Andaman is not a destination for 2/3 days. It requires minimum 5/6 days to sink in the serenity, peace, blue colour of sky & ocean, rural India feel (on islands other than Port Blair).
Prologue:At the end of starting phase of my new career i.e. Dive Master in Scuba Diving, a plan started to take a shape of spending some days in Andmans. Though I was in Andamans before and broke my rule of not visiting the same place twice, but this became an exception. Making and breaking rules are part and parcel of life. Isn’t it?
There were reasons of selecting Andamans as one step of my new career. A change of career. Will talk about it in my other blog – Nomad’s end of corporate life …….
There were limited options available, while selecting destination after becoming Dive Master as there wasn’t any scope of job out of India. West coast was shut because of rains. East coast like Pondicherry, Chennai, Rameshwaram and Andamans were the few. I didn’t want to go to the earlier three as those were not as per my likings and are more like cities. What was the point of going to a small city from a Megapolis from which I wanted to keep myself away while taking a conscious decision of taking retirement from corporate life, So Andamans was the last and best option left.
Out of Andman’s majority ones are still not explored or Government has put restrictions to entry , but a word of caution here. You cannot enter many islands because few of them have settlements of Aboriginal tribes like Sentinels whom Indian Government is protecting from civilized world. These people are still in their evolution phase and not exactly entered in civilized phase. Certain tribes which stays in the periphery of those islands are on a verge of civilization. They have their own language without any script. They also have their own laws even if they are part of India, but if you will check some parts of Northern India who follows their own laws even if they are part of Republic of India like revenge or honor killings and still a part of socialized society, so as we residents of mega cities who litter on the road, breaks many rules in day to day life. however one write is not enough. In this blog, can not cover that aspect, and that’s a separate discussion all together. Just like sentinels, there are islands which is shelter for Great Andamanese tribe, which is socialized and are in very few in numbers. So Andamans has 5 major tribes apart from migrants – Great Andamanese, Jarwas, Sentinels, Nicobareese, Oongi, ….. Most of the tribes are socialized, except the two which are mentioned at certain point. So for entering any non-inhabited island, one need to have permission from Government.Andamans has a mixed population depending on island to Island. Port Blair has siginificant number of residents from Andhra Pradesh whereas Havelock has majority population of Bengalis and Tamileans. Havelock also has population of Karen tribe who hail from Myanmar. In fact, there is a dive Centre run by this tribe who are brilliant free or skin divers who indulges in spear fishing.
Andaman and Nicobar Island, one can say a part of India, but a beautiful piece of nature with mix of unpopulated blue ocean and Mediterranean alike jungle which is completely different than mainland India for those who love exploring beyond explored and always wanted to live in partial seclusion. A set of 500 + islands with handful of them are inhabited is waiting for you to explore.
You will find lots of information about Andamans on Google (Jai Google Mata). Not many have written their experiences while travelling deep in Andaman. Everyone has written facts and figures, timing of ferries, hotels to eat and stay …
I am not going to repeat that information which is already available, but I am taking you through a Backpacker’s view point and the way he would travel by public transport by soaking in Andaman’s true fervour. This is an attempt to give a human touch to my blog. If you would like to take this journey, explore your own way. Keep my blog as not a source of information, but a benchmark of an experience to explore beyond I explored. This is also an attempt to inspire everyone to travel beyond touristy places which are tucked in corners of Andamans.
As mentioned earlier, Andamans is all about serenity, many unexplored islands and away from mainland India. There are very few islands which are habituated and Havelock is one of them. One can call this as mini Goa if one cannot resist of comparing with some part of India.
I decided to search a job in one of the dive centres of this island as other couple of islands which has dive centres, but very few tourists venture on them, so the business is less and chances of me getting a job there are also dim.
After sending CV to many big Scuba Diving Centres, decided to land here with a plan of relaxation for few days and meeting them personally, started my Vasco-De-Gama travel with first flight from Mumbai to Chennai and another flight from Chennai to Port Blair, Andaman’s capital via Hyderabad. Yes via Hyderabad to save ticket cost. First hurdle was to carry my scuba diving equipment set and clothes as initially I was planning to stay for a month. My friends tease me about the minuscule clothes which I carry as those are hot pants a slightly longer than innerwear and shorter than shorts. Sources of these pants is like a well kept secret as Coke’s formula which is guarded and known only to few people, here only to me. J Coming back to baggage to carry, never thought my luggage will go beyond allowed baggage to one person i.e. 22 kgs (15 kgs of check-in and 7 kgs in cabin). Total baggage was was about 36 kgs, so excess baggage fees had to be paid. Here my negotiations and PR skills worked and ended up paying much less.
