If you are looking for beautiful and relaxing holiday destinations in India then you should definitely consider making a trip to the Andamans.
Long Island & Guitar Island
Tucked away on the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans, Guitar Island has a spotless white sandy beach that you can have all to yourself. It is uninhabited but you can see boats cruising and circumnavigating it for fishing. Where else on earth would I find such a place, I wondered. The name though puzzled me. ‘Its aerial view is in the shape of a guitar and hence the name,’ a forest department official who had accompanied me, explained.
There is another beautiful beach you should visit once you are there – Lalaji Bay Beach – which is a hotspot for beach combing, swimming and nature photography. It is situated on the northeast coast of Long Island and you would need a country boat (a ride of 45 minutes from Long Island jetty) to get there. You can reach Long Island by boarding one of the Andaman & Nicobar Administration operated ships from Port Blair. It would roughly take 4-5 hours (and about Rs 600-700) to reach Long Island from Port Blair by ship (via Havelock/Strait Island). The island though is not very popular as there are very few staying options available. I stayed for a night at the ‘Vanashree’, the Forest Guest House (make sure you book it in advance). There is also a privately owned resort you can check into. The Forest Guest House houses four basic airy rooms, a manicured garden, and a view of the sea; you can also sample the most amazing fish fry there. The staff is courteous and meals are on time.
We came through a dingy (country boat) amidst a dark rain-laden sky above us. After a brief 15 minutes cruise, our boat anchored on the coast and I set foot on the beach. Lots of sand crabs and hermit crabs were crawling on the beach and I hurriedly captured them on my lens. One has to be really fast to photograph them. In the blink of an eye, they are gone, immersed beneath their sandy holes.
In the meantime, the overcast sky took on a threatening avatar. It continued to grow darker and darker. Fortunately, as a matter of precaution and to protect my camera, I had brought an umbrella along. We moored back our boat after spending some time in the beach, chased the clouds and breezed past the choppy waves to reach Long Island.
Eco-Tourism in Rangat
After a boat ride of about an hour from Long Island (departed at 7 am), we reached Yerrata Creek in Rangat journeying through beautiful mangrove creeks. I had my breakfast on the way at Rangat (this is a decent hub and you can find local shops and restaurants in the market. The tourism department has its own guest house – Hawksbill Nest and presents a comfortable stay with local delicacies comprising of fish, prawns and crabs depending on their availability) and continued my journey.
Rangat is blessed with a couple of tourist spots such as Aamkunj Beach, Morice Dera Beach and Dhani Nallah Mangrove Walkway. On my way, I first stopped at Aamkunj beach (8 km from Rangat) which is a long, sandy and patchy stretch interspersed with pebbles. You can enjoy watching the sea waves, or sit quietly for sometime at the eco-friendly benches such as log sofas and log teapoys. Next on the itinerary was Morice Dera beach (12 km from Rangat) which has been developed by the tourism and forest department as an eco-tourism hotspot. It has a unique twin rock formation right on the beach where you can walk along the ridges through a pathway. But the most exciting part was the 700 metres long Mangrove walkway at Dhani Nallah. The walkway takes you through mangroves, palm trees, breathing roots, and Hathi Kaan Orchids, and leads to a pretty beach called the Dhani Nallah. It is a vast expanse of sand stretching from Curtbert Bay at one hand to as far as my eyes could see on the other hand.
Ross & Smith Island
From Rangat, it took me about 4-5 hours to reach Diglipur town. Around four o’ clock in the afternoon, I arrived at the town’s market (this is the northernmost centre of administration, with a population of 40,000; a centre of strategic defence and you may come across the naval and coast guard establishments on the way).
A quick cup of tea is what we needed. Accordingly, we got off the vehicle, had our fill, felt refreshed and moved towards the government owned Turtle Resort (which was further 20 kms north; tariffs are Rs 1000 for a Double Bed AC room, and Rs 600 for Double Bed Non AC room. Book in advance through the Tourism Department). It was an enjoyable ride amidst green paddy fields, tall coconut plantations and the majestic Saddle Peak facing us on our right. Saddle Peak, I am told, is the tallest peak (732 metres) in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Turtle Resort, located off the Kalipur beach, offers a spectacular view of the sea and a side view of Saddle Peak. We spent the rest of the evening in the resort and eagerly awaited our next morning’s trip. Dinner was a quiet affair with prawn curry and Kukari fish fry.
Ross and Smith Island is joined by a natural stretch of white, sandy beach, which you can comfortably straddle during low tide. Located off the east coast of Diglipur (North Andaman), a visit is a must if you are looking for experiencing something unusual.
The boat rides have a specific timing – 8 am to 2 pm. A boat trip of six people would cost approximately Rs 2500. I had a quick breakfast and drove down to Aerial Bay jetty, from where I had to enlist myself at the Forest Check Post office for the trip. But the weather gods had reckoned otherwise. Quite understandably, this was the peak of Monsoon and it was turning windy and choppy; thus the adjacent port management officials said we would not be able to make it due to inclement weather conditions. I was heart-broken; no amount of pleading helped, since they could not possibly risk our lives. I just prayed to the Lord to clear the skies and hit the nearby Kalipur beach. The highest mountain – Saddle Peak – was just right in front of my eyes, veiled by fluffy clouds, as if playing hide-and-seek with me. On my left was a quaint and tiny isle called Craggy Island. It appeared that one could swim across this island from Kalipur beach; and a small patch of glistening, white sandy beach was looking tempting. However, I stayed at the Kalipur beach and swam a little.
As I went back to Turtle Resort, I met a couple of officials who gave me the news that the weather had cleared, and I could travel to Ross and Smith Island. My joy knew no bounds; I hurriedly went to my room, changed and boarded the cab to reach Aerial
Bay jetty again. There were life guards waiting with life jackets, and a lifebuoy for me. I wasted no time in boarding the boat. A boat ride of almost 15-30 minutes from Aerial Bay jetty brings you to the serene Ross and Smith Islands.
The Tourism Department has basic facilities on the island, but quite adequate– there were about 10-15 thatched huts, sitting arena, changing room, washrooms, a couple of swings (jhula) set romantically amidst coconut trees, and recliners. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was unexpectedly calm and quiet. When you are there, take advice from the forest and tourism officials if you want to go for a swim.
Diglipur also has few other prominent attractions such as Ram Nagar beach (which is the nesting ground of turtles), a mud volcano and Alfred Caves (41 caves of chalk and stone).
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast (August 2015) issue