“A wise traveller never despises his own country.” — Carlo Goldoni, famous Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice.
Geologically, the Andaman Islands take a person back by several lakh years and anthropologically, more than 50,000 years ago to the Stone Age. It tells you about the not-so-well-known facts of India’s freedom struggle and exposes you to a thrilling adventure in expansive nature.
It was in this land on December 30, 1943 that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose unfurled the national tricolour and declared that the Islands would be the first Indian Territory freed from British rule. It is this land where Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was jailed for around a decade’s time from 1911-1921.
Andaman has been shrouded in mystery for centuries due to its inaccessibility. A visit here not only gives you a memorable experience but also changes people’s outlook and perspective — and gives an idea of what wide-ranging an experience India offers to tourists.
If luck works, one can spot the Jarawas, the indigenous people of the Andaman Islands — with an estimated population of just around 400.
The excitement begins as you see tiny islands when the aircraft prepares to land at Port Blair, the historic capital city of the union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — a group of 572 islands of which only 37 are inhabited.
With the group of islands located at the junction of the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea — and located very close to Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar — it offers a unique climate and geography.
There are many things to explore in Port Blair, bDuring the journey, Jarawas can be spotted, but photography is not allowed of the indigenous people or the forest. ut for tourists who are exploring these islands between three days to a week’s time — the main attractions are of course the Cellular Jail, the Chatham Saw Mill and Forest Museum, parks like Marina Park, Gandhi Park, Joggers Park, the Sippighat Agricultural Farm, museums like Anthropological Museum, Zoological Survey of India, Fisheries Museum and Samudrika Marine Museum, and Chidiya Tapu, which is popular with trekkers, the coconut palm fringed beach of Corbyn’s Cove and Wandoor Beach, which feels like a different world.
A visit to the Cellular Jail — a national memorial dedicated to freedom fighters — is a very emotional experience. This massive puce-coloured building with seven huge blocks was once a honey-combed seven-star structure with a central tower. The three prongs that remain are mute witnesses to the tortures meted out to the freedom fighters. Coming here is a sort of pilgrimage. The list of people who had been jailed here includes Veer Savarkar and many others and those who were charged in cases like Alipore Bomb Case, Nashik Conspiracy Case, Lahore Conspiracy Case, Chittagong Armoury Raid Case, Inter-Provincial Conspiracy Case, Gaya Conspiracy case and so on.
Tears will roll down when you see the gallows, which were actually next to the kitchen. From the top, one can see Ross Island. To reach here, one has to take a boat from the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex. This was the administrative headquarters of the Britishers for some time — and most of the structures are in ruins. While going here, one can see the North Bay Island, which actually is printed on the back of the Rs 20 currency note.
To commemorate the independence of Andaman from the Britishers, a grand tricolour has been erected on the seafront. People come here to pay tributes to Netaji and the freedom fighters.
The three neighbouring islands — Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island or Ross Island, Swaraj Dweep or Havelock Island, Shaheed Dweep or Neil Island and Viper Island add to the experience.
Perhaps one of the most thrilling experiences is the visit to Baratang Island, about 100 km off Port Blair where the main attractions are the mangroves, the Limestone Caves and Mud Volcano. But the convoy of tourist vehicles has to move under the escort of police and forest officials when it crosses the Jarawa Reserve area, which extends in a long strip from Middle to South Andaman.
During the journey, Jarawas can be spotted, but photography is not allowed of the indigenous people or the forest. Further up, if one has time, they can drive north and can surely explore Mayabunder and the twin Smith and Ross Islands.
Havelock Island is another interesting feature. The Radhanagar Beach here is considered one of the best beaches in Asia. It is a pristine stretch of sand backed by turquoise water and lush forests surrounding it.
The nearby Kala Pathar beach, though a bit rocky, is a great sight. There are a lot of places where you can explore adventure activities including Neil Island, where one can try snorkelling, sea-walking and scuba diving. Andaman is a bird lovers’ paradise as one can just spend hours relaxing and spotting birds.
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