Monday, January 25, 2016

Amazing Andaman – flashes of unique experiences



     Being an enthusiastic traveler,  IT professional and writer based in Bangaluru, Niyaz K Zubair has visited many places all over the world as part of his profession as well as his adventurous expeditions. He depicts his recent Andaman visit here for the Business line magazine readers.

     It was a long time desire to visit Andamans - discussion were on with my friend Riyas Kottayam for more than 6 years as his sister is settled there. The planning became lively when we shared the travel plan with Safir, Siraj, Raheem bai and later with Navaska. Finally we decided to have a family trip of 6 families (12 adults& 10 kids under the leadership of Riyas bai) to Andamans in Octobar 2015 and booked the flight tickets in early May. The most fantastic part of the trip was the team. 
Andaman and Nicobar islands (ANI) near to the east coast of India and capital Port Blair is connected from Chennai, Vizag and Culcutta through air ways and ship services. Statistics saw that, percentage wise, internationals tourists prefer to visit ANI 2 times than the Indian tourist for holidays. So, many Indians who might have done explorations outside India, might not reach this union territory region in our country. There are two main reasons for this.
(1) It still considered as a forest land or land of uncivilized people.
(2) comparatively high travel expense.
Reality is, these two reasons are merely hiding us from this blissful region in the tourist map.


Niyaz K Zubair

     There are many tempting facts& factors about ANI which will surely prompt to visit ANI again and again. I would like to describe some of them.
In a sense it is a special region in the geographical map of india. It has 572 islands and out of which about 34 are permanently inhabited. There are indigenous people living in these Islands. Some of the Islands in ANI need special permission to enter, that too not permitted for tourist purpose.
There are five indigenous Andamanese groups in these Islands – Jarwas, Onge, Sentinelese, Grate Andamanese and Shompren. Some of them are forager (hunters) groups. All of them are very specific to this region and all of them differ each other in their culture and way of life. At large the interactions and attempt to stream line these groups to the main stream have affected their existence itself.

     Considering the decent cleanliness maintained all throughout the city and other villages, it is very different from other part of India.
It is a land of offspring of freedom fighters who exiled for life from their mother land. Central Jail at Port Blair is an evidence for this historical fact.
Indian subcontinent has 4 major sea coral sites (ANI, Lakswadeep, Gulf of Mannar,Rann of Kutch). As per scientific survey results, ANI boasts of having more than 177+ verities of coral species out of the identified 793 species in the world. Scientists say that, we can find more if we do further explorations in this area. 
Once you wander in ANI, you will become a fan of sea shells, fishes, diving, corals etc. There are many species that we can see without eyes, the diversity of creation by the Great Creator, All Praise to Him!

     Beaches in Andaman are excellent, what I felt is all beach that we visited were different. All of them are clean and lovely. The vastness, beauty, pinch of loneliness, serene view, water clarity with bluish touch etc will always keep these beaches in our minds. Many beaches are shallow and takes distance to go deeper, which helps to play around safely. Your entire family can peacefully enjoy playing in the waves. In low tides, playing beach football was also possible as the sea bed is uniform and horizontal.


     It is a land of nice people. In the modern era, people have reached this Islands from Tamilnadu, Karala, Bengal, Malaysia etc and so it is a mixed community but yet living in harmony.
As we visited ANI in Octobar and end of Octobar being start of tourist season, we had a mixed feeling on the climate. There were heavy rain on the day we reached at Port Blair, but climate was pleasant after that day. Most of the day sky was clear and climate was hot. Islanders say that, normally Andaman climate is unpredictable. But thank God, none of our plans were influenced by bad weather.

     Planning a visit to ANI need two main things to take care. Proper stays and commutations plans across Islands. In tourist seasons (Oct to March), it is very tough to find tickets and overall cost will be high. So preferably better to go just before starting of tourist season like we did (Actually it was not planned intentionally, we realized by chance that we came there at the proper slot)
We will love the lunch here. Simple and ‘fishy’. Food was satisfactory through out.

     In our case, Riyas bai’s brother in law (Habeeb Sir/Machan) was very helpful. He was with us in the planning phase itself and once on the field he was one among us. There are many others who helped, directed and arranged many things for us, like Andaman Rasheed Sahib, Muhammedali Sahib, Brother Hussain, Brother Shameem, Brother Zaid etc. During travel to an unknown place, directions and even small helps are felt to be of great relief; which eases our movement in the unknown land. The pleasant interactions and responsibility all of them taken their own were noteworthy and many times helped us to learn lessons from them too. That part was a different experience in this trip.

