It is difficult to start writing about paradise but somehow you have to start. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the bay of bengal are a true paradise and the truth is that the days here are unforgettable for me. There are beautiful landscapes, people with good vibes and the clearest water you can imagine. Even better than the one in Thailand, and this is a lot to say! But hey, let's start at the beginning.
I was going to travel to some small islands in the Andaman Sea, to the south of India, about two hours flight from Calcutta and this was the most indeterminate part of the trip. Indeterminate because I did not know what I was going to find. I read in some forums that these islands are paradise on earth, beautiful and perfect to enjoy a week of relaxation.
According to others, in these islands, there is still a hostile aboriginal population that does not want to connect with the modern world and preserves their territory defending it with spears. Of the 550 islands, only 26 are inhabited, originally by the Jarawa indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Any visit is repelled with arrows. In short, a thousand stories are told about the place. I was very anxious to arrive and see what I would find.
Actually, these islands located between India and Southeast Asia are a great destination for scuba divers and nature lovers. The islands make up a tropical archipelago that shelters extensive and virgin coral reefs, large wild jungles and mangroves.
Here wild animals live. It as well as boasts of impressive empty beaches and some of the last and truly self-sufficient indigenous people in Asia. When the plane began to descend, we began to see the paradise that we could travel the following days. From the air, the islands look majestic, with huge beaches and the blue sea around them.
The remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a great destination for scuba divers and nature lovers. This archipelago shelters extensive and virgin coral reefs, jungles where wild animals, mangroves, and impressive empty beaches live. The English founded a colony without success and later a prison in the islands, that was closed when India obtained its independence and took control of the islands.
Day 1 - Kolkata
I left early for Calcutta Airport, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Anyway, I arrived early in any way and took the opportunity to have a decent breakfast. Thus began my bourgeois experience. The destination that came was luxury and little by little, I had to get in tune.
Our flight is at 11am to Port Blair, the capital, and gateway of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The flight was initially at 12:50 but then advanced to 10:55. The boarding gate is different from the one printed on the plane tickets, but well nothing happens. They announce that the flight is canceled due to heavy thunderstorms outside. Luckily I had the ship ticket that I got foreseeing this eventuality.
Drenched I entered the huge waiting ship before the port. There I found myself again with the trio I had found in Darjeeling. As the weather conditions did not allow excursions in the Himalayas, they had decided to travel to the Andamans. In total there were six of us who would travel on that ship, MV Akbar, and all in Bunk Class. I entered the ship greeting with joy all the crew members that crossed me.
I quickly reached my bunk in a barracks inside the ship's hull. The place was slightly heated and at the end, it was not so bad. They were rooms filled with rows of bunks wider than the trains. The place did not have much daylight but was more lit by early morning. I do not explain myself either. I wrapped my soaked backpack and quickly climbed on deck to watch the departure of the ship.
However, this maneuver took very long hours and until the next day we did not go out to sea. Being a river port, the boat is slowly dragged by small and powerful boats that are placed in the different locks until it reaches the main mouth of the river Ganges. Already with the night, we all went to dinner in the living room for the commoners. The dinner consisted of rice, dal, the odd thing and water. The lounge, at the top of the stern, is a beautiful and ideal place to make relationships and is even a dance floor.
On the lower floor, immediately below the lounge for the plebs, is the lounge for first class travelers and there is a huge table for the captain and his crew. Everything here is perfectly clean and well decorated with a great and fresh air conditioning, but once again, totally empty. I asked one of the crew members one day if we could eat there. No, was the answer.
After dinner, the three of us started playing cards with a game that we half knew. As I did not fully remember the rules, we were adjusting them as the games evolved. In the absence of the original name, I renamed the game Akbar, in honor of the ship that was transporting us.
On the outer deck, in the central part of the ship was located the pool, perfectly empty of water. Also, next to the pool was the Bar where, of course, they almost did not have anything, much less beer or a drink that would raise spirits. That night I would have appreciated a shower before going to sleep, but I deferred that desire until the next morning.
