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Old 4th March 2018, 17:31   #1
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Default Andaman! India's Emerald Isles

This is an overdue travelogue but one that had to be written nonetheless. We went on this trip in October last year, for about ten days preceding Diwali.

While Andaman has been that beautiful place we often read about in travel magazines and promise to visit “soon”, it never really happened for us, considering the amount of time “necessary”. Now, I stress upon the word necessary because a week to ten days is what you’d need to cover Andaman: just mostly south Andaman. Two weeks gets you Andaman, north included. Nicobar is a protected island so off-limits for civilians. Or at least not easy to visit unless you have connections that can put the average “do you know who my father is” guy to shame.

In August last year, an unexpected window opened up for my father where he could take block leave. My in-laws joined in as well. So, we have two weeks and go berserk thinking of options. Places within and outside India are thrown around.

Eventually, we decided on Andaman considering how much pent up interest there had been. Yes, October isn’t the “best” time to visit Andaman: season usually starts towards late-November, if not December. But we decided to persist.

So, six of us were to travel for ten days. Fun!

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Old 4th March 2018, 17:33   #2
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We started reading up on the how’s and where’s; my family is a sucker for planning trips by ourselves so this involved plenty reading up on our Travelogues section as well as other travel forums. During the process of this research, we came across a bunch of groups that plan trips. One such group is, Experience Andaman. They called back after we left an enquiry and claimed to be a company that is from Andaman and facilitates trips for visitors. During the conversation, the lady spoke about all the things they would offer as their package and it made tremendous sense.

In hindsight, I think it was a terrific decision. So, does this mean, you cannot plan and travel Andaman by yourself? Of course, not. But the services they provide allow you to focus on the thing that matters the most: travel and leave the worry of logistics to them.

Through a series of a phone calls and emails that lasted about a month, they helped us with the itinerary and all the logistics: hotels, ferries and transportation for sightseeing and tickets for all points of interest.

For travelers like us who think we know our stuff, what I liked the most about these guys is: you tell them what you want to do, they’ll have suggestions on what you shouldn’t miss, and also feedback on things that you’ve read up and want to do. Eventually, it is YOUR itinerary that will be final; they’ll work with you on making sure you make the most of the trip.

If you want to lie on one beach for a week, or if you want to roam around and travel around as much as you can, they will make the itinerary that gives you what you want from the trip.

This is how/where going with Experience Andaman helped us:

1) All hotels taken care of: they give you a list of hotels: from 1-star to 5 so you can chose depending on your budget. Considering the geography of the place, a thousand kilometers off the coast of India, you have to be realistic in your expectations of what to expect. We chose 3 / 4 star hotels throughout our stay. Anything below 3 is bare minimum. Personal opinion.

2) Logistics: this involves car transportation everywhere: since we were six, we had an Ertiga to ourselves. We saw couples get a Amaze.

While Port Blair does have autos, the islands don’t. There are a few taxis at the airport and jetty at PB and the islands but you can’t rely on them for commuting.

Taking you around through the course of your stay is taken care of. The driver doubles up as a guide, knows/does everything like clockwork. He’ll ensure you are where you need to be, when you need to be. You just sit back, relax and enjoy the drive.

So, you have a dedicated car service that will be at your beck and call.

3) Ferries: This is another thing where these guys help tremendously. This may be because we went in an off-season but there aren’t a lot of options to travel between Port Blair and the islands (Havelock and Neil): there’s two private “luxury” cruises and the Govt. ferry, that I recommend you absolutely avoid if you can. Obviously, there’s no online booking. The cruises run once/twice a day and run at capacity even in the off-season so you can’t hope to book a ticket once you land in Andaman.

4) Tickets at points of interest: we visited a bunch of places that had an entry ticket, and these were handed to us at the hotel itself. Makes life easy because the alternative is trying to find your way through a chaotic crowd to the ticket booth.

I would strongly recommend going through one of these travel companies when planning a trip to Andaman. You can do everything yourself but the chances for things to not go as planned are very significant.

Before leaving, we made a quick trip to Decathlon to prepare for the trip: our shopping bag had light rain jackets that folded into a tiny bag, water-friendly footwear, quick-drying towels and a couple of snorkeling gear.