     I had earlier contacts with Rasheed Sahib, couple of years ago and he was teacher of Navas bai’s wife, which resulted to have more interactions with him. He received us at Vir Savarkar Airport- Port Blair (take off from Chennai) and headed towards IGC were we took rest and waited for the second batch to land. Machan also reached there to escort us to his home at Wimberly Gunj. 
Wandering in Andamanas:

     Day One: Landing at Port Blair. After the first day’s experience of travelling in ferryboat (means Jangar) and visiting the small dam in Wimberly Gunj, we stayed at Wimberly Gunj. Our group size (22 members) was so huge that we stayed at different houses that night, but Machan could do it with the help of his friends around Wimberly Gunj.

     Day Two: We started to Havelock Island from Pheonix Jetty at 8.30AM. Considering the risk in grabbing 20+ tickets in Government ferry, we had booked the Makruzz (catamaran passenger ferry built by Damen Shipyard, Singapore - http://www.makruzz.com/ ) tickets 10 days before the travel date. It is a nice journey of one and half hours from Port Blair. We had opted AC Deluxe class and the seating was on the upper deck. At sea we will surely enjoy the vastness and the wilderness of bluish water around and the long stripes of small islands on the way.


     The first thing that we notice after landing at Havelock Island was the clear water and every one were thrilled to get in to water as we couldn’t do it on first day and the sun was hot. Mr.Hussain who is a forest officer helped us to hire a Tempo traveler and we went directly to our hotel. Our immediate destination was Kalapathar beach, which is 5Km away. Beach was calm and quiet, most of us went in to water in the first chance. Even young kids really enjoyed their first experience. 
The view of the soft sanded shore touching the placid sea with the wonderful rainy clouds at the sky was an overwhelming scene, frankly the overall caricature was first in life time. You can’t see it at the normal beaches in the mainland.

     After spending around one and half hours, we headed towards Radha Nagar beach (Beach number 7, in the western coast). On the way all of us had a nice fish curry meals. Radha Nagar beach was a long time waiting surprise in the Andaman trip. In 2004, Time magazine named this beach the as the best beach in Asia. We spend around two hours in water and it was a wonderful time jumping with the wave’s movements, trying various tricks etc. Beach is shallow for a long distance which helps even toddlers to engage in their small activities in water. Coast guards are active in this beach and by the time of sunset they ensure everyone come out of water.

     Day Three: We had scheduled to stay for two days at Havelock, but hadn’t planned much for second day. We were discussing about going for Scuba diving or snorkeling, but cost of this activity was a repelling factor. Discussions with Mr.Hussain helped to identify one diving spot where we could it for 2500 per person. From us; 6 men, 5 women and 1 teenager went for diving! It was another distinct experience in life.

     Training ourselves to breathe through the regulated mouth cup was the most interesting and initial scary part of this activity. But all of us managed to do the scuba diving finally. By the time we all completed diving in three batches, it was evening and so we couldn’t go to Elephanta beach. There was no difference of opinion that we all decided to go once again to Radha Nagar beach. There is a small forest area near the beach, we all wandered through and then went on to beach. Walking on the vast sandy beach watching the tides and longing for a dip; it was awesome. The pattern made by Sand bubbler crabs is a surprise which occupied the whole beach. Frankly, it is a fabulous experience at the Radhanagar beach and the only worry was is it going to have sunset soon. The design at the sky for the sun set is magical and unique. We played a decent football match at the beach before leaving.
Mr.Hussain had arranged dinner at Forest guest house which is near to the Forest beach. It is on the way to Kalapathar beach. This beach is also decent and good for a visit. We had some group games while waiting for the dinner.


     Day Four: Our next destination is Neil Island. Breakfast was arranged at the same Forest guest house and we all spend some meaningful photo sessions in the lawns and walkways in the guest house. As this area is facing the sea, it was a good time. We boarded Makruz and headed towards Neil Island. Saying farewell to Mr.Hussain and Havelock was nostalgic.

     Comparatively less people reach Neil Island, but it is a small and beautiful one. The view itself as we approach the jetty from Makruz is amazing. The blue color sea water, the stranded leaf less trees near the sea shore and the 180 degree view of sea shore added to the beauty. This is one of the main coral site of Andaman and the peculiarity here is you can see the coral with your eyes and feel them with your eyes. The stay at Hotel Tango was nice and it is very near to sea shore.

     We first went to Bharathpur beach, where water is shallow. As I time goes with low tide, we can see sea exposing the corals! The areas near to the sea shore are not that crowded with corals that we can walk along and play in water. We took a chance and walk along to see and feel them. Clams and other corals are plenty here. Just before leaving the beach we played football.