Day 2 - Bay of Bengal
I slept soundly all night and part of the morning because here dawns begin at 5 and I got up after eight o'clock. I had the morning shower under a hard stream of curved-cylindrical water expelled by the mouth of a pipe without major frills. After the smooth shave, I returned to my usual elegant demeanor. I have breakfast with tea and biscuits. In the morning the boat was already advancing at a good pace, but still, without going out to sea, we continued navigating the Ganges.
We had taken hammocks for the Andaman Islands, so in the morning we were very entertained by placing them and testing them. Already on the high seas, the ship began to sway through the choppy sea. We spent the day walking around the ship and sitting starboard because on the port side it was splashing water. I dedicated myself to studying my new book, which serves to increase the vocabulary.
We continue playing Akbar and at lunchtime, I preferred to take what I had brought, raw pizza bread with slices of cheese. To complete the meals, I buy the popcorn, the tastiest thing offered by the deck bar. To improve my experience on the ship I had decided that it would be nice to meet the captain. So I asked him for an audience, but I never had it, because his subordinates always answered that he was busy.
Besides, I was very interested in knowing him because I had thought that maybe he could help me in Port Blair to get in touch with someone who could take me by sea to Thailand. So, every day my travel companions asked me if I had already seen the captain. No, he's busy now, I always answered them.
With the subtle but strong movement of the boat, it was funny to see everyone walking from one side to the other, as it was impossible to follow a straight line. When the night of this second day of navigation of constant rocking by the state of the sea arrived, none of my companions managed to have dinner at all, since they all had a terrible dizziness. While I ate without problems, the others went going decomposed and from there to sleep in the bunk.
I'm not a sailor, but I look like it, I thought after finishing my exquisite dinner. As soon as I finished this thought I began to feel terrible and I also had to leave. But I did not go to the wineries. I decided to go abroad to give me a little bit of wind.
There, next to the empty pool, our hammock was still placed and quickly, before collapsing on the deck, I lay on it waiting to get better. The fresh sea breeze, the pleasant sensation of being rocked by the movement of the ship, and the contemplation of the deep starry sky gave me a pleasant relaxation and an unforgettable moment of sweet traveling pleasure. And slowly, very slowly, I fell asleep.
Day 3 - Bay of Bengal
It was almost 2 in the night when I abruptly woke up because it started raining violently. I jumped out of the hammock and took cover. In a few seconds, I had wet hair and clothes. I went down to my barracks. I had trouble getting back to sleep, but finally, I got it. As I took a long time to come back, my colleagues thought that finally, I had managed to talk to the captain. No, he's busy!
Fortunately, that morning they had cleaned corridors and toilets. This day passed with a calmer sea and therefore no one fell ill. I spent the day chatting with each other and reading my book and finishing another on astrophysics. Walking through the corridors of the interior, I came across a neat-looking man with golden glasses, a shirt with pink flowers, little cheeks, and a soft face.
He invited me to enter his first-class cabin as the man just wanted to converse amicably. He turned out to be a scientist who was traveling on the ship transporting all the necessary material to mount an inter-ministerial conference in the Andaman Islands, while all his symposium colleagues would travel by plane. With him, I was talking about different aspects of ecology and fishing exploitation in marine fish farms.
I took the opportunity to photograph all the friendly people who were on deck. We have already reached the Andaman archipelago, a set of dozens of islands aligned from north to south for hundreds of kilometers, and these are the continuation of a mountain range that begins in Burma, loses height plunging into the sea and then return to appear in the form of paradisiacal tropical islands.
The sky was a very deep black cloud and the water took on that gray color giving the whole a tonal uniformity of minimalist beauty. I asked the crew for my chances of finding a boat that would take me from the Andamans to the Thai coasts, they answered that I would not have any problem since there are many boats that make that journey.
