Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ultimate Andaman Experience

The much awaited family holiday at Andaman was just over. Thanks to weather Gods for showering us with brilliant weather all through our 8 day sojourn to one of the most exotic locations of India.

It was a memorable holiday for us. Havelock and Jolly Buoy trips had been fantastic. As usual, I had done my home work before leaving with a plan A and B, in case weather plays spoilsport. A customized local package which included only the things I wanted to do have helped me enjoy the holiday with full value for money. Now that I have experienced it first hand, I would like to refine the things one should do while in Andamans. I called this as the ‘Ultimate Andaman Experience’.

What you should do on your own :

1)  Rather than taking a complete package, I would suggest that you book your flight tickets. Now that Kingfisher is near dead, the options you have are Air India, Jet Lite and Go Air. I took the Jet flight from Kolkata for onward journey to avoid fog delay at Delhi. On return I took the direct flight of Go Air from Port Blair to Delhi. Thus to me the best option from Delhi is the Go Air flight.
2)  Shortlist your hotels. I would suggest not to book them in hurry. Take the help of a local tour operator and also read reviews on Trip Advisor before deciding where to stay.

Planning your Stay :

Your stay will be typically in 3 leg – on Arrival at Port Blair, Havelock or Neil Island as per your plan, and return leg of stay at Port Blair. This is the ideal plan for stay :

1 night at Port Blair. You typically arrive by 1 pm. So second half is free for local sight seeing.

2 or 3 nights at Havelock. Or even more. Try to maximize your stay at Havelock. This is where you will get the feel of an island vacation. Staying at Port Blair will give you feel of staying in a small town up in the hills. The terrain is hilly. My child asked me ‘Papa, where is the beach?’

2 or 3 nights at Port Blair. No of days will decide what you can do. I found 7 or 8 nights is the ideal Andaman Holiday.

Must avoid at Port Blair:

Before I list what are ‘must see’, I would suggest you not waste your time and money on the following while at Port Blair:

1) Fisheries museum – if you have been to any of the underwater world abroad
2)  Corbyn’s Cove Beach and Chidiya Tapu beach - These are small beaches, suitable only for a stroll. They are not for enjoying the sea, sun and sand. You will get miles of beautiful beaches at Havelock.
3) Trip to Viper Island and North Bay - Typically they club together trip to Ross, Viper and North Bay. But you have the option to take only Ross Island trip. The wiser one takes only the Ross Island Trip.
4)  Snorkeling at North Bay - Avoid this at all cost. If you compare this with what you get at Jolly Buoy or Elephant beach at Havelock, it is like a small backyard pond. Also they are grossly overpriced.

Must see at Port Blair:

These are ‘must see’ attractions. Depending on your time you can omit some of them. As I had stayed for 9 days, I had enough time to cover them. I had tried to list them down in the order of their appeal to me – from must see to worth seeing:

1) Cellular Jail including the Light n Sound show : Cover this on the afternoon of your day of arrival. Do not take a local sight seeing for the evening that includes Corbyn’s Cove. Rather head straight to the Cellular Jail. The Light and Sound show though is not spectacular (of the kind of Songs of the Sea at Sentosa), it is worth the time for its historic content.
2) Jolly Buoy via Wandoor Beach : It is a must visit for wonderful snorkeling experience. My rating for it is right at the top. A typical package consists of two way travel to Wandoor Beach (29km) by car and a ferry ticket to the Jolly Buoy Island. On the package of ferry ticket, they give you a small snorkeling and a glass bottom boat ride which is nothing but a trailer of natural treasure that exists beneath the sea. You need to pay a little bit more to get the full movie. We paid 300 rupees per head for extra snorkeling and it was worth every rupee for the wonderful experience. The guy took us deeper into the sea, occasionally diving down to pick items like starfish and sea cucumber and let us touch them. There were so many varieties of colorful fishes and corals. We all remember seeing 3 different colored star fishes – orange, blue and purple. This certainly was an experience of lifetime for us. Snorkeling is absolutely safe. Even my little daughter enjoyed it. The place is pristine and preserved. It is part of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. You are not allowed to carry plastics, not even water bottles. I really appreciate this act on the part of park authorities as most morons just use and throw water bottles. Jolly Buoy is not included in normal packages and hence 50% of LTC crowd arriving at Port Blair do not go there to crowd it. This is a full day tour. Snorkeling here is cheaper and 200% better than North Bay where 100% of LTC crowd goes.
3)  Baratang Island : This is another full day tour. You need to get up at 3 am and leave your hotel by 3:30 am to catch the first gate at 6am. The attractions of the trip are Mud Volcano and Limestone Caves. And the much touted journey in convoy through Jarwa Reserve. Being regular in wildlife circuit of India and having spent days in jungles, the journey is nothing spectacular as some had tried to point. No wildlife, not even a deer or monkey is seen. It is so dull that you would prefer to sleep through that 1 ½ hour journey. Jarwas had been pushed deeper by administration following the video controversy. The journey is via the Andaman Trunk Road. At the end of the Jarwa Reserve, you need to cross the creek in ferry to reach Baratang Island. The first attraction is the Mud Volcano which is not as bad some people had written in various forums. Though it is not spewing, it is not completely dead either. Occasional bubbles can be seen on the mounds of mud. However this may be boring for many who go there expecting to see a Nat Geo style volcano. You need to appreciate this rare natural phenomenon. The second attraction, the Limestone cave is also another natural wonder. A speed boat ride takes you there. The last part of journey through mangroves is interesting. I wish authorities put some lighting in the caves to see those beautiful stalactite and stalagmites. Overall it is a nice trip for all the local flavors including crossing of islands in ferry laden with bus, truck and locals. For us the icing on the cake was sighting of a Jarwa family – a couple with 2 small children, on our return. Ironically, the spot where we met them was well outside the gated convoy area. They were waiting to cross the road when our small convoy of 3 vehicles arrived. The children were shouting at the vehicles. Our driver slowed down as we cross them. As we had passed them, my eyes met the eye of the male. That piercing look remained impregnated in my mind for ever.
4) Ross Island: Typically they club together trip to Ross, Viper and North Bay. But you have the option to take only Ross Island trip. The wiser one takes only the Ross Island Trip. It was capital of British. Almost all the building is in ruins. If are not interested in seeing ruins, then you can avoid this. Takes about 2 hours.
5)  Chatham Saw Mill: I visited this place to kill time one morning - between check out from hotel and catching the ferry to Havelcok. It has lot of old machinery and has a rustic charm. But they do not allow photography at most places which put me off. Photography is allowed only at godowns where piles of logs are stocked. Takes about an hour.

I did the trip to Jolly Buoy and Baratang on my second leg of stay. In between I spent 3 beautiful nights at Havelock - the other ultimate destination of Andaman.  My next post will be on Havelock Island

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My dear blog

My dear blog,

I have ignored you in the last twelve months. Still you did not sulk the way my daughter's moshi monster did. I had traveled a lot, yet just 5 posts. On my return today I found 108 comments lying to be moderated. Why this, why this, why this....ji? Does Facebook is killing blogging? In the last year I found myself mostly glued to Facebook. Now that I had quit playing Empires & Allies,  I am back to my writing ways. 

What else could it be. Photography. I also found Nature Wanderers last year. Got hooked to wildlife photography since I saw my first tiger in the wild. Almost invested a couple of lakh since then in upgrading equipment. Now that my wife had also got bitten by this viral bug, it is sure to stay for a longer time. This will take us regularly into our favorite National Parks. We are actually thinking of setting up travel page and utilize our knowledge of wildlife travelling. Next trips due are Bandhavgarh in April and Ranthambhore in May.

Sushanta liked my last article so much that it had been published in Pragyan. Receiving the hard copy of the magazine had wooed me back to this page I started around seven years back. Will be back soon with Andaman trip.

See you all till then.