Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Andaman & Nicobar

Andaman & Nicobar Islands  is a group of over  572 Islands, 36 of which are inhabited. They are nearer to Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand than to the Indian mainland. Andaman group is separated from Nicobar by 10 degree channel. Tourists are allowed only in Andaman group of islands and not on Nicobar islands. Andaman & Nicobar is famous for Cellular jail also known as Kalapani. It was the only Indian territory occupied by Japanese forces for 3 years from 1942 to 1945. Andaman & Nicobar faced fury of nature in the form of Tsunami in 2004. Andaman has people from many ethnic origins due to the way it has been seen the influx of people over last couple of centuries and is now a pluralistic society. Here is a little map of Andaman & Nicobar.

Andaman & Nicobar is place which has been in our conscience as one of the two island clusters in India apart from Lakshadweep. I am sure through our growing up Indian students have heard about Andaman & Nicobar several times in Geography class due to its distinctive location and in History due to part it played in India's freedom struggle. For me, I heard about it even more as my parents have lived in Andamans. My father was posted there due to his Central govt job. I was fascinated by stories of how they would sail from Kolkata arriving at least two days earlier in city to report for the sailing ship and then spend three days at sea. My father has rare distinction of not just living in Andamans but even Nicobar. He was posted in Great Nicobar for almost an year which is still out of bounds even for Indians. He even flew once from Port Blair to Kolkata via Rangoon. This used to be one boasting point about exploits of our parents in childhood. 

Being a traveller myself, Andamans was always on the list of places to be visited. The opportunity finally came when my sister's husband who is in Army got posted to Port Blair. We immediately made plans to visit Andamans in January 2016. Even though going to Andamans would be fascinating by ship but it consumes three days and with wife & kid it may not be a great idea due to us land dwellers. So, we booked air tickets much in advance. Route was Pune - Chennai - Port Blair with long layover in Chennai to & fro. Due to limited flights to Andamans, the tickets prices are comparable with going to Thailand let's say and many people opt for South East Asian countries than Andamans as those are much more developed and attractive for leisure tourists. However, there is no dearth of tourism in Andaman due to first of course it being exotic destination but also due to the fact that Andaman is most distant destination in India to avail 4 year LTC allowance that government servants get. So, its a LTC tourist destination!

Most of the planning with local tour operator and arrangements were carried out by my sister so it was a relief. We had total nine days which we wanted to utilized to the fullest and my god we did!

21/22nd Jan - Pune - Chennai - Port Blair

We left Pune by Indigo with a late night flight for an early morning departure from Chennai to Port Blair. We reached Chennai by 12 midnight. There are Retiring Rooms available in Chennai airport and is easily given to people traveling to Port Blair on connecting flights. Thankfully, it was available (Rs. 1500/night) and we had a little rest. The Air India flight was at 5:50AM and we were in Port Blair by 8AM. Most of the time flight was above clouds but on descent everyone started looking out for islands and there were some visible.

We went straight to our guest house in A&N command campus. After lunch at my sister's place, we went for first tour of the trip. We first went to Corbyn's cove which is a beautiful crescent shaped beach within Port Blair. The water was clean and blue and light perfect to try my photography with newly purchased DSLR. The beach was well maintained with a promenade high above water line with benches, a lifeguard tower and a restaurant. There were some water sports facilities like scooter which I tried. There is a small rocky island a little inside the water which our driver told is frequented by sea snakes so it is also called as Snake island. From there we went to most prominent attraction of the island which is Cellular jail. The road from Corbyn's to Cellular jail hugs the coast and gives magnificent views of the sea.

