Friday, December 7, 2007

Andaman and Nicobar Islands - I

A Tropical Paradise – an overview

Have you ever dreamt of a holiday in a tropical paradise amidst waving palms whispering to the oceans; laze around on numerous sun kissed beaches; watch beautiful and colourful marine life; see the only live volcano in India which can still throw up volcanic ash; meet primitive tribals whom time has forgotten; and where time stands still?
Visit the Andaman and the Nicobar islands.

These are actually two groups of islands in the Indian Ocean to the east of India separated by the 150 km wide and deep ten-degree channel which has kept the life forms and cultures of the two groups of islands distinct.
The two groups of islands together form the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Its capital is Port Blair.

These islands are actually the peaks of a vast submerged mountain range extending from Myanmar to Sumatra.
This cluster of 572 islands, of which only 38 are permanently inhabited, lies like a broken necklace over 800 kilometres of the Indian Ocean.


The Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer, Claudius Ptolemaeus, has included Andaman and Nicobar Islands in his maps prepared in the second century.
Yet, we do not know much about the past except that the two groups of islands were inhabited by the Negritos and the Mongoloids for centuries and some passing vessels touched these islands.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were shrouded in mystery for centuries because of their inaccessibility.
Information about these islands trickled into the modern world only during the 18th century.
In 1788, Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General of India, thought of colonizing the islands.
He established the first British settlement on Chatham Island, near Port Cornwallis (present Port Blair), in 1789.

After the Great Revolt of 1857, the British established a penal settlement in March 1858.
The first contingent of inmates consisted of 200 prisoners, mostly rebels from the Indian Army.
Initially, the convicts were kept in a jail at Viper Island - 15 minutes from Port Blair by boat. Subsequently, this Jail was abandoned and the convicts kept in the infamous Cellular Jail constructed in Port Blair during 1896 to 1906.

During the World War II, the Japanese occupied the Andamans from March 21, 1942 to October 8,1945.
Netaji Subash Chandra Bose arrived in Port Blair on December 29, 1943 and hoisted the National Flag at Port Blair the next day.
On October 8, 1945, the Japanese surrendered the islands to the British.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands became Independent on August 15, 1947.
Now the islands have a Lt. Governor and send one elected representative to the Lok Sabha.

Places to see in and around Port Blair

Cellular Jail (in Port Blair)
This is the most important and popular structure here.
The jail is known as ‘cellular’ because it is made up entirely of individual cells for the solitary confinement of the prisoners.
This jail was originally a seven arm, puce-colored building with a central watch tower and corridors like honeycombs.
The building was subsequently damaged.
At present, only three out of the seven arms are intact.

The British confined a large number of Indian freedom fighters here.
They were tortured mercilessly. And many perished.
The Jail is now a National Memorial.

Chatham Island (in Port Blair)
The Chatham Saw Mill is located on a tiny island connected to Port Blair by a small bridge.
This saw mill, built by the British Govt. in 1883, is one of the biggest and oldest in Asia.

Gandhi Park (in Port Blair)
The old Dilthaman tank in Port Blair, which was the only source of supply of drinking water to Port Blair, and the area around, were developed into Gandhi Park in an unbelievably short time span of 13 days!

This beautiful park in Port Blair has facilities like amusement rides, water sports, nature trails around the lake, garden, restaurant and the remains of a Japanese Temple and a bunker.

Mini Zoo (in Port Blair)
The Mini Zoo, located at Haddo (Delanipur - Chatham road) in Port Blair, has 200 species of birds and animals, including some rare species of endemic birds and animals found in these islands, such as, the Nicobar Pigeon, the Andaman Pig and the luminous-green Andaman gekko. The zoo also has a crocodile farm where salt-water crocodiles are bred and released into the coastal mangrove swamps.

Forest Museum (in Port Blair)
Near the zoo is the Forest Museum maintained by the forest department.
You can see specimens of locally grown woods, including the beautiful Padauk which has both light and dark colours present in the same tree.
You can also learn about the lumbering methods used here.

Samudrika Marine Museum (in Port Blair)
This museum maintained by the Indian Navy, has tanks containing exotic fish and corals from the islands’ reefs.
The museum also has on display history and geography of the Andaman & Nicobar islands, miniature models of the islands, pictures of tribals and their life-style and archaeology.

Anthropological Museum (in Port Blair)
The anthropological museum illustrates the lives of the aboriginal tribes with miniature models of the tools used by them, their dresses and photographs of their life style.
The museum also has a library containing a good collection of books.