The entire trip: six adults, 9D/8N cost about 4 lakhs, all inclusive: flights, hotels, transportation, activities, food and souvenirs. The payment (3 lakhs) for everything except flights (Mumbai – Port Blair return trip), food and souvenirs/shopping was made to Experience Andaman.

Enough boring talk; let’s get down to the actual trip!
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Old 4th March 2018, 17:41   #3
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Day 0: Most likely because we went during the off-season, but there weren’t a lot of direct flights/ convenient connections to Port Blair. So, all of us assembled in Mumbai for a 3am flight to Port Blair via Chennai. Day 0 saw us travel to Mumbai from Pune.

Day 1: We reached Port Blair around 10am.

Interesting anecdote from another trip: my family generally prefers the aisle seat for a variety of reasons. However, this massively backfired when my wife and I traveled to Tromso, Norway for Northern Lights. During the descent into Tromso, the flight offered mind-numbingly beautiful views of fjords. And we missed these all because we were in the middle/aisle seat. So, this time, the six of us sat on widow/aisle seats in groups of two separately!

And the flight did not disappoint! For about half an hour before you land into Port Blair, you get majestic views of the many tiny islands littered across the Bay of Bengal and mesmerizing greenish water.

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We reached the hotel, Megapode Resort, freshened up and had lunch. Considering the long travel we’d had (18 hours for the Pune folks!) and barely any sleep considering the flight times, we took a short nap and were ready to set off at 3pm.

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The agenda for the day was a visit to the Cellular Jail. The first and only screw-up of the trip: the coordinator hadn't arranged our tickets for the Jail. But we did have the tickets for the 6pm light and sound show.

So, we just walked around the park in front of the Jail, which happens to have statues of the most prominent freedom fighters that gave up their lives while lodged in the Jail.

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Soon it was time for the light and sound show, in English. (Show times/days vary based on the language)

The show, with Om Puri symbolizing a tree that is the narrator takes you through the history and legacy of the Cellular Jail, and its most notable inmate, Veer Savarkar.

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Old 4th March 2018, 17:52   #4
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Day 2: We sub-packed for the three days we were to spend at Havelock island. Got picked up at 6am, boarded the ferry (Makruzz) at 7am. This is fairly luxurious, with a/c, reclining seats, on-board cafeteria and TV/music entertainment. It took about 2.5-3 hours for us to reach Havelock, the famed island in the Andaman archipelago.

We had a co-coordinator and driver/car waiting for us at the jetty who explained the itinerary for the time we were on the island.

Our hotel was right on the beach so we finally set foot on the sands, water of Andaman!

The beach adjoining our hotel, Dolphin Resort

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By noon, we went to Radhanagar, an extremely pretty and one of the most popular beaches to get into the water. That beautiful greenish blue water is a treat to watch! The agenda for the day was just chilling by and in the water. Throughout our entire trip, this beach had the most people.

Radhanagar beach

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A quick late lunch by the veg. restaurant by the beach later, we got back to the hotel.

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Old 4th March 2018, 17:59   #5
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Day 3:

Sunrise from the beach next to our resort. 5.05am

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Scuba diving!

While I had done scuba diving earlier, off Murudeshwar, Karnataka, it was the first time the others were doing something so adventurous. We had booked this activity with Andaman Bubbles, through Experience Andaman.

The site for scuba diving was Nemo Reef; we did it a few meters off the beach. Some guys take you into the ocean; some do it off the beach. Those who sign up for the scuba diving certificate course typically go into the ocean. Frankly, I doubt we missed out on a lot by not being far into the ocean.

The Andaman Bubbles guys were an enthusiastic bunch that were well prepared and capable.

The dive had the typical routine: the first five-ten minutes are a course on the equipment and procedures: sign languages and all. You do a dry run on the shore and then venture into the ocean.

All of us, first-timers in particular, thoroughly enjoyed our dives; what a beautiful ecosystem on display! Nemo in abundance and so were the corals, aquatic animals and vegetation.

Stunned by witnessing such an amazing world hidden under the surface, we got back to our hotel for another beach day.

