Trip Meter

Day 0 - Hyderabad to Chennai flight
Day 1 - Chennai to Port Blair flight, sightseeing in Port Blair, Port Blair to Havelock ferry
Day 2 - Laze around at Beach # 3, bike ride through Havelock country, jungle trek to Elephant Beach, sunset at Radhanagar Beach, steamed fish in local market
Day 3 - Snorkeling at Elephant Beach, bike ride to Kalapathar, dinner at 'Red Snapper', star gazing and more by the waves at Beach # 3
Day 4 - Elephant training camp and jungle trek at Kalapathar, elephant ride and natural lagoons near Radhanagar Beach, fishing at The Wall, crab masala in local market
Day 5 - Scuba diving at Elephant Beach, Havelock to Port Blair ferry
Day 6 - Port Blair to Chennai flight, body massage at Ayush Ayurveda Center, Chennai to Hyderabad flight

This was my most researched and planned trip till date. You don't want to land in Andaman Islands without a booking. Actually, you don't want to land in Andaman Islands without a booking and with your wife on your arm!

For the uninitiated, Andaman Islands lie to the east of India in the Bay of Bengal. Geographically, this groups of islands is more closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to the Indian mainland. The Andaman (and Nicobar) Islands are home to aboriginal tribes like the Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge, Shompens, Sentinelese and the extinct Jangil. The Nicobar group of Islands is off limits to tourists. Port Blair, Havelock Island and Neil Island are the popular travel destinations in Andaman Islands.

I started off by listing all the decent hotels and resorts in Port Blair and Havelock. Our travel dates hovered around New Years. And the standard reply I heard from all hotels for the first two days of planning was "I am sorry, Sir. We are fully booked for the season." We nudged our dates a little to manage a luxury cabana (pink colored tent!) at Island Vinnies, a beach resort in Havelock. Island Vinnies was also the home to one of Havelock's two scuba diving outfits - Dive India. The other outfit being Barefoot Scuba.

Once the acco was in place, I jumped to for the flights. Hyderabad to Havelock seemed a fairly simple journey. Hyderabad - Chennai flight, Chennai - Port Blair flight, and Port Blair - Havelock ferry. Phew! Pritha from Island Vinnies arranged the round trip ferry tickets (Port Blair to Havelock) and jeep transfers for a charge of Rs. 1000 per person. The actual price of a round trip ferry ticket is Rs. 300. But since they are difficult to get, there is a service charge of Rs. 200 to fetch them. Add five jeep transfers and the total of Rs. 1000 per person doesn't look very outrageous.

With these bookings in place, we were almost set for our trip to an exotic destination on the world map - the Andaman Islands.

Day 0 - Hyderabad to Chennai flight
Overnight: Chennai

After all the drama in getting the bookings done, there was more adventure left in this episode. When we left home for Hyderabad airport, we thought we would comfortably make it to the flight. But lo and behold city traffic and Murphy's law - we got stuck in a traffic jam and Murphy's law made sure our flight was running on-time. After slicing and dicing through snarling Hyderabad traffic, we barely made it to the 1700 hrs Hyd - Chennai flight.

In Chennai, we spent the night at Satyam's place. The next morning, we had the 0415 hrs Chennai - Port Blair flight to catch. And after we managed not to oversleep a faulty alarm (actually my mistake in setting it up), we found that our trusted Chennai cabbie didn't turn up in the morning. It was already 3:20 am! It seemed like Mr. Murphy was working overtime to stop us from reaching Andamans. Pulkit and Satyam drove us to the airport - in 11 minutes flat - just in time for our flight.

There is no feeling more tensed than we-will-miss-this-flight-today. And that happened to us twice in those last twelve hours.

Day 1 - Chennai to Port Blair flight, sightseeing in Port Blair, Port Blair to Havelock ferry
Overnight: Havelock

I promptly fell asleep as soon as I boarded the flight while Lubna took the window seat.

