The capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands archipelago, Port Blair, is surrounded by lush forests, green hills and pristine beaches. On the surface a laidback Indian town, Port Blair will surprise you with its hidden coves, excellent museums, haunted islands and fascinating history. The best time to visit Port Blair is from October to February, where you can spend a few days in Port Blair before heading off to the more popular islands — like Havelock or Neil.
Port Blair is well-known for the famous Cellular Jail built in the late 1890s with seven wings and thousands of prison cells. The jail is one of the most significant places to visit in Andaman to understand a key event in the freedom struggle. The museum section has an excellent collection of black and white photographs depicting life on the islands during the British era. Another important thing to do in Port Blair is to take a tour of the Samudrika Naval Marine Museum, run by the Indian Navy. It presents a history of the islands, interesting geographical information and is a window into the diverse marine life of the region. The Anthropological Museum is a great introduction to the diverse tribal culture of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the history of the tribes up to present day. The museum is well laid out with excellent photographs taken in the early half of the 20th century. Purchase a Port Blair map which will make it easier for you to navigate the town.
For one of the best sunset spots in Port Blair, head to Chidiya Tapu, though the best time to go is early morning to witness the different birds found here, and to avoid the crowds. For a taste of the famous Andaman beaches, with pristine white sands and blue waters take a drive along the scenic coastal road to Corbyn’s Cove. Once you have had your fill of the town, take a ferry to Ross Island and check out the old Japanese bunkers and remnants of British homes and buildings. After decades of neglect, vegetation has reclaimed the island, taking over the existing structures. Deer and peacock roam about. Viper Island, a serene beautiful tourist destination situated near Port Blair's harbour, was the main jail for British prisoners before the Cellular Jail was built. It has ruins of the gallows atop a hillock and other abandoned buildings and local legend claims that the island is haunted. If water activities are what you came for then head to North Bay Island and partake in an underwater sea walk to spot a variety of fish, coral and other sea life. For more forays into the amazing world of underwater sea life, head to Jolly Buoy Island and ride a glass-bottom boat, a perfect family and group activity.
While Port Blair is not necessarily known as a shopping hub, the town does have a bazaar and a few government emporiums. Our first choice would be Aberdeen Bazaar for colourful fabrics, wood artefacts, jewellery, Port Blair T-shirts and more. Don’t forget to bargain. The Sagarika Government Emporium is also a great option for pearl jewellery, home decor accessories made from shells, coconut lampshades and bangles and papier mache tribal masks.
One of the gems of Port Blair is Wandoor, a tiny village 30km southwest of town, from where you can access the famous Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. The park comprises of 15 mangrove creeks, tropical rainforests and reefs, with two snorkelling sites that are alternated between, depending on the time of the year. It is also a great place for avian enthusiasts, who can spot the white-bellied sea eagle amongst other birds of the region. Also at Wandoor, tucked away on a small, forested incline fringed by fields and mangrove swamp is the little known but wonderful ANET (Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team), a research organisation set up in the late 1980s to study and conserve the unique biodiversity of the islands. The ANET campus with 10 wooden cottages, simple meals and extensive library, is the perfect place to understand and live amongst the diverse ecology and environment of the archipelago. As a bonus they also offer diving and snorkelling expeditions!
Another option is to stay at Wildgrass, a forest lodge run by a retired Naval Commander and his wife, deep in the forest of South Andamans, on the southernmost tip of Chidiya Tapu. Spend your time gazing at the lush wilderness, eat the fresh catch of the day and revel in the lap of nature.
If you really want to take the road less travelled, head to Rangat and Mayabunder (Middle Andaman) and Diglipur (North Andaman), towns from where you can access the deep tropical forests and other under-explored parts of the island or trek up Saddle Peak, the highest peak in the region. Ferries to these places tend to be erratic so check the government website for timings, as they change seasonally. You can also go up by road via the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) but do note that the road goes through protected tribal zones and can be crossed only at certain times of the day, accompanied by an official convoy. From Diglipur head straight to the tranquil beach of Kalipur and prepare to be amazed at the sight of varieties of turtles nesting, including Olive Ridley, Green Sea, Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles. Stay at the remote and beautiful Pristine Beach Resort and even assist with collecting and marking of turtle eggs. It is a fantastic nature show, best viewed between mid-December to early April. And for the truly adventurous, a trip to Barren Island, India’s only active volcano is a must. You can charter a boat with permission from the Forest Department and visit the island. Be warned, the volcano last erupted in 2015.
Havelock and Neil are the most well-known and visited of the Andamans Islands open to the public. A more pristine version of Goa, Havelock beach is the perfect place to go diving and explore marine life, or simply spend time taking in the stunning natural beauty lying on the soft white sands. Don’t miss out on the experience of going on a sea walk at the famous Elephant Beach.Havelock has a number of beachfront properties, along with great food and a chilled out vibe. You can choose from the very basic and cheap Sea View Beach Resort to the beautiful and luxurious Barefoot at Havelock Resort, and everything in between. Many resorts have on site diving companies and offer good package deals worth looking into. Neil is a quieter but less luxurious alternative to Havelock. More laid-back and untouched, it’s also perfect for snorkelling and diving.
Other islands worth exploring, if you have the time and patience, are the remote beaches, coves, mangroves and tropical forests of Little Andaman and Long Island. Watch out for the crocodiles though!
|VIP Rd, Nayagaon, Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands 744103||IXZ|