comfortably availed from the authorities upon arrival. So here’s my ultimate itinerary for you to plunge into the deep blue waters and virgin islands of Andamans and make a solo backpacking trip yourself.
Long Island and Guitar Island
A tiny piece of natural wonder tucked away off the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans, Guitar Island has a crystal clear white sandy beach that you can have all for yourself. It is not inhabited by human population except for a few boats cruising and circumnavigating it for fishing. The entire beach is yours, just you, the sand, and the sea. Where else on earth can I find such a place, I wondered. But why this name, I asked curiously. “Its aerial view is in the shape of a guitar and hence its name,” says the forest department official who accompanied me to the island.
These officials braved the monsoons to bring me here to witness its breathtaking beauty. Located off the Long Island, Guitar Island has a picturesque and exotic aura that spells a magical charm. Another spectacular beach you should visit is Lalaji Bay Beach, which is a perfect hotspot for beach combing, swimming and nature photography. It is situated on the northeast coast of Long Island and one would need a country boat (a ride of 45 minutes from Long Island jetty) to reach here. You can reach Long Island by boarding one of the Andaman and Nicobar Administration operated ships from Port Blair. It would roughly take four to five hours (and about Rs600-700) to reach Long Island from Port Blair by ship (via Havelock/Strait Island). This place is off a touristy itinerary and quite understandably, there are very few staying options on this island. I stayed for a night at the Vanashree, the Forest Guest House (make sure you book it in advance). There is also a privately owned resort on this Island. The Forest Guest House has four basic airy rooms, a manicured garden, sandalwood trees and a view of the sea. You can get the most amazing fish fry here, which I had during my stay. The staff is congenial, courteous and would give you your choice of the meal on time.
I requested for a dinghy to make a quick trip to Guitar Island. It was made albeit with a hovering overcast. After a brief 15-minute drive, our boat anchored on the coast and I got off to set my footprint on the secluded and unbelievably quiet beach. Lots of sea creatures, sand crabs, hermit crabs, shells came through to the beach and I hurriedly captured them on my lens. One has to be really fast to photograph them; one blink of an eye and they are gone, immersed beneath their sandy holes.
In the meantime, the overcast sky took a more threatening avatar. It continued to grow darker and darker. Fortunately, as a matter of precaution and to protect my camera, I had brought an umbrella. We moored back our boat after spending some time on the beach, chased the clouds and breezed past the choppy waves to reach Long Island.
Rangat in Middle Andaman
I got myself a boat ride of about an hour from Long Island (departed at 7 am) and reached Yerrata Creek near Rangat journeying through some of the most beautiful, calm and pristine mangrove creeks. At the other side (Yerrata Creek near Rangat), my vehicle was ready to pick me up for my journey. I had breakfast on the way at Rangat (this is a bustling hub and you can find local shops and restaurants in the market. The Andaman Tourism department has its own guest house, Hawksbill Nest, which offers a comfortable stay with local delicacies.
Rangat is blessed with a few remarkable eco-tourism spots such as Aamkunj Beach, Morice Dera Beach and Dhani Nallah Mangrove Walkway. On my way, I first stopped at Aamkunj beach (8 km from Rangat) which is a long, sandy and patchy stretch interspersed with pebbles. You can enjoy watching the waves, or sit quietly for some time at the eco-friendly benches such as log sofas and log teapoys. Next was Morice Dera beach (12 km from Rangat) which has been developed by the tourism and forest department as an eco-tourism hotspot. It has unique twin rock formations right on the beach where you can walk along the ridges through a pathway. But the most exciting part was the 700-metre Mangrove walkway at Dhani Nallah. It is an exemplary display of mangrove conservation efforts by the Andaman and Nicobar administration. The walkway takes you through the rich biodiversity of mangroves, palm trees, breathing roots, and Hathi Kaan orchids. The walkway leads to a pretty long and exciting beach called the Dhani Nallah beach. It is a vast expanse of sand stretching from Curtbert Bay at one hand to as far as my eyes could go on the other hand.
Ross & Smith Islands in North Andaman
A boat ride of almost 15-30 minutes from Aerial Bay jetty in Diglipur (North Andaman) brings you to the exquisite Ross and Smith Islands in North Andaman. The administration has maintained some remarkable eco-tourism initiatives in Smith Island. These are bare minimum, given that the duo islands are yet to take off in the national and international tourism circuit as a popular tourist destination. But I felt these were adequate — there were about 10-15 thatched huts, sitting arena, adequate hygiene facilities, changing room, a couple of swings set romantically amidst coconut trees, and beach reclining chairs. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was unexpectedly calm. The waters in the eastern side were still and peaceful as if it’s a swimming pool. When you are here, take advice from the forest and tourism officials if you want to swim across its beaches.
Ross and Smith Islands are perfect for witnessing the sunrise, beach combing and sunbathing. You can walk across the sandy stretch connecting the duo islands during low tide.
Hutbay in Little Andaman Island
Get yourself a chopper ticket from the State-run Pawan Hans Limited inter-island chopper services to fly from Port Blair to Hutbay. A ticket for Hutbay would cost you Rs2,625 and you can comfortably reach there in 45 minutes. However, there are daily ships from Port Blair that will take five to eight hours depending on their speed. Hutbay boasts of hosting the best surfing destination in India. It’s not an exaggeration and when you visit this isle, you would believe that. Located in Little Andamans, Hutbay hosts the longest beach of Andaman and Nicobar Group of Islands — 22-km stretch — from Netaji Nagar at one end till Butler Bay beach at the other hand via Kalapathar.
The Butler Bay beach, which is gaining popularity among domestic and international surfers for its exquisite sea surfing waves, is teemed with activities during winter and summer. A host of private resorts flanking Netaji Nagar offer surf boards on rent, however do check with them prior to arrival. There needs to be adequate infrastructure facilities on this beach but you would be mesmerised by the golden sandy stretch here. If you are not a surfer, you can go for snorkeling, sun bathing, or boating amidst the clear waters.
Surf waterfall in Little Andamans
Once you have had your fill from the sea and the sand, you can head to a nearby waterfall which is the only surf waterfall in Andamans. It is located inside a forest and would require you to make a short jungle trek of 10 minutes from the main gate passing through some creeks. There is an entry fee of Rs20 per person and a vehicle charge of Rs20. Andaman’s only waterfall, tucked away inside the verdant and thick rainforests, beckons you. The sight of this bewitching 20-metre pristine waterfall will surely enthrall you. You can also take a dip beneath its crystal clear waters, surrounded by bamboo and banana plantation.
While on your trip to Little Andaman, you can stay at one of the private eco-resorts at Hutbay or the Government-owned APWD guest house. Room tariffs at the private resorts start from extremely reasonable Rs400 per night, while the APWD guest house (which can be booked through the Directorate of Tourism) charges about Rs500 per bed per night. Most of these private resorts also offer two-wheelers to tourists for sightseeing at Rs300 per day. There aren’t any luxury or high end resorts in Hutbay yet.