Corbyn's Cove beach

Corbyn's cove beach

 Afternoon siesta
Water sports
I am sure every Indian must have heard of Cellular jail or Kala Pani as it is known in folklore where hardened freedom fighters were sent for life sentence to keep them away from mainland. It is an epitome of atrocities carried out by British on Indian freedom fighters. Its most famous occupant was Veer Savarkar who spent around 10 years in the jail. The airport at Port Blair is named after him. The history of Cellular jail is well documented so would not go into that. What remains of the jail are three wings, others are destroyed. They all radiate from a central tower which is still there. Walking in the corridors is a reminder of what hopeless situation the interns must have faced. Cramped quarters with very little ventilation, not able to watch other prisoners, hot & humid weather of Andaman and back breaking work of grinding coconut oil, punishments and gallows which are just beside the building. There are models displayed of all the punishments meted out to interns inside the jail. The light & sound show in the evening which starts only around sunset presents the history of the jail quite well. The iconic image of this show is lighting of three-storied barracks of the building in tri-color. Veer Savarkar's cell is prominently marked situated at the end of corridor with his photo and utensils that he used still preserved. We climbed the tower and walked on the terrace of the building for panoramic view of city and sea around. In front of Cellular jail is Freedom park which has statues of famous inmates of the jail including Veer Savarkar.

Cellular Jail entrance

Shaheed Park in front of Cellular Jail

Cellular Jail barracks

Corridor inside Cellular Jail

Cellular Jail precincts

Here we were joined by my sister's family. We first went to the market, collected some refreshments and went to the Marina for a walk in the evening cool breeze. The marina is very well developed with promenades over water and lighted by white lamps which is a sight to behold in the dark night.

Ross island as seen from Cellular Jail

Marina in the night

23nd Jan - North Bay tour

Today we went to what is known as Three Island tour which includes Ross island, Viper island and North Bay which is actually tip of the bay which comes quite a distance inside and around which Port Blair and other small habitations are located. North Bay has the lighthouse which is depicted at the back of Rs 20 note. This is a fact which you will hear many times during the visit. Viper island was out of bounds for at this time by authorities so we could not visit it. It is a small island famous for chain-gangs (prisoners tied together in chains) and for gallows in a small dome topped building. My parents have a small, old, black & white picture of having picnic on this island. Now I could relate to where it was. The ferry starts from Junglighat jetty which is a little inside the bay and sails its way around Port Blair to come to North Bay giving ample views of activities happening around. There were vessels of Coast Guard & Navy to look at, Viper & Chatham islands, jetty with docked ships and criss-crossing boats. This reminded me of bay around Fort Kochi which is equally busy. 
Junglighat jetty

Coast Guard ships
It is mandatory to wear life-jackets in the boat and observed through the tour that safety standards were being followed. There was an accident in 2014 after which it has been made stricter. After an hour, we landed at North Bay beach. 
North Bay Lighthouse

North bay
It has three water sports option - glass bottom boat, scuba diving and under sea-walk. North bay has good amount of coral reef under its waters. We first went in glass bottom boat which was glimpse of coral life. We could spot few corals and some fishes but nothing great in my personal opinion. The glass bottom is not for the full bottom but only a limited length with not very clear glass and one has to bend a lot to look and keep shade by holding a cover which was not very comfortable. We came to the shore and decided to go for under sea walk as we had planned to do scuba diving later in the trip. The under sea-walk was decent around 15 minutes inside, 20-feet deep, spotting some colorful fishes and mandatory photos. We had quick lunch at one of the shacks there. From there we went to Ross Island and did not expect what was in store. The under-sea walk was provided by Sea Link adventures. After coming back from trip we found that the CD given to us did not have our photos but on sending them the details they promptly emailed the photos to us. 

Ross Island has illustrious history and interesting geography. It is within swimmable distance from main Port Blair. It was headquarters & residential colony of British government at the beginning of their occupation in Andamans. The island was built up in British-style with all the amenities like resident quarters, tennis-court, swimming pool, market and even a bakery. After British moved to main Port Blair, the islands flora & fauna grew to overtake the built up structures. Now we see all those structures turned to ruins grown over by banyan trees and lots of fauna like deer, rabbits, peacocks who live and freely roam around on the island not deterred by humans visiting them. The tourists who come to Ross freely interacted with the deers and peacocks here. Ross island is open only for day travel and in the evening entire staff also returns back to Port Blair. We had a quick walk around the island but not enough to explore it fully.

