Andaman and Nicobar Islands , India, hosts some of the world’s most exotic, rare and pristine natural wonders. These looks like a fairy tale. Unbelievable! Untouched beauty! This must have been possible in a dream or a film. But it is all here, beckoning you to take a deep-dive into the paradise islands and witness some of the top hidden places in Andamans that you ought to see in this lifetime.
Long Island & Guitar Island
One such tiny piece of natural wonder is Guitar Island. Tucked away off the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans, this island has a crystal clear white sandy beach that you can have all for yourself. It is not inhabited by human population but you can fine boats cruising and circumnavigating it for fishing. The entire beach is yours, just you, the sand, and the sea. Where else on earth can I find such a place, I wondered. But why this name, I asked curiously. “Its aerial view is in the shape of a guitar and hence its name,” says the forest department official who accompanied me to the island.
These officials braved the monsoons to bring me here to witness its breathtaking beauty. Located off the Long Island, Guitar Island has a picturesque and exotic aura that spells a magical charm. There is another spectacular beach you should visit once you are here – Lalaji Bay Beach – which is a perfect hotspot for beach combing, swimming and nature photography. It is situated on the northeast coast of Long Island and one would need a country boat ( a ride of 45 minutes from Long Island jetty) to travel here. 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). This place is off a touristy itinerary and quite understandably, there are very few staying options in this island. 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 in this Island. The Forest Guest House houses 4 basic airy rooms, a manicured garden, flower plants, sandal wood trees and a view of the sea. You can get the most amazing fish fry here, which I had during my stay. The staffs are overtly simplistic, courteous and would give you your choice of the meal on time.
We came through a dingy (country boat) amidst a dark rain-laden cloud cover above us. After a brief 15 minutes drive, our boat anchored on the coast and I got off to set my footprint on the beach. Lots of sea creatures, sand crabs, hermit crabs, shells came through to the beach and I hurriedly captured them on my lens. One has to be really fast to photograph them. One blink of an eye, and they are gone, immersed beneath their sandy holes.
In the meantime, the overcast sky took 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. 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.
Rangat & its eco-tourism
I got myself a boat ride of about an hour from Long Island (departed at 7 am) and reached Yerrata Creek in Rangat journeying through some of the most beautiful, calm, and pristine mangrove creeks. At the coast, my vehicle was ready to pick me up for my onwards journey. 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 few remarkable eco-tourism 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 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 an unique twin rock formations 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. It is an exemplary display of mangrove conservation efforts by the Andaman and Nicobar administration. The walkway takes you through the rich biodiversity of mangroves, palm trees, breathing roots, and Hathi Kaan Orchids. The walkway leads to a pretty long and exciting beach called the Dhani Nallah beach. It is a vast expanse of sand stretching from Curtbert Bay at one hand to as far as my eyes could go on the other hand.
Ross & Smith Island
From Rangat, it took me about 4-5 hours to reach Diglipur town. About 4 in the evening, 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 priority and you may come across the naval and coast guard establishments on the way).
A quick sip of tea is what we needed. We got off the vehicle, had our fill, feeling refreshed and moved towards government operated 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 a pleasant journey amidst green paddy fields, farmers tow their lands with tillers, tall coconut plantations and the majestic Saddle Peak facing us from 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 Andaman Sea and a side view of Saddle Peak. We spent the rest of the evening in the resort and eagerly waited for next morning’s trip. The dinner was a quite affair but I had the most amazing and delicious prawn curry and kukari fish fry ever.
My next stop was the exotic and a natural marvel called Ross and Smith Island. Both these islands were 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 to the Ross and Smith is a must if you are looking for experiencing something unusual yet magical.
But please be aware that the boat rides has a specific timing – 8 am to 2 pm. A boat trip of six people would cost approximately Rs. 2500. Quite excitedly I had my breakfast and drove down to Aerial Bay jetty, from where I had to enlist myself in the Forest Check Post office for the trip. But the weather gods had something else on the cards. Quite understandably, this was the peak of Monsoon and at this time of the year, it was turning windy and choppy and the adjacent Port Management officials said I would not be able to make this trip due to inclement weather conditions. I was heart-shaken, dejected; no amount of pleading helped, since they cannot risk our lives. I just prayed to the Lord to clear the skies and hit the nearby Kalipur beach. It has a long stretch of white, sandy beach and a sight to behold. The highest mountain – Saddle Peak – was just right infront of my eyes, shrouded amidst the 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 plunged into the waters.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is rich in biodiversity and is blessed with flora and fauna. There were ample signboards giving clear warning of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ in popular tourist spots. Make sure you take proper advice from the Tourism Department or the local resort before venturing out into the seas. From the waters, I could see few local women trying to catch fish through their small nets. Diglipur is blessed with some remarkable aquaculture and agriculture conditions. Most of its local people depend upon farming and fishing for livelihoods.
As I went back to Turtle Resort, I was acquainted by pleasing smiles from the officials saying that the weather is cleared and I could travel to Ross and Smith Island. My joy knew no boundaries; and I felt like jumping. 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 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 here at the scenic and serene Ross and Smith Islands.
The Tourism Department has maintained some remarkable eco-tourism initiatives in Smith Island. These are bare minimum given that the islands is yet to take off in the national and international tourism circuit as a popular tourist destination. But I felt these were adequate – there were about 10-15 thatched huts, sitting arena, adequate hygiene facilities, changing room, a couple of swings (jhula) set romantically amidst coconut trees, and beach reclining chairs. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was unexpectedly calm and quite. The waters in the eastern side were still and peaceful as if it’s a swimming pool. When you are here, take advice from the forest and tourism officials if you want to swim across its beaches.
Diglipur also has few other prominent touristy attractions such as Ram Nagar beach (which is the nestling home of turtles), mud volcano and Alfred Caves (41 caves of chalk and stone).