(30th March 2009): I am just back from an exciting holiday in the Andaman Islands. It was the most beautiful and enchanting place I have ever seen. It’s been a soul enriching experience and I would definitely recommend anyone who hasn’t been there yet to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. However, you need to do a little planning well in advance to be able to enjoy your experience. Here is how we went about it.
Our tickets were booked in advance on the Kingfisher Airlines via Chennai to Port Blair. You need to book your flights well in advance to get the maximum discounts in the airfare, as the rates keep fluctuating like the stock market closer to your date of journey. We took the early morning flight (6:45 am) to Chennai, which took about 2 hrs and a connecting flight from there to Port Blair.
We had the whole package planned and laid out for us by a friend who is posted there at present in the Naval Base. As we were booked into the Naval accommodation for the first night we immediately proceeded to our rooms to freshen up and have lunch with our friend.
During lunch we learned a lot about Port Blair and the surrounding Islands, which only increased our enthusiasm to see the place. Port Blair, named after Lieutenant Archibald Blair, is a union territory and the largest town in Andaman district. It is also the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands situated on the east coast of South Andaman Island and is the main entry point to the islands. At present it serves as a major base for the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard and is the headquarters of the Tri Services Command.
One can reach Port Blair by air or sea from Kolkatta, Chennai or Vishakhapatnam. There is a rich history related to Port Blair associated with British colonial rule and the Independence struggle by the Indian freedom fighters. The presence of the “cellular jail” in Port Blair is a stark reminder of our history and the British Raj. From Port Blair there are various ferries and boats available to go to the surrounding islands with different packages. The main attraction is beaching, snorkeling, scuba diving, and seeing nature. One can also do trekking in some of the islands that are forest reserves. All the bookings need to be done in advance to avoid last minute disappointments.
We relaxed the first day at Port Blair since we were tired out from the trip and had to set off early the next morning to Jolly Buoy. We managed to see Port Blair on the last day of our trip after returning from Ross Island, which is just ten minutes away from the Aberdeen jetty. They have built a huge park all around this jetty and also a water amusement park where you can rent all kinds of water boats and enjoy a ride in the lake. The place is all lit up in the night and looks very beautiful. There are museums and an aquarium that is worth seeing. The aquarium has all kinds of colorful fishes in it and kids will really love to see this.
The cellular jail is, of course, the main attraction of this place due to its relevance in our history of Independence and one cannot leave Port Blair without visiting it. The jail has numerous cells distributed in six wings that are laid in a “circular” pattern around a central structure. In between one of these wings is the courtyard where the prisoners were given “punishment” and also the “gallows” where they were subsequently hanged to death. One wing has been converted to a museum where there are pictures, and other artifacts that belonged to that era. Subhash Chandra Bose played a very important role in the freedom struggle and Port Blair was the headquarters to the Indian National Army. A part of the museum is dedicated to the history of Subhash Chandra Bose. There is a light and sound show in the evening which is shown at 5.00 pm after sunset. There are entry tickets for the show separate from the entry to the museum. Due to time constraints we were unable to see this show. Take a look at these pictures from the cellular jail.
We took a drive around the main road and saw the Governer’s house (Raj Niwas) and also the Joggers park which is a huge park situated right on top of a hill that overlooks the runway of the airport. It has a spectacular view from top. We also drove to see the Chatham island and the famous “Saw Mill” which had been bombarded by the Japanese during the world war. The saw mill was restored subsequently and is operational now.
We visited the Fortune Bay Island Hotel in Port Blair in the evening to sit and have some snacks in the restaurant which has a spectacular view of the sea and the light house on an island right in front. The climate in Port Blair is very hot and humid generally but luckily for us this day had an overcast sky and so there was a cool breeze in the evening. Later we took a drive to Corbyne’s cove which is also a prominent tourist place and used to be a place where the British Officers gave lavish parties. Post Tsunami there have been a lot of changes in Port Blair and the surrounding islands due to the raised sea level and destruction of the trees, beaches, corals and marine life. The evidence of tsunami is still visible in many places.
We had dinner in a restaurant called “Light House” close to the Aberdeen jetty and enjoyed the food. Port Blair is known for its sea food and due to its mixed culture it also serves all kinds of cuisines to suit each and every palate.
On the last day of our trip, we booked ourselves into a hotel called Megapodes Nest as no rooms were available in the Naval base. The rooms were good, although slightly expensive for our budget but definitely worth it, and had a fantastic view of the harbor. However, the food at the hotel was horrible (the only place where we didn’t like the food).
The next day we proceeded to Wandoor, which is about 29 Km from Port Blair to catch the ferry to Jolly Buoy. Wandoor consists of stunningly beautiful group of 15 islands that form part of the 280 sq kms of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It took us about half an hour to reach the jetty where the boat was ready. Read all about that in the next byte...