In this sea crossing to the Andamans, the story of the sea crocodiles that used to eat tourists on the beaches was a common comment. I assumed there would be crocodiles there because there are on the shores of Burma, which is quite close to the islands. These are some bugs of about six meters in length, the largest reptile that exists, living in the mangroves.
As we were already crossing the archipelago from north to south, the question was whether we would reach Port Blair that day or it would be the next day. The shipping practice was that if we reached port before eight o'clock at night we would disembark, but if not, it would dock the next day at six in the morning.
I preferred to disembark the next day, but all my companions, prisoners of the marine anxiety, preferred to arrive that same day. They do not know how to taste the small pleasures of life. Finally, the ship set sail between islands to shorten the path normally made by more open sea and arrive the next day at Port Blair.
Day 4 - Port Blair
We arrived at 13:40 in Port Blair, with an important imprint of the British heritage. Once outside we are invaded by a lot of rickshaw drivers. The first one offers his services for 120 rupees. We book a prepaid taxi to the port, but we do not have time to catch the ferry. In August, only the government ferry operates, at 6:30 in the morning and at 2:00 p.m.
Another slightly more expensive and faster, from the private company, operates in high season. Port Blair is a tree-lined city, cleaner than usual in India and widely dispersed. We have to walk a lot and ask the locals to find hotels. But all those who send us are high-end. We go to the hostel, the one very close to the ferry dock that we have to catch the next morning.
It is not extremely good but it is quite clean and we are interested in its location. In spite of being more than 1000 kilometers to the east of the Indian subcontinent the schedule that rules in the islands is the same as in the continent. This means that at five in the evening it is already dark. There are a couple of restaurants, not very good. We eat and have dinner in an excellent restaurant recommended by the hostel and also some locals. We taste the tiger prawns, squid (also soup, rice, drinks).
From there we go to the nearby beach of Carbyns Cove Beach, 7 km from the city. It is not a beach comparable to those of Havelock, but it is pleasant and we spent the afternoon. We arrived and there were a few tourists, some loungers and a vendor of coconuts. We did not need much more. We stayed chatting for a long time there and then went to lunch at a very luxurious hotel that is just behind the beach. Since we were not going to do much more this day we had a good lunch.
It was early and we chose to walk back to the city since the road was easy. The route goes bordering the sea so it is impossible to get lost. In passing, we took some photos. The sea is very intense blue and with the celestial sky, it looks great. When arriving at Port Blair, we found an important military parade that cut the main streets of the city. There were sailors from various countries in Asia because it was commemorated I do not remember what battle.
We had to dodge the entire parade to get to the center of the city and return to our respective accommodations. At night we got together to eat again and toured the pier. We decided that we will take together on the ferry that leaves at 6:30 in the morning. We take out our accouterments and prepare ourselves for the brief sleep.
I took out a bottle of whiskey, the remains of the bottle from Calcutta, and that I had destined to give to the captain, but that could not be because he was really busy. We prepared a cigarette of some aromatic grass. So we all go back to sleep soon. Tomorrow we will have to get up early.
Day 5 - Radhanagar Beach
I get up very early today at 4:30 in the morning. The hotel was still closed and I had to jump the gate to get out. I had told the concierge that I was going to the islands but you can see that he forgot. Anyway, I jumped the gate and left. It was still night and I had to walk to the port. From there depart the boats that go to the Havelock island and some other islands.
Let's say that the matter is not very organized and although the boat leaves at seven in the morning we have to go very early to get tickets. Now that is a true chaos. No one knows exactly which row corresponds to each ship, there are several ships that go to different islands, those of the travel agencies do business selling tickets.
When we arrived at the port, it turned out that the first ship, at six in the morning, was full so we could not leave until eleven thirty in the morning. I took advantage of that long wait to visit the ports of the city in search of a ship that would take me to Thailand. We took an auto rickshaw that this time took us at a reasonable price.
I expected great port facilities full of boats and yachts, but this is a remote tropical archipelago off the coast of Burma and India. In short, the ports had almost no ships and those that were had a very precarious appearance. There they told us that going to Thailand was now impossible. Sometimes some Thai fishing boats arrive with travelers on board, but not in this season of rough sea and constant monsoon storms. I would have to wait until December, at least.