Ross Island
Deer and Peacocks freely roam around on island
Ruined buildings on Ross Island

Structure overtaken by growth

We would later return to it for Light & Sound show about which a little later. Ross island is now maintained by Navy and is a charming, rich historical place. In the evening we went to an annual recreational event of the defences forces stationed there. Andaman & Nicobar is the only place in India where Army, Navy, Air Force & Coast Guard is under joint command headed by a Naval person known as A&N command. The command is becoming strategic due to its proximity to Malacca strait which is one of the busy shipping route.

24th Jan - Port Blair -> Havelock

Today we were destined for Havelock. We were booked on a fast-cruise boat run by a private company Makruzz. Its an air-conditioned cruise boat seating passengers in three different classes. The boat leaves from Phoenix jetty which has a number of new & old, ships berthed undergoing maintenance. While we had time to board the boat, I just roamed in the other side of port and admired the voyages these forlorn boats must have taken. What kind of adventures and activities these boats would have seen. Sea-faring is such an old traditional activity full of fables of adventure that watching an old ship is fascinating. One of the reasons probably cause they go to places which are unseen and mysterious. Flying which has come up only in last century doesn't have that much of history but then there is no life up there. Even flights when they crash land up in sea :)
Makruzz boat
Inside Makruzz
At the Makruzz counter we were given airline like boarding passes and large luggage was checked-in just like airlines but this was carried in hand-carts by porters. Finally, we got the go ahead to board the boat. Inside it was like an air-conditioned bus, just a little wide. There were sea-hostesses and snacks shop as well. Soon we were were on our way and ride was like a Volvo bus ride. The sea was not rough but enough to cause vomiting for some folks. The attendants stood in front of seating to hand-out vomit bags to whoever wanted. It is an hour and half ride to Havelock. 
Havelock island jetty
There we were received by another person who coordinated with our tour operator in Port Blair. We even carried his payment with us given by our tour operator! The life on these islands are centred around the jetty and island comes alive by arrival of a ship. We were immediately transferred to our hotel Gold India beach resort. It is on sea shore and while climbing first floor to our room, had a glimpse of tantalising turquoise blue, aqua marine water and white sandy beach.
Hotel by the sea
There are only a couple of things people do in Havelock, first being scuba-diving and other sight-seeing various beaches. The beaches are Kala Pathar (Black Stone) beach, Radha Nagar beach which are accessible by road and Elephant beach which is accessible by 20-minute boat ride. Havelock has Goa like atmosphere with foreign & indian tourists alike, good hotels and restaurants, attractive beaches and water sports. We did not do scuba and neither visited Elephant beach as we were here only for a day. It is better to spend at least 2 days here to experience everything.

We went to Kala Pathar beach first which was amazingly beautiful. The sun was high and it was brightly lit but not very hot due to breeze. The water had all the hues and shades of turquoise, blue, green and everything in between. We went up and down the stretch. The beach is not wide and is lined with mangroves and trees beyond. While walking if we felt, we could quickly get into the shade of the trees. At some places, uprooted trees were lying on the beach lending themselves to be beautiful props to sit or be photographed. At the other end, there were some rocks which we climbed and had a nice deep view of the sea. Near the entry point of beach were couple of hammocks put up by local shops selling coconut water. I wished if we could stay there for the whole day lying in hammock admiring the waters and reading a book with shops supplying coconut water. Wow, what experience would that be. But alas, we tourists are always short of time and have to leave to visit other places too. 
Turquoise blue green sea 
Mangroves beside the beach

Tree brach jutting out to sea

On a journey 
For lunch we went to Andaman bubbles which was recommended by sister apart from Anju's coco where we went for dinner. The food was great and had nice setting. Seating on cushions on ground and walls adorned with old photographs of Andamans. 
Old photos of Andaman
After resting for some time in the hotel, we went to famous Radha Nagar beach. If Kala Pathar was narrow beach, this was a wide expanse. One could easily spend hours in solitude walking the beach without being disturbed. Here we did enter the waters and bathed for quite some time. There was a cloak room in a shack and changing rooms available for convenience. Sunset was great though it happened in clouds but the shimmering amber on water was beautiful. At the exit there were lots of small shops which sprung up selling tea and refreshments. 
Radha Nagar beach

Radha Nagar beach

Sunset @ Radha Nagar beach
For the dinner, we went to Anju's coco which is probably the most famous & lively and good ambience restaurant in Havelock. They have Indian, continental and other varieties. We had a combo of rice and Red-Snapper which is the staple fish here with some cocktails. That ended the day for us.