Scuba diving (we were provided with pictures and videos)

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After a lazy lunch and an afternoon on the hammock listening to the soft waves crash on the corals, we headed to Kalapathar beach.

To be honest, there’s nothing special at this place. Just a bunch of black rocks strewed across the beach and a few tree branches.

Kalapathar beach

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Day 4: We went on a day-trip to Elephant/Light house beach.

The jetty at Havelock has a separate place where all the boats to take you to Elephant beach line up. Again, Experience Andaman had everything sorted and in no time, we were assigned our boat. Another family of four joined in. You go and come back in your assigned boat; typically a 4-5 hour return trip.

What a pretty beach it is. This is the other beach where you’ll find a lot of crowd getting into the water. This is the beach where you’ll find all the water sports: banana rides, scuba diving, snorkeling, and the other boat activities.

While I chose to sit on the beach with my bum firmly into the sand, the others chose to get into the water. They did it all: snorkeling and water sports.

We had our return ferry at 4pm and by 1pm, our boatman pointed to the sky and said, “a storm is coming”. Quickly got into our boat and headed back to Havelock.

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A lunch later, we queued up to come back to Port Blair. This time, with Green Ocean, again very luxurious.

* An ideal itinerary would have been to stay back at Havelock and do: Havelock – Neil – Port Blair the following day, since PB – Havelock and PB – Neil takes the same time. However, due to hotel unavailability, we had to head back to PB and then do a day-trip to Neil the next day.

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Old 4th March 2018, 18:22   #6
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Day 5: Our day-trip to Neil island. On a Govt. ferry. Not so much fun.

Neil island, very hyped, turned out to be very disappointing.

We reached Neil around 10 and really didn’t have a lot to do, apart from beach hop.

The biggest attraction at Neil is Laxmanpur 1 beach/Natural Rock Formation: which is essentially the burying ground for corals. This beach is strewn with dead corals for hundreds of meters, and also has a natural “bridge-like” formation. We hired a guide an the entrance, a short 10-15min walk, who talked about the corals, showed us star-fish and explained the various sea-life.

The dead corals at Laxmanpur 1 beach

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Natural bridge rock formation

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Brain corals

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Finger corals

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What's left behind of the coral that makes the pearl

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A typical fruit found, terribly poisonous

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We then came back to the main Neil island jetty area and settled at Bharatpur beach, close to the jetty. This was, by far, the dirtiest beach with tons of plastic and garbage littered right on the beach.

Since we had time to kill and not a lot to do, we did a ride on the glass bottom boat. The boatman took us around spots off the beach and showed us a bunch of marine life.

We then went to Sunset beach (Laxmanpur 2), which is ideally best visited at sunset given the glorious view it offers. This beach is such that it forms two sides of the island (essentially, turning 90deg so you have two perpendicular sides). But we were there around 3pm for an hour since we had our ferry back to PB.

Sunset/Laxmanpur 2 beach

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The Govt. ferry brought us back to PB and we settled in our hotel by 7pm.

Day 6: For a change, today involved transportation by road as well, not just sea! We were going for a day-trip to the Red Skin island.

Interesting thing: Jolly Buoy/Red Skin island are closed on Mondays. Both are open for six months, alternately. Jolly Buoy usually from November to April and Red Skin Island from May to October. The boats for both set off from Wandoor beach. Both are no-plastic zones, you can rent the Milton fiber water bottles at the office at Wandoor for a nominal amount. There are no facilities at either beach so you have to carry your own food and water.

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Red Skin island

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Jolly Buoy island in the distance

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Part of the trail across the island

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We did a glass bottom ride at Red Skin, much better than the one at Neil island. There’s a short half an hour trail that goes through the forest. So, we did that; from a particular spot on the trail, you see the Jolly Buoy island.

Once we were back on Wandoor beach, we made a brief visit to the Marine Interpretation Centre right next to the jetty: it houses exhibits on the flora and fauna and ecosystems typically seen in the region.

We got back and decided to go for the Cellular Jail visit, THE place on our itinerary.

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Some info on the Cellular Jail, courtesy Wikipedia.

Although the prison complex itself was constructed between 1896 and 1906, the British had been using the Andaman islands as a prison since the days in the immediate aftermath of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

The building had seven wings, at the center of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates; this format was based on Jeremy Bentham's idea of the Panopticon. The wings radiated from the tower in straight lines, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise an alarm.

