Thursday, March 7, 2013

Undiscovered Paradise in Andaman Islands

Neil Island
After a long hiatus, it is finally time to make a new beginning. I had resolved to make one in early 2011 but that one petered out in the afterglow of India’s World Cup win, hopefully this one will last for longer.

I had the opportunity to travel to Andaman Islands and came away spell bound. Beautiful turquoise water, soft silvery sand with the certainty of finding your own little piece of paradise for those so inclined. When one talks of Andaman as a tourist destination, Port Blair with its Cellular Jail (Kaala-Paani) and Havelock for its picture perfect beaches comes to mind instantly. My discovery for the trip was Neil Island. Accessible by government ferry from Port Blair and Havelock, Neil Island is your undiscovered piece of paradise.

Easily accessible corals
Fringed by corals with exciting diving and snorkeling opportunities, there is even a PADI certified Dive Center based at Neil, the waters lapping on Neil’s silvery sand during the low tide are calm to the point of giving the impression of being in a pool. There is typically not a soul in sight at its beaches even during the high season when I visited. Bicycles for hire are easily available letting you explore the island at your own pace. Just imagine the possibility of finding your own patch of the perfect beach over and over again for everyday of your holiday, which is the essence of Neil Island. If an entire holiday of seclusion doesn’t sound too appetizing, Neil Island can be visited as a 1 night trip or even as a day trip from Havelock, which is something that we ended up doing.
Probably the reason for Neil Island’s obscurity is the fact that there are only a few basic hotels and guest houses available, quite a few of which are booked solid with international backpackers spending months at Neil. That changed this year with the setting up of Sea Shell’s premium A/C tented accommodation at very affordable rates at Neil.

Bharatpur Beach seen on the way to the jetty

Fishing Boats at Bharatpur Beach

With the team on the landing jetty
My other discovery on this trip was the sea plane connecting Port Blair to Havelock. The flights depart from a corner of the airport at Port Blair twice a day and make the journey to Havelock in 20 odd minutes. The landing at Havelock is in the sea and the passengers disembark on a small jetty in the middle of the bay from which they are then transferred to the main island jetty by a small boat. The journey gives you an aerial view of coral fringed beaches and the view of Havelock’s famous Radha Nagar beach is especially fetching.
Radha Nagar beach at Havelock seen from the sea plane
The one-way flight costs Rs. 4100 for tourists but tickets are not bookable online and can either be bought at the airport or from a local travel agent. The sea plane is a government provided service and tickets for locals cost a subsidized amount of Rs 600. It is mostly possible to buy the tickets a day prior to travel but do keep in mind that the sea plane is a 9 seater limiting the number of available seats to 18 daily. The experience of landing at sea and the bird’s eye view of the beaches fringed by corals makes this an experience worth its price.