When Lubna nudged to wake me up, the view outside our seat window was simply - how do we say this - breathtaking! It was 6:00 am in the morning and the sun was already peeping through the clouds, pouring shafts of soft yellow light on to the sea below. Almond shaped islands covered with thick green vegetation gently floated in the sea. A thin line of white sand skirted around the islands. And beyond the band of sand, the mad colors of the sea mixed in a way that held our mortal breaths. It started off with shades of turquoise blending into a dash of green and aquamarine that flowed into the regular blues - sky, electric and deep.

The pilot announced we were flying over Andaman Islands. And that we will not be able to land for a few more minutes as the Port Blair airport opens only at 6:30 am. It was surreal as we hovered over the islands in slow circles. This one view from the plane was worth all the money and effort spent on this trip.

We landed at Port Blair and Vijay, our Fix It man, informed us that the ferry to Havelock would leave the harbour at 2:00 pm. That left us with good 7 hours to explore Port Blair, the remote black water of colonial India. We hired a cab (a Maruti Omni) for half a day that costed us 600 rupees. Sanjay, our cabbie, escorted us to the places we wanted to see.

We nibbed some idlis and wadas at an Udupi breakfast joint and set upon a sightseeing tour. We always left the luggage in cab and felt 100% safe about it. As our cabbie would claim, "Your luggage is very very safe in Andaman, Sir." We zipped from Gandhi Park to Corbyn's Cove (Port Blair's better beach) to Anthropology Museum to Aberdeen Market to Cellular Jail. All brief but entertaining stops. We filled our stomachs with some fish and fried rice for lunch and headed to the harbour for our Havelock ferry.

Port Blair to Havelock is a 2 hour 15 minute sail in the ferry. The first view of Havelock island, a lush green rain forest along the coast of a deep blue sea, was phenomenal. The trees were tall. Really tall. And that white strip of sandy beach just invited you to jump off the ferry. At the tip of the island where the forest ended was a light house, absolutely white and just out of the movies. Our ferry swirled past the lighthouse and Havelock jetty was within eye sight now.

Our resort was about 3 kms from the jetty. Eight pink tents pitched in the middle of a palm tree grove. Sea washed one edge of the resort and brought some cool breeze. The advancing and receding waves created music, mood and magic. Orange bulbs placed low along the pathways in the grove lent character to the place. The tent had two beds, a floor fan, Mortein liquidator, two side tables, a rack, and a large attached bathroom with hot water. Rs. 1400 for all this in Havelock did not seem a bad deal. One thing that left us longing for more was the restaurant in our resort. Food was okayish and prices steep. Nothing to write home about.

A km away from our resort towards the jetty was the Havelock local market where we could buy basic stuff (sunscreen, torch, scarves), eat some good fresh sea food, and hire a bike. The highlight of the night was the was the starry sky. What sky! The last time I saw so many twinkling stars in the sky was around Rampur, Himachal Pradesh in Dec 2004. What awesome scene to enjoy when holding hands of your beloved!

Havelock had GSM reception but no GPRS connectivity. This meant my Blackberry could make and receive phone calls. But messages and emails had to wait till we got back to mainland. What a relief!

Day 2 - Laze around at Beach # 3, bike ride through Havelock country, jungle trek to Elephant Beach, sunset at Radhanagar Beach, steamed fish in local market
Overnight: Havelock

It was a slow start to a day. We lazed around in the morning, lazily munched breakfast, and lazed some more. When even yawning got very boring, we packed our beach towels and sunscreen and headed to the beach in the backyard of our resort. Havelock's Beach # 3. My jaw dropped a feet at the sight of the sea. The water was a light tinge of green and gently washed the white sandy shores of the beach. Blue skies with white clouds floating and dense green palm trees completed the picture post card you often see on tourism websites.

The water was pretty gentle - no heavy waves. It was almost like a lake. And it was pretty warm - you could just run into it. And run into it for a good 100 yards and water would still be at waist level. I think this beach is only accessible through the resorts that line up along its length. There were very few people around - a few foreigners and occasional fishermen / locals. A thoroughly enjoyable morning in calm warm green waters away from all crowd.