As my entourage – me and my two big sacks landed at Port Blair… Whola thought this is supposed to be an off season, my entourage became like a plane full of passengers. I never thought, I was so popular and so many people decided to follow me. J
I have a nack of making friends and keeping a close knit friendship with them even if I meet them only once in few years.
Swapnali is such a friend whom I met 5 years back in Goa on one of the diving trip. A Marinology (I am still struggling with which branch of Oceanography she is from) researcher almost based in Port Blair, a native of Maharashtra helped me with my ferry tickets and saved my one day. Through her resources handed me the ticket.
As Andamans natives are tribal and are beyond limits of tourists, but Andamans is full of people from various states and not only from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and West Bengal which are majority in population. Sanjay. Swapnali’s contact who hailed from Delhi and now a third generation of his family settled. His Grandfather came to Andamans when British ruled the island and now a resident of Republic of India, is a resourceful man. He booked me in bunker bed section of a floating village on the sea called Government ferry to Havelock. Daily, there are 5/6 ferries which transports passengers to and fro Havelock and Neil Island. One can book private ferries online… Mine was Government ferry which is slower but cheaper comparative to private operators. The ferry was a maze as in my 2 hours of travel, lost my way atleast twice.
Thanks to my weird outlook with pointed beard and handle bar moustache and tattoo on the back of bald head, not to mention an unlike Indian man’s way of dressing – hot pants. People do tend to get attracted and would love to come and talk with only one warm smile of mine. Though I haven’t checked temperature of my smile with thermometer yet J, Sometimes they go out of their way to help. On the ferry met such people who helped me in many smaller ways. Finally landed at Havelock ferry bay where every passenger was in a great rush which reminded me of CST and Churchgate stations where everyone in the morning is in a hurry to avoid late marks in office. This was again a recall of my earlier corporate life which I wanted to escape from. I joined the crowd unwillingly with my 36 kgs divided in two bagfull of load.
This 100 mtrs of sprint was to get a vehicle, either a taxi or auto which are less in numbers.Some people always gets help from the Almighty when they seek. I am one of the blessed one. A guy stopped me in my 100 mtrs sprint asking, “Are you looking for an auto”. If not in that situation, I would have replied in my regular manner, “No, I am training for Olympics to win a meddle like Milkha SinghJ“, but looking at a situation, He was a godsend. I nodded and He disappeared for 4/5 minutes and landed next to me in an auto as if like god has sent me his vehicle to transport to my destination and not to call me to his place in heavenJ. I adjusted both mountains (my sacks) and somehow fitted in that auto. Auto started and suddenly realized that guy who bought me my Pushpak viman (In Hindu mythology, this is a plane which ferried Lord Rama, Sita and Laxman to heaven hen Ramayan serial got over . Only airline people knows the number of allotted seats and why not entire star cast of serial J ) was not to be seen. Auto guy explained to me, after seeing my plight of not getting an auto in a rush of passengers, he sent his friend to help me and kept his auto parked in one of the gully as his auto wouldn’t have escaped the holocaust of passengers. Our well trained city minds are always go on a suspicious mode of any help which is offered without any expectation. This help of an auto driver without any expectation of a higher tariff completely floored me, but why was I surprised? This kind of help was always sent to me by Almighty on each of my endeavouring, be it Egypt or Sri Lanka or Philippines or my treks in India.
The resort which I reached in the dark was slightly let down because of its wooden walls and shared toilet, but what the hell, I was expecting, as I was a backpacker and always look for a clean bed and toilet, both were perfectly matching to my expectations. Couldn’t help but to recall a dialogue of Circuit from a Bollywood movie – Munnabhai MBBS, “Arey Bhai, Ye room toh ghusate hi khatam ho gaya”.I didn’t know, this resort will be my home for few days in my next job hunting trip.
With a one beer which was bought at 4 times costlier than local price, gave me a double zing (atleast I forced myself to think so J). That situation connoted so much like Vijay Mallya in making moolah by looting common public who seek some solace from their worries of daily life and making money.. L Finished my dinner and dropped dead in my bed.
First morning at Havelock:I was wide awake because of almost harsh sunlight and couldn’t figure out time of the day and thought I must have overslept because of tiring long travel. Glancing at the watch also didn’t solved the mystery. Time was 5.30 a.m. and sun was already blazing in sky. The mystery solved when my cautious brain googled with an information of Andamans being in East, sun rises from sea unlike Mumbai or Goa which falls in Western part of India, but that wasn’t the main reason, but important trivia was about Andamans came to the light is sun rises early at 5 and evening 6 is a pitch dark. The reason of this mystery is not having India divided in different time zones like US. Eastern sides sun rises early at 5 a.m. as per IST and sets down early at 5 p.m., so it changes the daily routine of the residents. I have to get used to that now.