25th Jan - Havelock -> Neil Island

Today we were to go to Neil island again by same Makruzz cruise. We came to Havelock jetty but incoming boat was delayed. The boat does a full round of Port Blair - Havelock - Neil Island - Port Blair everyday. Here we didn't get any boarding pass, just a show of printed ticket. While we waited, I ventured into the town to have a glimpse of local life. Just a little away from jetty a boat was getting unloaded with night's catch of Red-snapper fish. 
Catch of Red-Snapper fish in Havelock
We were having refreshing coconut water and spotted our boat approaching very far. Finally after 20 minutes the boat docked and we were off to Neil. 

Neil is a smaller island around 6x4 km. Attractions here are well again beaches all named on Ramayana idols - Ramnagar, Bharatpur, Lakshmanpur and Sitapur beach. 
Welcome to Neil Island
Not sure where the naming came from. Ramnagar was just a little walk away from our hotel which we visited. 
Windswept trees at Ramnagar beach

Ramnagar beach

Symbolic image of these islands
Then we went to Coral point which has open-air coral rocks due to low water level. Saw the famous brain coral over there. This place is strewn with beautiful dead-corals which are washed up to the beach and one is tempted to pick them up as souvenir but beware that it is a crime to take the corals away from the island! 
Brain coral
Lakshmanpur beach is more prominent and has a natural bridge formation which is basically an arch of rocks with passage underneath. I would rather call it a tunnel than a bridge as one can pass through that arch. Here also the coral rocks were much closer so on low tide, there are pools of water created where we can admire the coral life in leisure. There were colorful fishes, sea cucumber, star fishes and different types of corals visible in those pools. We walked past natural bridge and there was another such formation more like a hole in the hill but quite far to walk. 
Natural Bridge

Another hole in wall

Rocky expanse on Lkshmanpur beach

Beautiful coral(?)
Natural bridge from another view

Some beautiful organism

Fish and corals in a pool
Neil is much smaller and so has much less options in terms of restaurants so we had lunch, dinner at the hotel itself. That ended the day for us in Neil.

26th Jan - Neil Island -> Port Blair

Today we were to go back to Port Blair but had time in the morning. The weather had changed over night. It became cloudy, dark and windy but we still visited Sitapur beach in the morning. The dark cloud, high wind and rough sea gave us a glimpse of how monsoon would be in these islands. 
Monsoon like atmosphere on Neil

Monsoon like rain on Neil
We came to Neil jetty which is on Bharatpur beach. For breakfast, our driver took us to Port Management's canteen which opens early. Since we had time, we went on an exclusive glass bottom boat ride to see the corals around and also into the mangroves. This time we lied down on the glass bottom and covered eyes to see the coral life but it was again an average fair. Only once we had a wow moment when we saw a a group of sardines swimming together. While in mangroves we climbed onto one of them for photo op and we came back to the beach. 
Our boat

Bharatpur beach with Neil jetty in distance

Bharatpur beach

Inside Mangroves
The ride back in the Makruzz was a little wobbly due to weather but now we were kind of used to it. It took another hour and half to come back to Port Blair. We rested in the afternoon and in the evening went to Wandoor beach with my sister's family. By the time we reached, it was already getting dark due to clouds. We just hung around at the beach for some time and had tea & snacks at Hotel Sea Princess which is a good resort on the Wandoor beach. 
Wandoor beach
For dinner we went to Sinclair's hotel which one of the famous hotels in Port Blair on the edge of sea. From its viewing point, we could see dark sea occasionally lit by revolving light of North bay light house. 