After soaking in the lovely beach and gaining our first Havelock tan, we decided it was time to explore this little island. We went to the market hoping to hire a Honda Activa but were surprised to see everything closed. Apparently, Havelock enjoyed its lunch between 12:00 and 3:00 pm. The only bike that was on offer was an old Yamaha RX100. Yes, the same sweetheart you would chew your heart for in your college days. The smasher beauty that's now vanished from the streets in mainland India and is now just a legend. I jumped at the chance to ride it one final time and agreed to hire it for a day. Rs. 200 per day for rent and Rs. 100 for two litres of petrol. Awesome and quick!

Our maroon jittery AN 7431 completely rattled with each twist of the throttle. But two things were distinctly RX100: light-weight handling and the 2-stroke sound. We were headed towards Elephant Beach and Radhanagar Beach. The road was new and smooth - a ribbon that twisted and turned as it found its serpentine way through the hillocks. Havelock country side was pristine and refreshing. Locals here do farming when they are not fishing. Cows, goats, hens, tea stalls, coconuts, bicycles - it was charming in a very unique way.

We grabbed a quick lunch of fried fish fillet (Rs. 20) and thali (Rs. 40) and parked our bike to start on the jungle trail to Elephant Beach. Elephant Beach was accessible from the road by a 30 minute walk through Havelock's thick rain forest on a well marked but muddy trail. It was 3:00 pm and one auto-walah around suggested we shouldn't be heading towards the beach at this hour. It would be very dark in the forest in a couple of hours and it was a considerable walk to and fro to manage it in time. I was kicked up about the trek and Lubna wasn't too keen - she wouldn't do it against local advice. We decided to do it. Rather, I decided we do it.

The forest was lovely. We saw a Green Viper crawling back into bush cover. Lizards croaked and sifted through fallen branches as we kept moving into vegetation. The atmosphere was lovely and the excitement was building up. But Lubna was already complaining it was a bad idea. A thought drifted through my mind that we should pick up a stick or two in our hands, you know, just in case. And as I was thinking about it, we saw five dogs approaching us from the front. They were not huge. They looked tamed. They were not hostile. All was well. They almost passed us. All was still well. And just when they were a few feet away from us, one of the dogs bursted into barking. In a matter of few nano seconds, all five dogs were aggressively barking at us. We stuck together and did not run. I tried to shoo them away with slight aggression. They retraced a few feet but came back stronger. We kept holding our ground. Each second seemed a lightyear. Actually, we were holding onto our nerves. And we probably had just 10 more seconds of nerves left. A few centuries later, a guy with a sickle appeared from behind the dogs, probably the owner, and started shooing them away. The barks hushed up and we moved forward on our trail. As soon as we found our breaths, we promptly picked up sticks - 2 for me and 1 for Lubna.

The forest led us into a swamp and the beach was still not in sight. We walked through the marshy land and came across large fallen trees. The Tsunami must have been merciless to uproot such large trees. Through the checkered gaps in fallen trees, we could see green waters shimmering in late afternoon sun. Ah, the Elephant Beach finally. This place is impossible to reach during high tide when the marshy swamp is filled with sea water. One should ask locally before starting on the trek. A South African girl we met on the beach (and she also took pictures of us) told us that this was a great snorkeling spot. We'd have to come back here again. But right now we had to get back to our bike and road before the sun went down.

Our next stop on this already lovely day was the Radhanagar Beach or Beach # 7. After a few kms of reckless riding and exciting free-handling bike sessions, we made it to the beach. This was the chaupaati of Havelock. Big waves washed the shores while the sun sets in the background. Lovely white sand and crystal clear water. We could clearly see our feet even when we were waist deep in water. This beach will easily climb your 'Best Beaches Visited' charts. While it is popular with both foreign and domestic tourists, it is still quiet and secluded. While at the beach, we indulged in some childhood activity and made our foot-in-sand home, complete with a lawn and garage.

