The archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is not too touristy but adventurous and extends from Myanmar to Indonesia, a stretch of unspoiled world and full of mystery with the triumph of nature, blue seas and sandy beaches divided into 572 islands, islets and reefs. The Andaman Islands are located geographically close to South East Asia.
Located in the Indian Ocean south of the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Islands is known to Europeans since the seventh century AD from the time of Marco Polo. Marco Polo, in 1296, described the Sentinelese in remote Andaman Islands, as one of the tribes most violent and wild in Asia, able to kill and eat any intruder who may be in their territory. While their inclination to cannibalism has never been confirmed, nothing has changed in the remote island of North Sentinel in the Bay of Bengal and the tribes still live in the Stone Age.
They became the basis for Maratha pirates, at the end of the seventeenth century, with the attacks on British, Dutch and Portuguese merchant ships. Then it was the turn of Dutch pirates and French Jesuits and finally in the mid eighteenth century the Danes.
Occupied by the British from 1857, the islands were used as a prison until the Second World War. The Andaman Islands are formed from the Ritchie archipelago and four major islands of North Andaman, South Andaman, Middle Andaman and Little Andaman, plus a number of smaller islands. With rich tropical vegetation, mountain ranges and beaches of white sand, the Andamans are still inhabited in the inner areas of aboriginal people who live by hunting and fishing.
The only city is Port Blair, where everyday there is a craft market which is the meeting point of the local populations. There are only domestic flights from India, which depart from Calcutta and Chennai in the direction of Port Blair, the capital of the archipelago. Calcutta is the nearest, but in my case, I decided to visit through the sea route in the ship, which takes 2 nights.
The Andamans are composed of nearly 600 islands, of which about 26 are inhabited and more or less 5 are accessible to tourists. I decided to stay in the Havelock island surrounded by a tropical forest and overlooks a long white sandy beach over two kilometers, and considered one of the finest in the Bay of Bengal. It is reachable from Port Blair with two hours of sailing with the possibility of diving, snorkeling, swimming with elephants, kayaking, boating and mini-trekking in the forest.
The archipelago is a destination mainly filled with Indian tourists and during my trip I met a small number of foreigners. Visiting the place was a unique experience, with the typical Indian scenario of women in sari, the colourful markets, pungent smells that transport us to a virgin paradise. This contrast, mainly linked to images of an India in which I personally was accustomed, really left me open-mouthed.
Although Havelock is the most visited island, there are available only essential accommodation, however, sufficient to meet these long beaches and crystal clear waters, palm trees, tropical trees and a stunning green landscape.
My days flowed walking on foot for the markets or roaming around the island on elephant back or tuk tuk, swimming in this wonderful sea and devouring fish and fresh lobsters for a handful of rupees. The beach that must never be lost is Radhanagar, Ros & Smith Islands and Jolly Buoy, which are some of the most beautiful in Asia with long strip of white sands and clear waters, a few meters from a green and wild jungle. From there we could also enjoy the most magical island sunset. Jolly Buoy is home to some of the beautiful coral reefs in the world.
Radhanagar Beach is stretched on the west coast of Havelock Island, the largest in Ritchie's Archipelago, an island chain of southern Andaman in the Andaman Islands scattered in the south-eastern bay of bengal.
The quiet Radhanagar Beach overlooks the waters of shades from turquoise to cobalt blue to the blue and the Indian Ocean, with low sandy bottom that is ideal for swimming and playing in water, while the splendid large coral reefs on two fronts are attractive for snorkelling and diving as well as for fishing.
The pristine beach is also famous for its spectacular sunsets, for the lovely views and bird watching in the early morning and evening. You can then certainly not miss the Rutland Island, famous for its amazing beaches and the Duncan Passage, at Five Islands, between the land area most incredible of all the Indian Ocean. Still, in the northeast of Ritchie's Archipelago there are two volcanic islands, the island of Narcondam and Barren Island. Do not forget this last because it is the only active volcano in India.
Almost completely inaccessible to tourists however is the southern part of the Nicobar islands. It is separated from the Andaman Islands by the Ten Degree Channel and the administrative headquarters is Car Nicobar.
Andaman Islands are also home to the tribe of Jarawa in the center and south of the archipelago. The Jarawas are one of the oldest tribes of the earth and is estimated that they established on the islands about 50,000 years ago and is a tribe that has always shunned contact with the outside world and modern people, remaining intact and unchanged in their original and primal culture.
The Andaman Islands have always been inhabited by ancient indigenous tribes and often their traditions have proved useful. The Onge, Sentinelese, Andamani, Nicobari and Jarawa tribes are almost extinct but are witness to centuries of their tribulations from generation to generation as the sea and the violent waves struck them from time to time, at times destroying everything in their path. These tribes were the only ones not to be caught by surprise by the phenomenon and succeeded to save themselves, climbing the heights of the islands. The ancient people of the islands still practice ancestral religions similar to animism.
They then hunt with arrows, and believe that birds speak with spirits and have not yet acquired skills that are needed to access the fire or to describe a number greater than two. They survived the occupation of Burma, the British and the Japanese, and more recently the devastating tsunami. These days the indigenous tribes are one of the most enigmatic people on the planet.
Anthropologists distinguish indigenous tribes into two groups based on their origin. The Shompen and Nicobaris are of Asian origin, while ethnic groups including the Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese are of African origin. According to a recent study, the tribes often described by the anthropologists as pygmies, may actually be from Africa placed more than 40,000 years ago. Their propensity to kill intruders is what helped the Sentinelese to maintain their status intact.
The Indian government as well as researchers has made several attempts to become friendly with the islanders to modernise them, but did not succeed. The last member of the Bo tribe died few years ago.
The archipelago was visited for the first time by British officers in 1788 and in 1857 the islands were occupied by the British military who founded a penal colony and along with Nicobar islands were added to British India in 1858, and thus becoming a part with the independence of India today and so we find a few ruins of the cellular jail in port blair, the prison in which the martyrs for the independence struggle of India sacrificed their lives. It opens daily except Monday and times range from 09:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 17:00 with a light and sound show in the evening.
Interesting is also the Mount Harriet National Park and the Chatham Saw Mill, a wood sawmill that is among the oldest and largest in all of Asia, built in 1883. It was destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt in 1950.
A stay at Andaman features relaxing activities in the cool lagoons or in the lush tropical gardens, crystal clear sea and coral reef paradise, from the jungle that covers the islands which stretch in the Bay of Bengal between India and the Burmese coast preserving the mysterious charm of forgotten islands and is also perfect for honeymoon travel.
When to go
The best time from a climatic point of view is from December to April and from December to March is also the turtle nesting period. Sure, in these months flights and hotels are more expensive.
You can also go in October, November and the first half of May. With a little luck you will find the sun, but for sure you will find much more affordable.
From mid-May to the end of September is the rainy season and the monsoon.