27th Jan - Port Blair City Tour

Today we were to visit only Port Blair attractions. First we went to Samudrika museum which has good exhibits maintained by Navy. Exhibits includes Andaman history, marine life and a blue whale skeleton. The souvenir shop has good collection of items and we bought some. From there we went to Anthropological museum which has exhibits about tribal culture in Andaman & Nicobar. The museum was decent. From there we went to see Chatham saw mill. This is a wood processing unit situated on whole island connected to Port Blair by a bridge. This is a quite old unit still in function setup by British. The guide took us through whole mill stocked with wood and cutting in progress. There is a room full of decorative items created using various type of wood available in Andaman. Another attraction here is a big crater in ground made by Japanese bombing in 1945. 
Chatham Saw Mill

Inside the shop floor

From here we went to see an govt run Aquarium which had again marine life on display. For lunch we went to a restaurant called Blue sea which has a good vegetarian south indian thali recommended by sister. While criss-crossing the city, we also passed through Aberdeen bazar clock tower (Ghanta Ghar).
Aberdeen Bazar Clock Tower
After this we went to Chidiya Tapu which is a picturesque location around 30 km from Port Blair. Here there is a beach called Munda Pahar which is a small hill ridge and end point of South Andaman Island. There is an easy 30 minutes trek through the forest to climb up the ridge to get a panoramic view of sea, shore and islands around. There is a light house also at the top and hut for seating. We were glad to walk up which constituted a trek in this trip. For trekkers there is a trek to Mount Harriet near Port Blair but it was not on the plan. We came down to the beach and played in water for some time. At 5:30 the beach closes and warden makes sure that everyone is out. 
Trek on Munda Pahar

Looking south from Munda Pahar

Munda Pahar view

Munda Pahar view

Chidiya Tapu beach

For dinner we went to Sea Shell rooftop restaurant which is a hang out place in Port Blair. We had a nice family evening there with drinks and finger food.

28th Jan - Port Blair -> Diglipur

Today was start of another big trip out of Port Blair to Middle & North Andaman. 

A little about anthropology of the islands here. Andaman & Nicobar islands are inhabited by various tribes which flourished untouched by rest of the world till British reached there and setup major initial settlement in 1858. A number of tribes have been decimated by diseases or killed by British and outsiders. A few are are left like - Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, Nicobarese, Shompen and Sentinelese. Out of these Jarawa are most well know. They are known due to their presence across Andaman islands and eventful history of their contacts, sometimes conflicting with the occupants of Andaman. Some of the tribes like Nicobarese have embraced the modern lifestyle and Sentinelese are completely isolated due to them being restricted to an island. Jarawas till 1997 were hostile to outsiders and would attack them but an incident where outsiders saved one of their boy, healed him and sent him back gained enormous trust among Jarawas and they started coming out to villages and roads and are assimilating with outside world. But government itself seem to be clueless how to handle such a delicate situation. Interested people can read about the Jarawas on the internet or read the book called "The Land of Naked People" which I plan to read on the anthropology of Andaman. 

Andaman Trunk was built in the 70s from Port Blair all the way to Diglipur some 250km away, single lane road criss-crossing the forests of South, Middle and North Andaman well within the territory of Jarawas. Since Jarawas started coming to main stream, their exploitation also started. In early 2010s, there were controversies surrounding local tour operators conducting human safaris i.e. taking tourists to see Jarawa people and coercing them to perform like dance. More about it here. Once this scandal broke out tighter measures have been put up to protect Jarawas. These people are aboriginals living in these islands for past 50,000 years. They have evolved in completely different environment than rest of the humans so do not have immunity to any diseases which might be passed on to them. Their number is anyway small somewhere around 500 so its extremely delicate situation. Government has raised a Jarawa Protection Force to safeguard their interests like nobody should enter their reserve forest. The traffic on Andaman Trunk Road is regulated. There are only 4 times in a day that convoys of vehicles are allowed to pass through the Jarawa territory, a 45 km stretch between Jirkatang and Middle strait. Vehicles are not supposed to stop in between, nobody should take photograph or throw anything. There is another stretch in Middle Andaman with Jarawa Protection Force check post but it didn't have timing restriction. The South, Middle and North are separate by narrow straits just few meters apart which make them islands. There is no bridge over them as of now and need to be crossed by ferry boats. Vehicles wait in a queue to get onto these ferry boats to be taken to other sides. Buses and govt vehicles have priority. There are just two such boats ply at a time, so it could be a long wait for one's turn. Due to the convoy rule and queue to get onto ferry the entire 250km journey takes anywhere from 10 or more hours to complete. Some prefer to start early to be early in the convoy & get onto the boat but wait at the checkpost. Some start late, don't wait much at checkpost but are late to cross the strait. Either way it takes time. 