A glimpse of Andamans blue/turquoise sea from my shack’s small window was certainly a refreshing sight to get me out of the bed.Though I was out of Advertising world, I couldn’t resist of criticising how we bluff to the consumers like Vodafone saying wherever you go, we follow or Airtel saying,….. Perhaps, vodafone is not in aviation business, so in Andamans, they couldn’t afford flight and didn’t follow me after mainland India L. In Andamans, if you have any intentions to keep connected to the world, ideally you shouldn’t when you are on vacation and doesn’t want your office to follow, you have a strong reason, ‘There is no network, so leave me alone for few days’, but if you are indispensable in your office (false intuitions), go to a shop with a person having local BSNL number to get an OTP on that person’s number and you are back to your virtual world (why you choose to stay connected? Is still a mystery like reading a woman’s mind J), after 24 hours. After taking a retirement from this so called corporate world, I was longing to take that benefit, but family and friends needs to keep in touch to convey my well being, so opted for BSNL network which is much costlier in terms of data offerings.
On Havelock Island, you find some small shops nearby, but for major (not TV or Refrigerator because I wasn’t planning to settle here forever J ), shopping at original price, you have to go to Havelock no. 3 which is about 2/3 kms away from the place where I was i.e. Havelock no. 5, Govindnagar.
While packing my mountains i.e. bags, obviously had forgotten few necessaries or rather ignored to carry to reduce atleast some grams of weight, a trip to market was eminent. I was told by hotel staff that, there is a government bus service every hour, but found that these guys are also like me on treks in terms of not giving exact timing to reach destination and new comers getting frustrated, so I was in their shoes and decided not to fool anyone on mountains in future and give them exact time left to reach. I will do that when I am going back home. Local’s per hour in reality was 2 buses per day, so only 2 buses runs throughout the day. You need to hire a bike, if at all you want to go across island every hour. I didn’t have an intention to visit every nuke and corner of Havelock, so hiring a bike option (Rs. 400 per day) was thrown out of window. Another option of hiring a bicycle for Rs. 100 a day went the same way because of same reason. Made a list of things to buy and took an Auto.I had planned to relaxed and lazed for 2/3 days initially and start meeting various Dive centres spread around Havelock no. 2, 3 and 5.
The plan was to find and understand new things about Havelock every day initially. Next thing was about liquor. If you want to stock your liquor, go to only liquor shop in market (Havelock 3) near State Bank Of India which is shut on Thursday. What a coincidence. Stock of money and liquor go hands in hands. Withdraw money from ATM and head straight to liquor shop to convert your money to liquor stock. Atleast you will feel connected to famous (or infamous) Vijay Mallya.
Few points to consider before or after reaching Andamans:
1. Supplies to all islands comes from Port Blair, so there are chances of scarcity of few products including liquor.2. Carry or buy mosquito repellents immediately after reaching Andamans or be ready for blood donation.3. Buy a BSNL SIM card. BSNL has network across Andamans, but if you have come for vacation, why the hell you need connection with civilized word? Take a step back and enjoy your vacation.4. Do not expect a quick service at many small eateries. Remember, you are not in your city where you expect a quick response. Set your time according to local’s time table and not your city time table.5. Most of the shops are closed between 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. – you also rest, why you disturb other’s sleep.6. Check whether your resort has generator for emergency power supply beforehand as sometimes there is a daily electric supply cut it go till more than 10 hours, if all power station generators are not working in full capacity.Carry a headlight or torch with you. Keep a stock of candles in room. If not used, you can use it for candle light dinner with your loved ones.
7. Save Electricity as much as possible as these islands run on diesel powered electricity and it’s costly plus you are burning fossil fuel which is limited in nature.8. Same goes to water. Save water as much as possible. If all wells on island dries up, islanders can’t drink sea water.9. There are private Ferries as well as Government ferries to Havelock and Neil Islands and Government ferry to Long islands in Middle Andamans. Online, you can book private ferries, but not Government ferry tickets. 10. Port Blair and Havelock islands has efficient (as per islands standards) bus service. Havelock island has AC bus service from Jetty to Radhanagar and Kalapathar every one hour.
Explore and experience Andaman’s exoticism through my view and lens.
Links of other Andaman’s blogs:
‘When travelling like a Nomad, there should be a zero plan and one needs to shape and tweak that Zero’s boundaries as per your creativity, need and desire to see and experience.’
Nomad didn’t stop at this point. His exploration continued…
To read Nomad’s further exploration, get soaked in part 2 – Andaman – land of jungles and beaches
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