After sunset, we rode back to our resort. The scarf tied around my nose and mouth managed to keep the bugs at bay. We skipped the resort restaurant in favour of Havelock market for dinner. Grilled whole fish from day's fresh catch for ~ Rs. 100 (select the one you want grilled), prawn masala for Rs. 60 per king prawn and fish fry for Rs. 20 per piece. Other unexplored options included lobsters and crabs. Wash it down with masala chai or black tea.

One thing we enjoyed about Havelock was the feeling of safety. We never bothered to lock our suitcases in the cabana. Nothing ever went missing. We left our Nikon D70 on the beach towel and walked atleast a km away from it. We came back to find it just as we'd left it. We didn't have to lock the bike anywhere on the island. The helmet was always left on bike under the sky. Safe. That's one thing we simply loved about Havelock!

Day 3 - Snorkeling at Elephant Beach, bike ride to Kalapathar, dinner at 'Red Snapper', star gazing and more by the waves at Beach # 3
Overnight: Havelock

This was our first big day with the sea. After breakfast, we hopped into our resort's skiff that was headed to Elephant Beach. There were about six other people on the skiff who were planning a dive. Lubna and I were the only two out there for snorkeling. It took us about an hour to get to Elephant Beach. The two instructors (one of them also doubled up as the steersman) dispatched the divers into the sea. Once they were done, they handed us the snorkeling gear - mask, float and flippers. The instructor swam with Lubna and tugged her along. And with the float and flippers on, I managed to swim on my own.

The sea is so phenomenally beautiful! There's a whole new universe out there. The visibility was great and the colors of the sea just astounded us. Lubna and I couldn't speak and had to express our excitement with weird hand gestures in the water! So many fish, so many forms, so many colors ... life is definitely boring on land. At the end of it, I was suprised how easy it was to swim in the sea with flippers. I did 150m into the sea and back at least 3 times. There is no way I could have done 900m in a pool! We returned to the resort around 2:00 pm and the waters had receded from the beach. We had to get down about 100m from the shore and wade through knee deep water with bags on our heads to get to our resort.

In the evening, we headed south of the island to the elephant traning camp at Kalapathar. The elephants weren't there - they are brought into the camp in the mornings and are let off into the jungle for the rest of the day. The beach around Kalapathar was melancholy; huge Tsunami uprooted trees were testimony to the destruction nature is capable of.

We booked a table for two at Red Snapper, the islands fine dining place, and were not disappointed. The whole fish (was it the Red Snapper?) was great and so was the ambience, service and rest of the food. Later in the night, we went out for a night walk along our backyard beach (yes, we carried a torch light with us). The gentle waves washing up the shore provided the music, and bright white stars in a sky black like a snake, provided the twinkling light.

Day 4 - Elephant training camp and jungle trek at Kalapathar, elephant ride and natural lagoons near Radhanagar Beach, fishing at The Wall, crab masala in local market
Overnight: Havelock

The morning of day 4 was relatively the slowest and mundane. We rode back to the elephant training camp at Kalapathar. It was a bamboo fenced quadrangle with a couple of mahouts around to take care of the elephants. The training camp had 4 elephants - two 30+ moms and two young calfs - 4 and 6. They would train for a few hours between 9 am and noon everyday. They would then be left into the wild in the evening and mahouts would fetch them from jungle the next morning. The actual training in the quadrangle didn't excite us much so we moved out and looked for the jungle trail to hilltop. After a little local enquiry, we could identify the starting point of the trek. We trekked into the rain forest for about 20 mins, and before we would lose our way, we retraced our steps back to the road.

From Kalapathar, we rode to the other end of the island - Radhanagar Beach. The short Rs. 20 elephant ride on the beach was an attraction meant more for Western tourists. One can easily give it a skip. The natural lagooons which are a 10 min walk from main beach are again nothing to rave about. Just interesting pieces of rocks in the sea to sit and enjoy the sea.