Each of the seven wings had three stories upon completion. There were no dormitories and a total of 696 cells. Each cell was 4.5 by 2.7 meters (14.8 ft. × 8.9 ft.) in size with a ventilator located at a height of 3 meters (9.8 ft.). The name, "cellular jail", derived from the solitary cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. Also, the spokes were so designed such that the face of a cell in a spoke saw the back of cells in another spoke. This way, communication between prisoners was impossible. They were all in solitary confinement.

Another two wings of the jail were demolished after India achieved independence. However, this led to protests from several former prisoners and political leaders who saw it as a way of erasing the tangible evidence of their persecution. The remaining three wings and the central tower were therefore converted into a National Memorial on 11th February 1979 by then Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai.
Currently, only one wing is kept open, and only a few cells are open: two on the ground floor where prisoners due for execution were kept on the day(s) before their execution. These cells are as is. The other cell is that of Veer Savarkar: the corner cell on the third floor.

Hired the Govt. appointment guide and started the tour. Visiting the Cellular Jail, and specifically, Veer Savarkar’s cell turned out to be far more overwhelming than one would imagine.

You tend to ponder about the sacrifices and the tribulations that our freedom fighters went through, all for the idea of freedom. Numbs your conscience when you hear the story and stand in his cell.

Memorials honoring the inmates

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The cell locks are such that the inmate couldn't reach his hand out and unlock even if he had the key

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Veer Savakar's cell

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The cell as it used to be

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We spent a couple of hours in the premises. From atop the wing, you can see the North Bay island; the exact image that is on the 20-ruppee note.

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Ross Island

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Somber from our visit to such a historic place, we got back to the hotel and called it a day.

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Old 5th March 2018, 00:20   #8
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Day 7: A day-trip by boat to North Bay and Ross island were planned for this day. However, an active storm in the region hit Andaman the previous night bringing torrential rain. The boats that ferry you to each of these islands from PB are fairly small ones (15-20 people capacity) and are not operational during rough whether. The coast guard had cancelled these boats. So, we waited the entire morning and afternoon in the hope that we could still make the trip.

BHPian and dear friend Naveen sir had specifically suggested that we not miss the light and sound show on Ross island, once the administrative HQ of the British.

Realizing this was a washout, we decided to visit the Chatham Saw Mill, a spectacular centuries-old mill. It is still active, has brilliant machinery and processes a staggering amount of teak wood.

This place also has historical significance as the Japanese heavily bombarded it during their invasion; you can see craters created by the bombs. There are also remnants of a Japanese bunker.

The Chatham Saw Mill compound

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Craters created by the bombing

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Saw mill

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The day ended with a walk around our hotel and a visit to a local bakery for their special coconut cookie and a souvenir shop.

We had to tuck in early for the next day that was to be a whirlwind combination of drive+boat ride+hike!

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Day 8: this involved a trip to the Baratang island for a visit to the Limestone caves and Mud-volcano.

Now, the road to the Baratang island passes through the Jarwa Reserve Forest, a protected area where the Jarawa tribe still lives in their primitive form and is considered friendly/non-hostile. Some from the tribe can be seen wearing clothing but majority don’t. They can be seen going about their routine: hunting, some form of agriculture or just chilling. You can generally see them while traveling through the forest but they are fairly reticent. Photography strictly prohibited.

The journey from Port Blair to Baratang is in two parts: PB to Jirkatang that is a little over an hour. This is where there’s a check-post and cars are only let out in a convoy at specific times (6am, 9am, noon, 2.30pm). The queue at the check-post easily runs kilometers long, hence the idea is to be at the check-post as early as possible. We were picked up at the hotel at 3am! and were about the fifth car in the queue. The driver drove like there’s no tomorrow and when we asked him to chill a bit, he said any slacking now will ruin the schedule for the entire day and would mean, we’d miss out on something. He wasn’t kidding as we found out later through the day. Knowing he knows what he’s doing and that he’s doing it for us, we abided by every instruction of his.

