Jewels of the sea

Okay, I get it; that is definitely a cheesy title but read on… maybe you’ll agree with me and honestly I couldn’t find a cooler name.

We reached to Port Blair around 12 pm after a short 2 and a half hour flight. Not having to travel for days, now that is jolly convenient. The place itself was no Hyderabad. It was sunnier and humid, but not as bad as Chennai or Kerala so we had that going for us. Most of the vacations we go on are rarely meticulously planned. This was no different. While we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do in the islands (apart from sipping pina coladas, lying on cabanas looking over the beach) we were yet to figure out the details. This generally is not a problem once you know when you are coming and going, but within 30 mins of us landing there it dawned on us that we might have been stranded quite literally on an island.

img_20170225_071410Islands in the distance from Port Blair

scare; Havelock island is the main attraction point and we had to get there from Port Blair. We knew there are ferries shuttling people across the ocean but what we were not aware of was that getting a seat on a ferry was as hard as getting a first day ticket to a popular movie in Hyderabad. Our original plan was to take the 2 pm ferry to Havelock, stay there for a day, then take a ferry to Neil Island and then a day later take a ferry back to Port Blair. Well as it turned out both the government and the private ferries were full capacity for the next 2 days. Fortunately for us Rohit already made friends with a local police officer who gave us tips on what we could do next. Thus started our run and we spent the next hour and a half auto-ing (traveling in an auto :P) between the Government’s and two private firms ferry offices each located in a different locality, trying to grab any last minute cancellations. We kept tailoring our plans dynamically based on what ferry was available. Now amidst all the running, no internet connectivity, hungry tummy growls and a strong desire to not miss our return flight we managed to flush out the inter island transportation details. Classic window scheduling problem, albeit a little scary but a lot more fun. Through this run we did end up making a few friends, and one of them helped us find a hotel for our unplanned stay in Port Blair. And before you ask going to Andaman and Nicobar with Reliance Jio as your data backup plan is a bad bad idea.

img_20170223_102650We were greeted with this view when we landed in Havelock

havelock; We took a morning ferry to get to this island. En route you can see the light house on the 20 rupee note

note1The famous light house

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The first thing we did after getting here was Scuba Diving. I jumped off a plane before (tandem) and there wasn’t any training as such required. But for diving under the water they showed us how to breathe using the equipment, how to clear water of our masks and how to efficiently pop the various, and there were a bunch of hand signals involved; nothing very creative. We went under water for about 10-12 meters; the water felt cooler, there were a lot more fish, very colorful ones and huge corals. We keep moving underwater following fish, taking pictures and probably the whole experience lasted ~30 minutes. Time did pass pretty quickly though. It was not exactly how they showed in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but this was definitely fun.

 

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Peace
img_20170223_1353552After our dive. Done deal 😀

From there we got our lunch and crashed over the resort cabanas over looking the beach. It was beautiful, the view. The breeze so refreshing. It was so easy to slip into sleep.

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View from our resort. And there were cabanas 😀

radhanagar; This was our next stop. Often hailed in online forums as the most beautiful beach in all the islands this was 11 km of ghat road away from our resort. Our little nap on the cabanas made us miss the last public bus to the beach. Bummer! Right when we were about to walk back to our room to think about the next course of action, we saw a small van pull in front of the resort. A bunch of uncles and aunties immediately started walking to it and amidst the chatter we heard they where going to Radhanagar beach. We started a conversation with a couple of them, and soon we were in van on our way to the beach. It was a cozy van and the group was a fun bunch.

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Radhanagar beach before the sunset

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It was getting dark but the waves were still calm

White sandy beach, ultra clean, and not a single pebble. Walking barefoot on the beach felt like walking on a really good memory foam matters; honestly the beach was much better. And we got to watch the entire sunset. Lush green terrain, white sandy beaches, cool breeze, dark blue ocean, warm water and a naval vessel of the Indian Army in the distance… the view felt right out of a high budget movie. It was beautiful. Probably the most beautiful beach I had been to. The fun aunties/uncles from Pune were also sweet enough to give us a ride back!

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With the super cool aunties and uncles from Pune 🙂

!pina coladas; On the first day while we were auto-ing around in Port Blair to book ferry tickets we ran into this couple from Germany who were in the same boat (pun intended :P). Well long story short we ran into them again in Radhanagar beach and decided to catch up over a drink later in the night. There are a lot of bars on these islands; mostly shady though. It took us some effort, but finally we were able to find a decent pub with live music. That was fun. But there were no pina coladas; heartbreak! The conversation was fun though.