The evening was more interesting! We had fixed a date with a local fisherman at the jetty who would take us out on a fishing trip. When we reached the jetty at 3:00 pm, his conspicuous absence meant we had to make a deal with another fisherman. Babu and his boss Bakshi agreed at Rs. 700. They quickly got some wire and bait fish and readied their skiff for the sea. We anchored the skiff near Lighthouse and Bakshi taught us how to drop the line in the sea. We baited the hook, dropped the line and kept waiting for the fish to bite it. I was holding the line on my thumb to feel any movement. Nothing happened in the first few minutes. When we pulled out the line, the bait was gone. The fish were smarter than us. Babu and Bakshi suggested we should try to hook fish at another spot. We pulled out the anchor and started the motor on the skiff.

We kept sailing towards the strait between Hara Island (the uninhabited one) and Sookha Island (the dry one). We covered some considerable distance and Havelock was just a speck now. This was when I started to feel that things were fishy. Weren't Bakshi and Babu going too out of their way to help us hook a fish? Each furlong we sailed, I got more suspicious. I started talking to them about where they lived, what they did. Did converstaions help read ones mind? We were well beyond The Wall, a ridge in the sea. Soon, Bakshi let the anchor down in the middle of the sea and announced this was the place we would fish. Turned out, he genuinely wanted us to take back home a fish or three. I realised my fears were unreal, after all. We let the lines down in the sea and waited for the fish to bite.

No love from fish so far.

We waited some more and Lubna could feel the pull. She tried to pull it out but the fish was stronger. The line broke. It was my turn next. The fish hooked but refused to come out of the sea. The line broke again. Meanwhile Bakshi hooked a 4 inch fish - smaller than the ones we cut to bait the hooks. In all, we lost our hook three times, we lost the bait atleast four times and felt the pull several times. But no fish. The sun was sinking into the horizon very fast. Andaman Islands lie far to the east from mainland but still run on India time. It was just 5 pm when the sun went down but that meant we had to get back to the shore very soon. So genuine was Bakshi's interest in getting us atleast one big fish that a kind of guilt swept his face when we said we would head back soon - fish or no fish.

On our way back, we stopped at the local market and I gorged on Crab Masala. Lubna didn't eat. We had plans to go to the music night at Emerald Gecko later that night. But once we hit the bed in our cabanas promising ourselves just a short 15 minute nap, we woke up only the next morning.

Day 5 - Scuba diving at Elephant Beach, Havelock to Port Blair ferry
Overnight: Port Blair

The real big day was here. We would go scuba diving today! Today was also our last day in Havelock. The ferry for Port Blair left at 4:30 pm and anticipating that we would return to resort from the dive not before 3:00 pm, we packed our suitcases in the morning itself. After a hearty breakfast, we boarded a dungi along with six novice divers and four diving staff and headed for Elephant Beach. Our third rendezvous with the Tsunami battered yet beautiful beach - each time in a different avatar.

Lubna and I were excited. But to be honest, we were also a bit nervous. But here's the construct: No one on Havelock died because of diving gear failure. So if anything can go wrong, it had to be our own panic. Don't panic and everything should be fine.

The first set of divers went in for the first dive. We donned our swin suits and killed some time on the beach. When they got back, Sayeed and Kanu, our dive instructors, prepped us for our life's very first dive. Basic hand signals (thumbs up doesn't mean good! It means you want to break to surface), breathing under water, recovery of regulator tube, clearing of mask. I had some trouble with mask clearing but Sayeed and Kanu were really patient. Once we thought we were ready, we headed out into the waters. Kanu accompanied Lubna while another guy and I swam along with Sayeed. The first ten minutes were really uneasy. I was scared of getting lost from the group. My ears began to ache. I was unable to keep myself balanced and I wanted to surface. But with a little help and motivation from Sayeed I started getting comfortable. I equalised my ears and gained depth very gradually to avoid ear pain. My lungs started to feel a little dry but that was because of the dry oxygen in tanks - nothing surprising.