We started early at 4:00AM to be at Jirkatang to be able to cross with 6:00AM convoy. During convoys, Jirkatang comes alive to serve the waiting passengers. I had a hot wada-sambar breakfast in the early morning waiting for the convoy. There are bathrooms available for passengers to freshen up while they wait. By the time convoy started, there was light. 
Vehicles waiting for convoy to start @ Jirkatang
Convoy timings
The 45-km through the Jarawa territory take an hours and half  of non-stop drive. The forest all through is dense and pristine. Our driver pointed to some huts perched on a hilly slope and after some time we even saw a group of Jarawa men sitting beside the road but it was in a flash. At Middle strait we witnessed the ritual of getting vehicles onto and out of ferry. It requires skill to get in and out the ferry and one has to be careful. There were two ferries plying, one big and one small. This limited the number of vehicles which could be taken.

Vehicles getting onto ferry 
Ferry departs the jetty
Middle Strait jetty view from Baratang
The ferry crossing is ticketed which our guide took care of. We climbed the upper deck which has seating and it took 15-20 minutes to cross the strait to Middle Andaman at Baratang. While on the ferry talked to an official looking person who informed that the plan for building bridges over the two straits has been sanctioned and in few years there will be bridges. I have a mixed feeling about the bridge. Even though it will be easier to travel but will invite more traffic and could play havoc with the place. Most of the tourists come upto this point to visit nearby limestone caves. Very few venture beyond this point but we were going to. We had a light breakfast at Baratang and then started towards Diglipur. We crossed another strait to come to North Andaman.

There are couple of towns in between called Kadamtala & Rangat and several small settlements. After Rangat, the roads goes to eastern flank of island and runs for some time hugging the coast. There are number of interesting spots in between which we would cover while coming back. Due to lack of traffic, there are hardly any eatery or dhaba for the travellers. Throughout the journey there were small settlements could be seen in distance. Typically settlement consist of few thatched houses with some fields around, some cattle and plantations like Coconut or Arecanut. 
Typical settlement
Since our driver keeps coming here so he stopped at a south indian home eatery known to him. From there we hit a T-point known as Lucknow point, right going to Mayabunder and left going to Diglipur. At around 5:00PM we reached Diglipur. Once in Diglipur you could be mistaken that you are in some small town in Bengal. North Andaman has lot of Bengali population which has historically settled in these parts starting as prisoners brought by British or settlement after Bangladesh war. Here Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's pictures are prominent. Incidentally, he had visited Andamans in 1945 to negotiate with Japanese. So, lot of influences for current demography.
Diglipur town
We were going even further to Kalipur to stay at Turtle resort there. Turtle resort is close to Kalipur beach which is known for turtle nesting site. The hotel itself is beautifully perched on a small hill, airy, clean and with decent rooms. After check-in we immediately went to Kalipur beach. Water had receded quite a bit. The sand was grey with ripple-like striations. We could see Saddle peak which is the highest peak in Andamans. 
Kalipur beach with Saddle peak at the background
One can trek to peak's summit but takes full day for which we didn't have time. Soon it was dark and we were back in hotel. This is the season in which turtle's come and lay eggs on various beaches including Kalipur. There are some staff of Forest department, who keep an eye on turtles laying eggs and once they are gone, they pick up those eggs and put them safe in hatching incubators. The reason they do it is so that stray dogs don't dig them up. It is a rare sight to witness turtle laying eggs which mostly happens in the night. I thought I will go and witness but it needs some patience waiting for them in the night. I befriended an Bengali gent in the hotel who was interested in witnessing the event. We decided to go to the beach at 12:30 AM. When we reached there, the staff of Forest department was present. There were other enthusiasts including foreigners waiting in the makeshift hut for turtles. It was an eerie feeling to stand there on the beach with sounds of waves but night was moonlit and there was company so it was ok. We chatted for an hour or so but then sleep and urge to lie down got better and we returned back after an hour. In the morning we came to know that there was no turtle that night. 