     Next we went to the visit Natural Bridge. This was another surprise for us. It is a beach side with special rocks. The initial part was small specially formed monolithic rock structure, but on the ground and walkable. This is vast and home to so many species of creatures. Moving to the left side there were small natural ponds and through their side we can walk along. We observed many special sea creatures live (clams, anchovies, sea horse, crocodile needle fish, mud spiny lobster, mud crab etc). Many other types, we couldn’t identify. The ambience of the place was special and the natural bridge in the Howra bridge shape was extraordinary.

     Our next destination was Laxmipur beach which is near to our hotel. And there is cape where we can watch the sun set. We were just on time to get a glimpse of it. Again here the after sunset scenery here is supernatural. Sand here is good that our kids could spend meaningful time with their sand work trials. We had a get together at night where we could know each other in depth.

     Day Five:  Some of went on for a morning walk on the sea shore till Bharatpur beach and we bought breakfast from the village hotel. The market and spaces around were calm though significant crowd was moving along. We are going to return to the Port Blair today, as we move along, it is difficult to leave the good time back.

     We reached Port blair by 1PM and dumped out luggage at hotel room. We didn’t want to waste our time and so we went to visit Cellular Jail. It’s on hill and down there is Marina Park. It is a decent one to keep kids engaged. There is a water complex near to this park. By evening we reached Abadeen Bazar and has dinner there.

     Day Six: We started our early morning journey to Baratang Island through Great Andaman Truck Road. The journey through the forest is good experience, but we couldn’t spot any Jarawa, though normally people see. After reaching Middle strait Jetty, we have to take jetty service to move to the Middle Andaman. Baratang the entry to middle Andaman and there is a forest office from where we need to get permission for boat ride to Lime stone cave site. We packed in two boats and the journey in open boat was nice. Lots of mangroves around and serene water through out. The boat took a peaceful left turn inside the mangroves through the small water ways which lead to a small jetty. Limestone caves are very rare in India. We need to walk some distance to reach Lime stone cave. It is dark inside, but the boat driver had a torch and showed us the patterns and differences in colors because of presence of water in some areas.

     On the way back, we went to WimberlyGung once again. Went to see Machan and Rasheed sahib once again. It was second day treat for us at Machan’s home. 

     Day Seven: We visited Samidrika Marine Museum (An eye opener for most us, which gave clarity on types fishes, corals and other marine life of Andaman), Anthropological Museum (good portraits of indigenous tribal communities and the Andaman history) and Aquarium near Marina Park. Once you complete these three, we value the exceptionality of Andaman. It’s history, marine life and culture lays down a good feeling for your life. It has only natural stuff to tell you, which soothes your mind. Then we had a dip at Corbyns Cove beach. This is the beach nearest to Port Blair. After that we went to Chidiya Tapu to see sunset there. The journey and location are very nice. On return we visited the planetarium too.

     Day Eight: This day was dedicated for Rose Island, a small beautiful Island which saved Port Blair from Tsunami in 2005. The lawn, the old buildings, deers and peacocks and the bottom view beach are specialties of this Island. This is at a 15 minutes distance from the Aberdeen Jetty in Port Blair. After this we had a surprise lunch from Syndicate Mess. It is a mess by Tamilians near the Syndicate Bank. This was the best meal we had all throughout our trip. We went to Gandhi Park after lunch. It is well maintained beatuful park. Our kids enjoyed much there.
Day Nine: We did some purchase from Sagarika and Aberdeen Bazar before leaving to Main Land (Chennai) by flight.


     Left Overs: There are many left overs in this trip. To name a few – Jollyboy Island (wonderful coral visiting side) Barren Island (Has active volcano), Chowra Island (Land of Nicobarese tribs, famous for pig festival), Katchal Island (it is beautiful Island), Little Andaman (10 hour ship journey from Port Blair, this is home to Onge aboriginal tribes. Other settlers also live here), Rutland Island, North Sentinel Island (Around 400 members of Sentinelese tribe live here), Strait Island (Great Andamanese People live here). Many of these places can’t entered for a normal person as it is reserved for indigenous tribal community there.

     That 11 day journey was splendid: good bonding and understanding among the group mates (thanks to all), amazing experiences throughout, lots of new things and learnings and nature always showed how vast and wide it is. This is one of the rare trips were there was a considerable left over even after spending ten days. Hopefully I will explore those left overs some time in future. Thanks GOD for a amazing vacation with amazing families…

20 comments:

  1. Excellent travelogue. Will try once this destination

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your excellent description got ANI into my bucket list...with informative and inspiring style. Thanks for putting your heart down on screen.

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  3. Niyaz Bhai....nice one....Afsal Chennai

    ReplyDelete
  4. Niyaz Bhai....nice one....Afsal Chennai

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good travelogue, and nice photography. Particularly liked how you captured sunrise

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. more pictures at www.niyazkzubair.blogspot.in

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