With long weekends around the corner this festive season, many of us have been contemplating travelling to nearby places where one can enjoy with friends and family and relax and rejuvenate.
We suggest you travel to one of the lesser-explored 'gems' of India this festive season - the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Have an unhurried vacation by the white sandy shores and azure-coloured waters of the Andaman Sea, and let the pristine coastline and pure nature of these islands transport you to a tranquil paradise.
Andaman and its history
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a union territory of India comprising 572 islands, out of which only 38 islands are inhabited. The chain of islands is considered to be a submerged extension of the Arakan Mountains.
The only active volcano in India, Barren Island, is located in Andaman and Nicobar. The volcano had last erupted in 2017.
The islands were known as Ma-Nakkavaram, meaning the ‘Great Open’ by the Cholas, who used the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a strategic naval base. Marco Polo too, when he came to India, referred to the islands as ‘Necuverann’. The islands got the name Nicobar during the British colonial period.
The islands were first occupied by the Danish East India Company settlers in 1755. They even named the islands New Denmark initially but later changed the name to Frederick’s Islands. In 1778, the Austrians tried to establish a colony in the islands and renamed them Theresa Islands.
In 1858, the British established a colony in current Port Blair, which became a permanent settlement. It was with the primary purpose of setting up a penal colony for criminal convicts from the Indian subcontinent. The Cellular Jail, which was used to house political prisoners, was constructed on the islands.
When travelling to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, do include the following places in your sightseeing itinerary.
1. Cellular Jail
Also known as Kaala Paani, the British built the cellular jail in 1906 to imprison and exile the Indian freedom fighters. It was constructed to keep only one prisoner in a cell with the purpose of solitary confinement so that the prisoners would not be able to communicate with one another. This is one of the most important historical landmarks and popular tourist attractions to visit in Andaman. It showcases the dark period of Indian history and the life of our freedom fighters. The jail has now been converted into a museum.
2. Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Islands
Some of the best beaches of these islands are found in Havelock Islands. Commonly known as Beach No. 7, Radhanagar has been given the title of ‘The Best Beach in Asia’ and the ‘7th Best Beach in the World’ by Time Magazine in 2004. The beach was also included in the Top 25 beaches in Asia by Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards in 2016.
3. Kalapathar Beach, Havelock Islands
It is a stunning long stretch of white sandy beach with its unique lining of big black rocks beside the serene blue sea. The beach gets its name Kalapathar from the adjoining street called Black Road. Visit this beach to witness the captivating sunrise and sunset visible from here.
4. Elephant Beach
Elephant Beach is located at a distance of 8.6 kms from the Havelock jetty and is considered the water sports haven of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Situated amidst dense tropical jungles, the beach is engulfed by tall trees and greenery from all sides. The water at this white, sandy beach is relatively shallow and free of rocks and hard corals so one can swim here pretty easily. The beach offers one of the widest selections of water sports activities on the island, like jet skiing, kayaking, speed boats, banana and sofa boat rides. The beach is called Elephant Beach because there used to be three elephants here offering rides to tourists on the beach. However, there are no elephants here currently.
5. Neil Island
It is a beautiful island located 37 km south of Port Blair and is also known as the vegetable bowl of the Andaman Islands as the land here is ideal for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Known for its magnificent biodiversity, unexplored coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and tropical woodlands, Neil Island is best suited for those who want to spend a relaxed time amongst long deserted beaches. Some of the best beaches of Neil Islands are Bharatpur Beach, Sitapur Beach and Laxmanpur Beach, all named after the mythological characters from the Ramayana. A collective tour to these three beaches is known as the Three Point Tour.
6. Chidiya Tapu
Also known as Andaman’s Bird Island, Chidiya Tapu is a rich mangrove forest that hosts numerous species of birds. This eco-park, located at the southernmost tip of the South Andaman Island, is 28 km from Port Blair. Apart from being a birdwatcher’s paradise, Chidiya Tapu is also famous as a picnic spot and for activities like trekking. One of the main attractions of Chidiya tapu is its Sunset Point; from here, you can get a magnificent view of the setting sun as it dips into the Bay of Bengal.
7. Mount Harriet
Mount Harriet, now renamed Mount Manipur in honour of the freedom fighters of Manipur who played a significant role in resisting the British in the Northeast during the 1857 and 1891 revolution, is the third-highest island peak in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is here that Manipur’s Maharaja Kulchandra Singh and 22 other freedom fighters were imprisoned during the Anglo-Manipuri war (1891).
8. Ross Island
Ross Island, initially known after the marine surveyor Daniel Ross, was renamed Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island in December 2018. The island is located 3 kms east of Port Blair and is known for its historic ruins and British architecture. The island was first occupied in 1782, and a sanatorium was built there, and then again in 1857 by the British, who used it as an Administrative Headquarters for 85 years. During this time, the British made many essential government offices on this penal settlement, which were later abandoned after an earthquake in 1941.
Now isn’t this truly a ‘hidden gem’ of our country? So why wait any further… Pack your bags at the next opportunity, plan a trip to this beautiful archipelago, and have a wonderful and memorable vacation!