Sam was backpacking in India 8 years ago when he met a writer who told him how beautiful the islands where; 8 years later he and his girl friend Melanie saved up enough money and decided to visit the islands for peace, quite and reflection, so here they were. They told us about Bavaria, their hometown which is super against alcohol (sounded like Gujarat on steroids), why Germans roll their own cigarettes, the kind of music they like and Octoberfest. We told them why many girls they see on the island have orange designs (mehendi) on their hands, Indian Weddings, Bollywood music and food. We walked around the island till midnight when we found a small shack that cooked us food. They were fun people to hangout with. And hopefully they are having a good time here. Good luck Melanie and Sam.

img_20170223_223144_1with Melanie and Sam; we were helping them figure out the Indian menu

elephant; This is how I remember it and the memory is mostly hazy, so take my word for it. Probably in the final year of my undergrad, I was taking an afternoon nap in my room, when I woke up suddenly. It must be summer as the the fan was off and I was sweating; no electricity. The first thought that came to my head was – I never saw anyone eating a banana unhappy. The second thought that came to me was – I never saw anyone riding a jet ski in a movie unhappy. I went back to sleep again. Since then the belief was rooted strongly and I have had hundreds and hundreds of bananas. I was also on a Snow Ski, but never on a Jet Ski though. And one of the things the islands offered was water sports and the place was Elephant beach. Apparently it got its name because of swimming elephants, but we never spotted one. That would have been super cool though.

img_20170224_090409Jet Skiiii….

The way to get this small island was on a speed boat. It was a 20 min ride, and quite a bumpy one. Turns out on a small boat in the ocean every tiny wave is a speed breaker. It was kind of exciting though. After the jet ski we went on a banana ride. It was hilarious. They take you a little deep into the water and then overturn the float. The water was much cooler. And no you don’t drown even if you can’t swim. They give you water vests. The first time the float was overturned it was unexpected and fun. The second time we were overturned we swam back to the shore. Told you the water was perfect for swimming.

cellular jail; As kids whenever we caused a lot of trouble our uncle came up to us cousins and said “allari aapaka pothe andaman jail ki pampistharu” (if you don’t stop the noise you’ll be sent to the andaman prison) and I distinctly remember, it calmed us down, well most of the time. In our defense as kids we saw a lot of movies around the Indian Freedom Struggle and the scenes involving this prison were the most gruesome.

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On our last day on the islands we got to see this prison. It’s a national monument now and has been well maintained, so it doesn’t look as scary as I imagined it to be. You get to read a lot of stories in the attached museums over there. If you are into understanding our past and the freedom moment, the experience can be very engaging.

img_20170225_092939One of the 600 odd cells in the prison

Once you get to the top of the prison you have a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean. It was sunny, breezy and calming.

beaches; I have been to beaches in the east coast, west coast, chennai, kerala and Goa and I have never seen water so clear. Its probably due to the white sandy beach terrain, and not taking any credit away the beaches here, there are very well maintained. When you look at the water you can clearly see two distinct colors. The water was light greenish blue closer to the beach and as you look farther into the ocean, the water turns dark blue. And the waters was so warm. Swimming over here is a lot of fun. And the only way it could have gotten better was if the water wasn’t salty. But I guess that’s not an option :P.

img_20170223_171723By the time the sun set, everything turned golden

sunset; Watching sunsets over large water bodies in close proximity to the nature are always reflective, soothing. It was no different here. On our way back from Havelock Island to Port Blair we got on a ferry with a large deck. The ride was for a little over 2 hours, and I stood there through the entire ride back, looking into the horizon… I saw the sun set over lush green forests in the horizon, the terrain of the mountains looked like a lady sleeping in the distance, ocean winds rushing through the face, the rhythmic sounds of the waves settling the thoughts, shade of the sun slowly changed from mild orange to blood red color turning the light blue sky into something dark and ominous while the deep blue ocean shined like rich red wine. The most beautiful sunset experience of my life.

img_20170224_173929The most beautiful sunset that I had seen and experienced

night skies; No tall buildings, no sky rises and no light pollution… the skies lit up with stars in the night on these islands. When you look up it looks like a head full of hair. Beautiful sight to watch. If you are into star gazing you might love it. And there aren’t really a lot of mosquitos too.

img_20170223_200750He was strumming DDLG songs on that instrument and he was very good

coconuts; While we are getting used to drinking coconut water from tetra packs, the experience is so much better when you drink it right out of a coconut. Having seen only malnourished coconuts in Hyderabad, it was refreshing to see coconuts the size of basket balls. And man those where tasty!

img_20170223_164937Look at the sizes on that coconuts!

food; You have options, lots of them but the food is not half as yummy as what you get in Hyderabad. Well to be fair it’s an island. I did hear the sea food was done well. Nevertheless our first stop after getting back home was to go get kebab’s and Paradise Biryani. So there you go :D.

It was a pleasant 4 day vacation, but we need more days to take in the full experience and check out all the other jewels. Hopefully we’ll get to visit this natural wonder again sometime soon.

[update] facebook newsfeed; Guys just putting it out there… in a couple of hours this place does feel like your facebook newsfeed… married couples everywhere. You have been warned! 😛

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