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Old 30th May 2017, 18:00   #1
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Smile A family holiday in Andaman

As my son's board exams were coming to a close, another set of dates were being identified at home: dates for the summer vacation of 2017. My son was hell- bent on Andaman, though I'm sure he had very little idea of what the place had to offer. With my wife starting to support his idea, I had little choice but to start the process right away with flight bookings first.

Every trip is indeed an exercise in mathematical optimization, though few of us bother about that fact, or can indeed handle it as one. One has to balance time and budget to maximize that (unwritten) objective function of satisfaction- to- expenditure ratio. After googling for some days, the (fully human) optimization search turned out a 5- nights trip as solution, covering Port Blair and Havelock and no more.

Our itinerary covered 4 nights at Port Blair and 1 at Havelock. I recommend much longer stays at Havelock for couples rather than for families with grown- up kids like mine. I opted for a travel agent to take care of local transport (A/C cabs) from airport pick- up to airport drop. He (Holiday Guide, Kolkata) did a fairly good job.

Before starting off, one thing that was bothering me was the forecast of mixed rain and sun for the 5 days. Do we travellers have a choice, anyway?

So finally, on 14th May (Sun), we landed at Port Blair by the afternoon flight from Chennai (2h 10min). One advantage of AI is their liberal baggage allowance of 25 kg per passenger, which was more than enough for us. We were picked up by the cab and checked in to Hotel Blue Sea, some 10 min away. This is a pure- veg 3- star property, with quite a great menu and ambience. Some 2 h after we had freshened up, the cab picked us for Corbyn's Cove and the Cellular Jail sound- and- light show.

Corbyn's Cove is a fairly good (though not too clean) beach, east of Port Blair. A small island called Snake Island is just some 600 m away, accessible by speedboat. This speedboat ride (IR 300/- per person) really gives you the thrill as it (nearly) flies off the water momentarily and lands back with a sharp thud on the choppy sea. Snake island seems as small as a mini bus station and visitors are of course not allowed to get onto it!
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The cab guy had in the meantime returned with our tickets for the evening sound- and- light show. A drizzle started as we headed off. We kept our fingers crossed whether the show would be held or not. Fortunately, it did happen, though rain started to get heavier towards the end. IMHO, this show's narration isn't as impressive as the great ones I have attended at MP (Orchha) or at Khajuraho, but it's sort of okay for visitors.

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Next morning, we had a more detailed walk thru the cellular jail. The paintings and cells just more than remind us of the hell our political prisoners went thru during the Raj.
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A red- whiskered Bulbul showed up, unaware that it was in what was once a cage for humans.

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There's a small govt- run aquarium (20- 25 min visit) near the cellular jail. No photography was allowed, but the exhibits were educative for city folks like us.

That afternoon we left by Makruzz, a well- maintained luxury cruise to Havelock. With some drizzle again, it was lively only so much. The trip to Havelock takes some 2 h 10 min. A cafe on board and excellent views are all there to keep you going.

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At Havelock, a cab picked us up and took us first to Radhanagar beach (closes by 5 pm) before we checked in to Dolphin Resort. The beach is among the great ones in Andaman, though I have been to equally great (if not better) ones in Kerala (Puthenthope, 10 km beyond VSSC, Thiruvananthapuram).

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Dolphin resort is bang on Govindnagar beach, with every sea wave virtually washing the resort's compound. But that was not for us to enjoy- it was heavy downpour the next morning, so much that we had to wait a while to even step out of our cottage to reach the reception just few meters away!

Quite disappointed with the weather, I called the cab guy asking him what to do. He said our scheduled trip to Elephanta beach (for snorkeling) was also cancelled as the boats would not ply in the rain. But my will was greater than my fear of the unknown- I asked him if we could scuba dive. He called the diving agency and confirmed we could do it! In the next few min, we were at Havelock jetty and booked 2 tickets for scuba diving (@ INR 3500/- per person), for myself and my son. Headed next for Green Planet, the scuba diving agency allotted to us. There we were met by very friendly people who knew well how to handle first- timers. Some 15 min of training with the gear and we were soon in the marine heaven of corals, clown fish and others (nearly 45 min underwater). The trainers carry a good underwater camera with them, from which the video here has been shot. My wife of course, took good care of our bags and equipment.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bw...kRnLUpRRUUtVTA

So, we had managed to more than just beat the weather. It was now lunch time. Had a so- so lunch at a restaurant at the Havelock jetty. We returned to Port Blair by Green Ocean, a somewhat less- luxurious cruise. Our cab picked us up at Port Blair and dropped us back to Blue Sea hotel for the night.

Next day was a trip to Baratang limestone caves, some 100 km from where we were staying. To reach Baratang, one has to journey thru 48 km of Jarawa reserve forest. The forest gate opens by 9 am and all cars move in a convoy for safety. To beat the queue, as advised by our cab driver, we left the hotel by 6 am itself, carrying packed sandwiches from the hotel. All hotels in Andaman seem to follow this practice of packing sandwiches for guests who need to leave or checkout early- really nice of them.

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We did see Jarawas (quite a few of them), but were not allowed to photograph any. The Jarawas now wear T- shirts like us and am told (haven't seen this for myself), some also use cell phones! Wonder what protection they are in need of, if they have progressed this far.

At the end of the Jarawa forest drive, one reaches what is called Middle Strait, from where a speedboat drive of 25 min takes you to Baratang mangroves walkway. From there, it is a 1.2 km trek to the mouth of the caves. Visitors could find a powerful torch very handy to see the caves interior- sunlight hardly reaches inside. The co- evolution of tree trunks over the limestone gives a bit of that feeling of an Amazon rain forest with some undiscovered temple around.

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We returned by speedboat to the jetty and another quick lunch before getting back to the cab. Reached our hotel by 6:30 pm.

Throughout our trip, we had to live without any internet connectivity, never available anywhere even for a moment. To add to this woe, only BSNL works in Andaman (no 3G though). But the BSNL network there works even over the sea between islands with no drop!

The last day was scheduled for visits to Wandoor and Chidiyatapu beaches (west and south of Port Blair respectively). There is a small but very well maintained museum about 1 km before Wandoor beach where coral life is well exhibited. Although Wandoor beach was a nice one, we had got beach- bored by now. So we left Wandoor after just an hour there, back to the city for seeing the Anthropological museum and the Chatham saw mill (Govt. run, works even today). Photography was prohibited at the museum which mostly has collections relating to the major tribes of Andaman- Jarawa, Shompen, Onge and the Sentinelese. There is this bomb- pit inside the saw mill complex, from a bomb dropped there in the 1942 world war.
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Chidiyatapu was again another clean beach, but we spent our time at a biological park there. There are some 25 species of timber that grow in the Andaman, of which the Padauk is one of the largest. Many of these species grow in the park and are home to many birds. There are also croc, water monitor and eagle enclosures from where the pics below are. Chidiyatapu is actually known for sunsets. Clouds however messed up that day's sunset and the best I could get is the one here.
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So, that brought us to the end of our trip. Once we landed in Chennai, some 100 emails and dozens of notifications reminded me of the sea of work making up my life!!!
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