29th Jan - Ross & Smith, Mayabunder, Diglipur to Baratang

Today we were destined to go to Ross & Smith island and then drive to Baratang to stay overnight and visit Parrot island in the evening. We started early from hotel and were at Aerial bay jetty from where the boats ply to Ross & Smith island. The islands are twins connected by a sand bar. When the water level is low, the sand-bar is visible and one can walk across. When its high-tide, the islands appear as two distinct island. These are restricted islands and one has to take permission of Forest department to visit them. The boat also requires a permit from the port of Aerial Bay. The boats were anchored but water had not risen enough for them to be brought to the steps from where we could board it. So, we had to wait for 30 minutes for it. Once we boarded, it was a speedy 20 minute ride to the islands. The water was low so sand bar was wide and high. The boat anchored on the calmer side of sand bar. The water was clear and I guess the pictures that we have seen of boat floating on water with its reflection at the bottom could very well have been from this place. We had couple of hours here so without wasting much time we started exploring. We had brought snorkelling sets so we tried a little bit of snorkelling in the shallow water. 
Ross & Smit island amenities



Islands connected by sand bar
Apart from us there were hardly anyone else as it was quite early in the day. It was like having our own private infinite pool. We did manage so see some small fish. The place was unbelievably developed for its remoteness. There marked paths in sand, brown huts, white recliner wooden benches and changing rooms. The fluttering flags in high wind gave the place an upmarket look. You don't find such setting even in easy to reach beaches. One must admit that throughout our journey that even in such remote island, Andaman & Nicobar tourism department has really developed the locations which one doesn't find even in mainland. The Ross island is protected and one needs a permit to visit it and there is a person handing out permit at the Smith island. Height of vigilance! I took the permit and walked to Ross island. It is possible to go inside the forest but didn't have the time and guts to do it. After experiencing the place to the fullest finally we had to bid goodbye to the islands. Again felt that we never have enough time to enjoy such delightful encounters.

Once we came back to Aerial jetty, our driver informed that going to Parrot island is not possible as visit to it is suspended, so we can visit Karmatang beach at Mayabunder. We bade goodbye to Diglipur and from the Lucknow T-point went left towards Mayabunder. We didn't have to go inside the town as Karmatang beach is a little away from it. We were the only ones who were there and it was decently developed with huts, benches, play area and the actual beach being beautiful. Throughout the trip our son was always eager to get into the water and and reluctant to come out. 
Karmatang beach play area

Karmatang beach
We left in an hour cause we had to reach Baratang by evening and for that we had to cross the strait between North and Middle Andaman from Uttara jetty and ferries stop at dark. We stopped for a quick lunch at the same south indian house eatery. The stretch has a number of locations developed by A&N tourism. First one is Dhani Nallah mangrove walkway which is half a kilometer walk over wooden promenade into mangroves. The wooden walkway is excellent. The quality of walkway is great probably not very old with seating huts every few minutes. The mangroves were marked with their names and there were large information boards with detailed information. Turned out that sea shore has a turtle nesting site as well with detailed information about turtles. We walked all the way and to the sea shore and back. 
Entrance to Dhani Nallah mangrove walkway
Wooden walkway
Mangrove information
Turtle information at the nesting site
Crab caught on a tree branch
Butterfly caught there
Next stop was Aam Kunj (Mango grove) which has a beach and a little developed with huts, benches, play area and generally spruced up place. There is a huge sea-mahowa tree here. We briefly stopped at Maurice Dera which is a scenic point of two small rocks with a path made around them. 