At 6am, the convoy started and all the cars drove through the horribly pot-holed roads through the Jarwa Forest at 80 km/hr., strictly without any over-taking. About two and a half hours later, we reached the Nilambur Jetty from where a ferry takes you to Baratang island; just across a few hundred feet of water.

Pulling up Baratang island

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From the Baratang island, you have two trips: one to the Limestone caves, the other to the Mud-volcano. All this has to be managed such that you make it back in time for the 2.30 convoy from Nilambur Jetty.

For the limestone caves, you first have a speedboat ride for about half an hour, that first goes through the open water and then through magnificent mangroves. After the boat ride is a walk (mild hike) for a little over a kilometer to the limestone caves.

The walk

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The boatman doubles up as a guide and walks you around the caves explaining the formations and some science behind it. Pretty interesting and one of a kind!

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Limestone formations

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Boarding our boat for the trip back

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You then hurry back to the jetty for the second part of your trip: a 15min drive to the Mud-volcano site. There’s a 15min climb (not very strenuous) to the actual site.

The Mud-volcano phenomenon is fascinating; it is as if the mud is on fire, spewing out vapor every few minutes and molten mud draining from around it. There’s information on the phenomenon and you can also see some scientific equipment installed.


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This was it. We were well in time for the 2.30pm convoy. Assembled at the jetty, got on our boat and then at the Nilambur Jetty in the convoy. Everything worked like clockwork.

Mid-way through our drive, I called our coordinator if the weather had cleared up enough for a quick visit to Ross island just for the light and sound show, if not for a full-scale visit. Unfortunately not.

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Day 9: our last day at Andaman! Our return flight was at 1pm so a visit to the islands was ruled out. On this very day, our Defense Minister was in Port Blair.

First on our agenda was a visit to the Samudrika Museum, more of an aquarium with some exhibits on the tribes. This was a very short visit as the museum was shut early in anticipation of the Defense Minister’s visit.

We then went to the Anthropological Museum, a full-scale museum on the various tribes: origin, culture and lifestyle. Pretty interesting as it lists the many tribes in Andaman and Nicobar, their lifestyle (food, clothing, shelter) and also, their interaction with the civilized world.

It was soon time for us to head to the airport for our flight back.

While we (think we) spent a considerable time at Andaman, we missed out on a few things:
- Visit to North Bay and Ross island: on our itinerary but beyond our control due to weather
- Sea-walk: an activity scheduled at North Bay island
- North Andaman: this would have required at least three-four additional days as you end up spending an entire day just in one-way commute.

Overall, this was a marvelous trip to one of India’s understated gems. The pristine beaches and the green water are truly mesmerizing!

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जयोऽस्तु! (praise of freedom)

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Old 5th March 2018, 06:18   #11
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Mod's note: Moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing !
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Old 5th March 2018, 13:54   #12
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Thanks for the reviews.
I guess this is a very right moment since even I am planning for a trip to Andaman.

You said that Neil Island was disappointing - was it solely due to lack of commercial activity there or something else?
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Old 5th March 2018, 16:15   #13
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Default Re: Andaman! India's Emerald Isles

Originally Posted by alpha1 View Post
You said that Neil Island was disappointing - was it solely due to lack of commercial activity there or something else?

The Laxmanpur 1 beach was interesting because of all the corals. But otherwise, the main beach was terribly littered, with both garbage and dead sea-weed. There was a stench across. Plenty dogs to run around and do their no. 2 business right on the beach. Add to that, the construction of a harbor so noise and water pollution (cement) that's expected to go on for a few years.

I'd do a day-trip to Neil just for the coral-laden beach, because it's unique, and twiddle my thumbs until the ferry at 4pm. It's disappointing because the other beaches are so pristine, even though crowded.
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Old 9th March 2018, 16:48   #14
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Default Re: Andaman! India's Emerald Isles

Excellent write-up, will be a handy reference while planning a trip to Andaman. British brutality in the cellular jail was theme for the Malayalam movie Kalapani directed by Priyadarshan (was dubbed in to many languages). It's hard to believe what our freedom fighters went through in those cells.

Name Nilambur will sound familiar to people in Kerala, it is a town in the Kerala TN border. I am wondering if there is some connection and story for sharing the same name.
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