Corbyn's Cove (7 Kms. from from Port Blair)

This is one of the most picturesque and developed sea-beaches.
It is ideal for sea bathing, sun basking or for a simple picnic.
There are a number of good hotels and restaurants around.

Sippighat Farm (14 kms.)
This is a Government farm covering over 80 acres of land.
Research and experimental programs for cultivation and development of different spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, pepper, etc. are carried on here.
The Research and Demonstration farm of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) is also nearby.

Ross Island
A short boat ride from Phoenix Bay Jetty will take you to this island - the capital of the Islands during the British rule.
Today it is in shambles.
You can see the ruins of a church, cemetery, swimming pool and the old Chief Commissioner’s residence.
A small museum “Smritika” has some photographs and other antiques of the Britishers associated with these islands.

Viper Island
A 15 minutes journey by boat will take you to Viper Island.
This was the first jail on the islands.
It has a gallows on top of a hillock, where condemned prisoners were hanged.

Sher Ali, who killed Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, in 1872, was also hanged here.

Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (29 kms. from Port Blair)
The Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is located at Wandoor.
It covers 281.5 sq. kms. of open sea, creeks and 15 small and large islands.
It has some of the finest underwater life in the world.
You can view dense coral growths and spectacular underwater marine life through glass bottom boats.
You can also do snorkelling and scuba diving.
Or simply laze on the beach!

Chidiya Tapu (25 kms. from Port Blair)
Chidiya Tapu is the southern most tip of South Andaman.
The lush green mangrove forests have numerous species of birds.
The Sylvan Sands and Munda pahar beaches make it an ideal picnic spot.
The forest guest house situated on top of a hillock provides a panoramic view of the isolated islands, submerged corals and you can see the breath-taking sunset.

Collinpur (36 kms. from Port Blair)
This beach, situated near Tirur, has a beautiful sandy beach with shallow water.
It is suitable for swimming, sun basking and sunset viewing.

Madhuban (75 kms. by road / 20 kms. by ferry and road from Port Blair)
This place, north east of South Andaman, is a trekker’s paradise.
You can see some exotic endemic birds, animals, butterflies and watch elephant

Mount Harriet (55 km, by road / 15 km by ferry and road from Port Blair)
This 365 metres high peak is the highest peak in South Andaman.
This was the summer headquarters of the Chief Commissioner during the British rule
and offers a fascinating view of the outer islands and the sea.
You can trek up to Madhuban through a nature trail and explore rare endemic birds, animals and butterflies. Islands

In a tropical paradise, you would naturally wish to see tropical islands.
And there are quite a few.

Jolly Buoy
This island in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park offers a breath taking
view of corals and underwater marine life.
It is an ideal place for scuba diving, snorkelling , sea bathing and basking on the
beautiful beaches.

Cinque Island
Here you have a sand bar joining two islands; beautiful underwater coral formations
and unspoilt beaches.
A good place for scuba diving, swimming, fishing and camping.

Red Skin Island
This is another island in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park with a nice beach.
It offers spectacular views of corals and marine life.

Havelock Island (38 Kms. from Port Blair)
This island is an idyllic resort with virgin beaches and unpolluted environment.
A very good place for camping.
The Tourist Department has a guest house “Dolphin Resort” for tourists.

Reaching there


Port Blair to Kolkatta 780 miles
Port Blair to Chennai 749 miles

There are numerous flights daily from Kolkatta and Chennai to Port Blair.
There are regular sailings from Kolkatta and Chennai to Port Blair.
But hardly any one goes by sea these days.


There are plenty of accommodation to suit all kinds of pockets and tastes.

A Modern Paradise

These islands shimmer in the Bay of Bengal like emeralds and are therefore called the Emerald Islands.

· 90% of the territory is under forest cover.

· About 50 % of the forests hace been set aside as Tribal Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

· Rich luxuriant mangroves occupy nearly 11.5 % of the territory.

· More than 150 plant and animal species are rife.

· Coconut, which grows in abundance, is the main item of trade and diet of the locals.

You can obtain a lot of information and help from the following two sites:


A_N_Nanda said...


It's an informative post. No doubt the islands are as good as or even better than the way you have narrated. With all its breathtaking scenic manifestations and cool ambience it qualifies the sobriquet "The Dream Destination" in India. I stayed at Port Blair between 1995 to 1998 and I can vouch for that.

I even wrote a book of short stories entirely set in the islands. Entitled as "The Remix of Orchid", the book has a warm-hearted foreword by Mr Ruskin Bond. My website has more details...



Dr. Binoy Gupa x Chief Commissioner of Income Tax said...

Dear Nanda
I will purchase your book and read it.
Please go through my third article on the Andamans. It contains some rare photographs of the Jarawas.