The Andaman Islands. In the middle of the turquoise blue ocean. More than a thousand kilometres outside the coast of India and closer to Burma than to its motherland lays a small group of temptingly beautiful islands. Where life is lived slow and utterly barefooted. Where mangroves and deserted beaches guard the coastlines and where the scent of cinnamon, cardamom, anise and pepper follows you by day and into the early night.
The Andaman Islands are as tempting as they are remote. Yet, they are now definitely within your reach. Read on!
Just as far as The Andaman Islands are in distance from the mainland, equally far are they symbolically from the crowded cities and fast-paced life, with which India has become so synonymous. Instead, they embrace that sacred laidbackness that also is a great part of India and its culture but historically and very much in the present.
Where the surroundings are natural and beautiful; and pollution and noise are far, far away. Where life is just perfect. So, at least, is the opinion of my smiling tuk-tuk driver who are happily born and bread in Port Blair – the capital of and the main gateway to the Andaman Islands.
And apart from the noise of his tuk-tuk as we navigate the streets I am bound to agree with all he says. The Andaman Islands are pretty darn nice.
Not only for its beautiful beaches or blue waters, this is just a mere part of its attractiveness.
Island Time and Digital Detox – welcome the Andaman Islands
One of the most sacred things about the Andaman Islands is due to the before mentioned remoteness – and so also remoteness from your daily life. Here’s no Wi-Fi to prevent you from being absorbed in your book, no timeframe that will keep your eyes on your iPhone (it will be more or less useless anyway).
Here’s just Mother Nature’s own time frame transcending you into that state called “island time” – A time frame, which you will slowly come to appreciate. Where you wake up at 05:00 in the morning as the sun rises bright and red from the ocean bed. And you will feel the first signs of tiredness as the sun slowly sets around 17:00. Where a late night will leave you up all until 22:00 and whether it is Tuesday or Saturday you really have no clue.
You will either love or hate island time. But one thing is for sure – you cannot escape it if you first set foot on the Andaman Islands.
Hammocks, hang out and Havelock
So rather than run from it, appreciate it with every inch of your body and mind. Come to think of it, when was the last time you had an excuse for not being able to check your email or be available for a quick fix work call?
The Andaman Islands are your gateway to digital detox and what better way to spend it than on Havelock’s laidback hammocks or Neil Island’s remote and quite beaches? Most travellers will head straight to one of these for the closeness to dive sites, snorkel-friendly beaches and pure island vibes.
From excess time comes surplus explorations
So with the elimination of time and connection to the outside world, and a laidback island full of hammocks – what’s really left to do? Well, that’s the beautiful part it. At the Andaman Islands, you will have plenty of time to do all these things you normally wish you had time for during your everyday life.
Lean back with that book that has been on your bedside table for so long. Untouched and unread. Flip it open, sink deeper into the hammock and let the ocean breeze cool you down and a coconut falling to the ground the only disturbance to be heard.
For lovers of the ocean, it’s impossible to get bored. The sea hides a plethora of reefs and marine life both in the shallow waters discovered by mask and snorkel. And in the Deep Ocean blue where sea fans gently sway, tiny organisms live and giant creatures roam the crystal clear waters. Where mantas, sharks and turtles pass before your eyes as you are weightless in the water, observing, meditating, discovering.
If you are more into life above surface grab a kayak and paddle into the dense mangrove forests that cover most of the coastline around both the deserted and inhabited islands. Up close they are like a fairy tale world, a spider-web of roots reaching deep down into the sandy grounds. The green leafy top a welcome shade from the burning sun above. Explored with a guide that knows the way around this maze of trees is priceless and worth both your money and your time.
Port Blair – more than just your gateway
All travellers arrive to and depart The Andaman Islands via Port Blair, the state capital and gateway to the outside world. Travellers will let you know that there’s really only one ‘right’ way to get here – by boat from Chennai or Calcutta taking you on a 2 days journey across the Bengal Straight. Time constrained (or flashpacker) travellers will most likely be perfectly satisfied with securing a plane ticket from said cities instead.
And though the deserted beaches, deep Blue Ocean and barefooted island days are most likely the reason you go, you will need to spend a certain amount of hours in Port Blair to catch your connections elsewhere.
This is not necessarily a bad thing as Port Blair is a charming little city with a colourful main bazar full of colour, spices and sweet treats. Allowing yourself to immerse in the bustling street life and giving in to the chaotic traffic conditions, the honks and the saris is part of the Indian experience and Port Blair gives you the very light version.
What to do in Port Blair?
Not least Port Blair is a city of history and of utmost importance during the British Empire. This will be unveiled to you if you lean back for an impressive 45 minutes light and sound installation in the old Circular Jail, an architectural state-of-the-art prison once home to hundreds of political prisoners. Now a phenomenon.
A small side alley, so luring as a woman dressed in the brightest orange sari turns disappears into the dark, basket on the head full of fresh vegetables. I follow curiously and a maze of shacks selling fresh fruit and greens emerges. Curious stares from the shop holders, so quiet that the only sound is the soft ringing of the gold bangles around the women’s wrist and ankles as they otherwise silently almost float above the concrete floor.
The wet market with stables of greens. Men behind the counter, between the tables of fruit, manoeuvring the tables and stacks of fruit so diligently and respectfully. Hand the dash of purple leaves to the grandmother, packs a back of garlic in today’s newspaper and put it in her basket. Money changing hands. Just a couple of coins. And a smile and a shake of the head as only Indians can do, then she is off to the next stall.
Further down behind concrete walls, the fish market. The smell is not horrendous, but it is not pleasant either. The floor covered in blood and inedible parts of the fish. Heads, lounges, fish scale. A man eyeing the perfect slice of fresh meat. The proud fish woman weighing it on her handheld weight. 2 kilos in the solid lead on one, fish on the other. Money changing hands. Newspapers being wrapped.
Out in the open the sound of hens scraping, goats barking and butchers’ knives cut through the sounds of the market. A couple of feathers fall before the eyes before the butcher takes yet another life. Preparing it perhaps for a delicious chicken masala or tandoori chicken.
As rough and soulless as it may be, this is as solid reminder to any soft souls, to City beings of where all the food we consume originates.
And even though Port Blair is no more than India light, it is a gentle, safe and fine introduction to the colourful India that awaits when back on the mainland.
This is also incredible India!