After breakfast with a coffee and a great sandwich we returned to our inter-island traffic port. After a long wait, they finally opened the ticket offices for the purchase of tickets. Luckily I got a ticket, at least one way. Having bought them on the same day, the part of the ship with seats is already full, and we have to go on the deck.
In the mill where each boat is moored, there are huge rows of passengers waiting to board. The journey lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes that we take advantage of to read and contemplate the landscape. The truth is that the deep blue sea was impressive and then, after a couple of hours, reaching Havelock was like reaching paradise.
After arriving at the port, and crossing the deck, we arrive at the island where the trishaw takes us to our hostel. Between laughs and good atmosphere, it is another rhythm and another mood different from that of continental India. We go to our resort and we arrive promptly. The place is beautiful, although in all this part of the island the low tide towards the 12 and it returns to raise and to be apt for the bath towards the 5 in the afternoon.
The little cabins are very simple, with shower and sink, but without a toilet. The beds are on a higher floor, so it is very practical to enter and exit without leaving everything full of sand. In the central area, there is a restaurant, a meeting place for guests. The bar does not serve alcohol, but they do not put any stick to bring it yourself from the alcohol store in the main town. The beach is quiet, very beautiful and the trees are above the water at high tide.
The area of the beach number 7 is a very beautiful white sand beach too. However, I stay at the beach number 5, since that is where most resorts are located and that gives us more room to move and go to take a drink somewhere or other. We each stayed in delicious individual bamboo huts with porch under huge coconut palms. The U-shaped resort allowed to see the turquoise waters of the bay of bengal that came towards the Havelock island.
In the rain, we went to the bar and restaurant of the place and I ordered a great, and cheap, grilled fish for lunch. Every day I was on the island I ate fish because since I started the trip I had only eaten trout twice, when I was in Manali, in Himachal Pradesh. I rent a motorcycle and go to the main town. We ate on the same road of the resort with rolls, pakoras, noodles and then we went to the wine shop in the town number 3 to stock up before returning to take another swim.
With the driving license, we rent a motorbike to go Radhanagar beach (number 7). It is about 14 km from the other side of the island, so I said earlier that it is not very practical to stay there. The beach, chosen several times as the most beautiful in Asia, is certainly beautiful, although under the grass and vegetation proliferate plastic bottles and dirt, something sadly common in too many Asian beaches (read Malaysia too).
The forest behind the beach with its tall trees is beautiful. Beach number 7 is very different from number 5. It faces the open sea and the waves are strong and the color of the water is no longer green, this day was completely gray because a large stormy mass hovered at the bottom of the island.
However, the beauty of the place was also majestic, with the tropical forest that reached the beach, and its long curved shape, with elevations of the ground covered with vegetation, was the living image of one of those deserted islands of pirate novels.
The wind blows strong and the waves beat in the sand. So we walk through Radhanagar until we reach Neil Cave, a kind of lagoon at the end of the beach that we see but where we did not stay since there are warnings that there may be crocodiles.
On the way back we tried to go to Elephant Beach, but we did not enter after 10 minutes from the road as some let us know that there is still an hour to walk and the beach does not look good from where the muddy path leaves you. So we go back and decided to see her when we go snorkeling there. With the motorcycle, we continue to town 6, where there is a quiet village completely foreign to the tourism of the coast.
We eat soups, shrimp fritters, chicken, vegetable roll. There we met a French couple who came with us on the ferry and they tell us that they have stayed with our other friends to go snorkeling the next day. So we take the motorbike and we go to visit them who stay at another beautiful resort and very close to the town.
From there we went to the port to buy the return tickets, but they do not sell them to us because they say it is closed (at 16:15, with them inside). We go to the south of the island, where there is supposedly an elephant farm but when we arrive they tell us that they are in the hotel on the beach number 7.