Aam Kunj beach

Aam Kunj bullet wood

Maurice Dera
By this time we were a jittery as driver informed that probably there won't be any ferry after 5PM well before sunset. We were a little angry at driver why he didn't take into account this? I was contemplating what if we don't get a ferry? We will have to come back to Rangat which around 45km from the Uttara jetty. I was even contemplating knocking on someone's door if required for a night stay. We still held our breath while driver was frantically driving to reach the jetty hoping there would be ferry. Sun had set and it was dark while we were still to reach jetty. But had a huge sigh of relief when we reached there and found ferry has just docked and vehicles were loading and there was place for us! After crossing over there was still 30-minutes of drive to Baratang. We were going to stay at Rest House of forest department. The cook there cooked up a delicious dinner for us.

30th Jan - Baratang -> Port Blair

Next day we again woke up early to visit Mud volcanoes & limestone caves. Mud volcanoes are tiny conical volcanoes which spits out a steamy, muddy slush every few minutes and there is a group of them. They are around 30 minutes away from Baratang.
On the way to Mud volcanoes

Mud volcanoes
Andamans are a geological active island and has India's only active volcano at Barren islands but these were like nano version of that. Still it was worth a visit driving into interiors of Andaman and visiting such exotic place. Back at Baratang jetty, our driver was busy arranging the tickets for the lime stone cave. It was pretty crowded at the jetty as boatload (quite literally) of tourists from Port Blair had arrived. The permission has to be taken for the whole boat's occupants not just a group and there are officials checking up on safety like life jackets and license of boat. Thankfully, we were in the boat soon and off to lime stone caves. It is a 20-minute speed ride in the strait and then cutting inside mangroves in a canal completely covered by mangroves. 
Canal within mangroves
From the alighting point its a 15 minutes walk to the caves. The caves were overcrowded with tourists and their guides busy showing different shapes on the walls. There was a Ganesha and a Conch figure and few other shapes. At one location, the surface was sparkling due to mica getting mixed with the calcium deposits. Then there was a pair of stalactite and stalagmite growing very close but I believe will never meet due to constant touch of people to feel the phenomena! 
Glowing surface
almost touching
Limestone caves

The caves were impressive and I would have enjoyed it had there been much less crowd. Outside there was a distinctive house made of wood & straw with cattle and a little pond. 

We came back to Baratang jetty ready to cross over and be in the 12:30PM convoy towards Port Blair. The journey back was turned out to be a chore but this time witnessed that portion of road between Port Blair and Jirkatang. At one point saw a Tsunami devastated coconut grove now turned into a pool of water with a white crane sitting on remaining stalks. 
White cranes
Back in Port Blair we were still not done. We had to witness the Light & Sound show at Ross island for which we again went to Junglighat jetty. For this show, the ferry to & for journey and show is included as a single package. We left the jetty at 4PM and after an hour we were at Ross island. This journey was repeat of our North bay tour. However, this time it was in evening and there were some good moments fitting for last day of the trip. First we witnessed crashing waves into the Ross island walls and then there was beautiful sunset over Port Blair town symbolising end of our trip. 

Sunset over Port Blair
The Light & Sound show was one of the unique experience. The old building of bakery became the screen with trees around being extension of the screen. The show chronicles entire history of Andamans from initial settlement to Independence but the way it does is the high point. The quality of visuals, commentary, sound and setting could not be any better. In the credits we came to know that it had Gulzar, Resul Pookutty, Revathy in the team which developed it. We came back to Port Blair and packed for next day's return journey.
Ross island Light & Sound show - source: http://www.andamans.gov.in/images/rossSound.jpg

31st Jan - Port Blair -> Chennai -> Pune

Today we had flight at 8:00AM which was on time. At Chennai we again opted for Retiring room and caught evening flight back to Pune. 


If I happen to go back, I would like to do these things. First would be to do Scuba diving, then trek to Mount Harriet, trek to Saddle peak, Long Island, Barren island, Cinque island and visit Hut bay in Little Andaman which is accessible to tourists but a little distant.

Another interesting thing to share. After coming back from Andaman, I was visiting Gyan Adab center in Pune and found an exhibition going on about paintings, photograph and artifacts from Andaman. There came across a book called "Last Wave" by Pankaj Sekhsaria was there. Coincidently, the author was present there and had a good exchange with him. Now when I read the book in hindsight, I could relate to number of things which I saw and heard during the trip.