The moment I became comfortable I discovered it was a magical world out there. The feeling of floating in water so effortlessly was beatifying and elating - somewhat in the literal sense. The colors so brilliant - I'd never seen any such thing before. Weightlessness, natural buoyancy and great visibility - an absolute bliss. We weren't lucky to spot turtles but I did see an Oyster and Clown fish (Finding Nemo) among loads of other exotic colorful fishes and corals. Those 30 minutes under the sea were unlike any other in a long time and I will remember them till I am an old man.

I surfaced about 150m from the shore but with flippers on, it wasn't that difficult to swim to the shore. All of us packed up the dungi and moved to Light House. The first set of divers went in for the second dive while we picked up sun tan in the anchored dungi. Unfortunately, we were running late and the second set of divers couldn't go for a second dive. It was sad - it left a slight bitter taste in what was a wonderful vacation till now! We got back to the resort, cribbed to Vinnie (owner of Dive India and Island Vinnie) about it, picked up our bags and rushed to the jetty to catch the ferry.

It was smooth sail from Havelock to Port Blair under a starry night sky. Later that evening, after a sumptuous meal of fried whole Red Snapper and tandoori Tiger Prawn in Port Blair's only wanna-be-fancy restaurant, the New Light House, I forgot all about missing the second dive. I was just cherishing my first dive and dreaming of my next scuba diving vacation.

Day 6 - Port Blair to Chennai flight, body massage at Ayush Ayurveda Center, Chennai to Hyderabad flight

If our arrival in Port Blair was exciting, our departure was even more so. We stepped out of our hotel in the morning to find our cab had a flat tyre. Sanjay replaced the tyre and rushed us to the airport. Just when we were about to enter the gates, Lubna remembered she forgot her cell phone in the hotel room. I rushed back to fetch it. When we checked our baggage and collected our boarding passes, I realized my swiss knife was still in my backpack and we had not packed it in check-in luggage. I coaxed and coerced the airline staff (we were flying Deccan) to SRA my knife to Chennai.

We got onto the flight and bid good bye to Andaman. We reached Chennai safely. My swiss knife reached Chennai safely. And all's well that ends well.

We had several hours in Chennai before our onward flight to Hyderabad. We dropped our bags in Left Luggage at the airport and hit the city. The choice was between a movie and a body massage. But before that, it was time to feed the beasts in our stomachs. Sticking to my motto of 'when in Chennai, do it the Chennai style', we found a Madrasi lunch home. While Lubna was content with an Onion Uttapam, I got the Tamil Nadu meals for myself - primarily to prove (to Lubna) that south Indians don't mess up their elbows while eating rice with sambar and rasam.

The finale of our holiday was a full body oil massage at Ayush Ayurveda Center, one of the several Kerala ayurvedic massage centers that dot Chennai. 90 minutes later our bodies were less stiff and so much more relaxed. It was as if the warm oils and steam bath restored the sap of our bodies and rejuvenated the dead cells. I strongly recommend a stop at Ayush after a week long trip - they charge Rs. 650 for the massage and Rs. 100 for the steam.

Andaman Islands was one heck of a trip to remember! The costs weren't out of the world; the place definitely was! We spent 30k on flights, 7k on stay, 8k on scuba, snorkeling and fishing, and 10k on everything else. For this price, one could get a 6 night 'package' in Mauritius. But where's the mood? After a sip of Andaman Islands and scuba diving, the next destination on my wanderlist is Lakshadweep Islands and a certification course in open water scuba diving. And perhaps Maldives before they sink. Till then, so long and thanks for all the fish!

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Flights - / Stay - Island Vinnie's, Barefoot Resorts, The Wild Orchid, Emerald Gecko / Diving schools - Dive India, Barefoot Scuba, Lacadives

Tags: Adventure Sports, India

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  1. I read your travel blog about Andaman. It was very nice indeed. I was wondering if you would share some information with me about where you stayed at Port Blair et al. - Tejas Jog
  2. I am a freelance commercial photographer working out of Mumbai/ Nasik. I went through your travelog on Dive India, Havelock & was quite fascinated. - Sachin Buddhisagar