On the way to the south, we see deserted little beaches of white sand and always, in the background, the intense green of the jungle. When we arrived at our resort we bathed in the moonlight before going to have dinner with the friends. In the evening I went to eat fish at a nearby resort where they had the beer.
We do not know how, but it took two hours to serve him, and that we were the only customers. I think they must have gone fishing. We have fish, lasagna, rice, roti, tuna. Here they also let us open the Indian wine since they do not serve alcohol. After eating and resting the night it did not take long to fall asleep.
Day 6 - Havelock Island
We get up early. Today we snorkel up elephant beach and the lighthouse. The snorkel is not good, and Elephant Beach is not (it seems that it was before the tsunami) but we still enjoy the day and see a sea snake! We eat at the resort and from there we go to the port to get the return tickets for the next day, but there are none.
Amidst the rain we decided to return the rented motorbike, but then time will fool around. We will be limited to move along the road that connects town 3 with the row of resorts. Even so, we walk and buy shirts, before going to swim with minced jellyfish included and go back to eat. In the afternoon, we continue with the motto of all for the relaxation and we give ourselves an ayurvedic massage that we do in the neighboring resort.
For lunch, we went to a luxurious resort with Italian cuisine and where I had a great Mediterranean-style salad plus a beer. We were eating when it started raining hard, the storm had finally reached that coast. Although we waited a long time for it to stop raining, it did not, so we decided to return to the other side of the island in the rain.
The unpleasant sensation hardly lasted a few minutes, because when we were completely soaked we just felt it was a pleasant sensation of freshness. Following the ambiguous explanations of the locals, we managed to find a path that took us up to altitude while we were going through plantations of plane trees and jungle.
In these places, you have to be especially careful with snakes, that if you come across them you can go out with a nice poisonous bite. The solution was very clear. We had to make noise in the undergrowth and with a stick, hit the ground to scare away all living creatures.
Finally, we reached a clearing on one of the hills of the hill where we could admire the wonderful scenery. On the way back, already dusk, we took another bath at low tide. It was like taking a bath in a baby pool, that the water only reached the calves no matter how much you entered the interior of the beach. That night I went for a walk to the beach and I never saw a sky like that. It was very strange.
The only light was that of the entrance to the resort that only illuminated a couple of meters from the beach, in a kind of arboreal door. The rest was an absolute and mysterious darkness. The sky did not seem as black as Ladakh's but still, the vision of the stars and the Milky Way was perfect and resounding. The only way to explain it is by saying something as paradoxical as darkness illuminating that place.
Later we went to have dinner at a booth next to the bike rental shop where they made grilled fish wrapped in palm leaves and exquisite aluminum foil. We dined with the dignified Indian wine, to say goodbye to this fantastic place.
Day 7 - Port Blair
In the morning, at 9, we take the ferry to Port Blair. We arrived and we moved to the hotel, which must be the best of the town. The situation, on top of a small hill on the sea, is privileged and it is close to the restaurant (where we had already eaten so well on the way out and to which we will return today) and the town. Port Blair has a large boulevard full of shops where you can shop comfortably and more pleasantly than in other parts of India.
It is seen that this day a religious festival was celebrated in honor of the Ganesh Chaturthi. The celebration consisted of small trucks that circulated slowly with the god in the back full of colored lights, cellophane and flowers, Indian techno-dance music at full volume and a few guys dancing wildly in front of the vehicle.
In the afternoon we hit a good nap. In the evening we go to the town and then to where we had stayed earlier for dinner. The dinner takes an eternity with chicken, rice, prawns but the restaurant has a great terrace full of men who drink alcohol (they have a drink menu with alcohol). Back to the hotel, we extend the night in the bar that closes at 11.
We visit the Cellular Jail. It is an interesting visit, both for what it represented for the island and for the prisoners, as well as for the type of penitentiary architecture. From there, we take a trishaw to go to the hotel and from there to the airport for Calcutta but decided to change my flight to fly directly to Goa.