Havelock Island’s beaches have won international praise. // © 2013 iStockphoto
Located at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea is an archipelago known as the Andaman Islands. It is an unlikely tourist destination for the average traveler, but lovers of exotic beaches and fans of Sherlock Homes may be driven to visit these historic isles.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a part of India’s Union Territory, the capital of which is Port Blair located on Chatham Island. The Andamans have been inhabited for thousands of years and, even in pre-colonial times, the islands were considered to be a strategic location in Southeast Asia especially for maritime operations beginning in the 11th century.
During the colonial era, the first occupiers were the Danish with the arrival Danish East India Company. However, repeated outbreaks of malaria forced the Danes to abandon the islands. Later, Britain set up a penal colony on Chatham Island. The penal colony was moved around but, in 1858, a more permanent penal colony was set up. Its main purpose was to house dissenters and independence fighters from the Indian subcontinent. Eventually, the colony became known as the Cellular Jail and is one of the island’ most popular attractions.
Exploring Port Blair
As the point of arrival for most visitors, Port Blair offers several places of interest for travelers to explore. Fans of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will find the island particularly interesting, especially those familiar with the author’s second work, “The Sign of the Four,” in which the antagonist, Jonathan Small, was imprisoned at the colony in Port Blair.
The Cellular Jail is one of the most important remnants of British rule in the Andaman Islands. Primarily used to house political prisoners, it was home to several notable Indian dissidents fighting for independence and exiled to the remote islands.
Another worthwhile stop is the Anthropological Museum. It is by far one of the best museums on the island and gives visitors great insight into the indigenous communities who have occupied the islands over the centuries. While the museum may not always have electrical power, and the elevators are seldom in use, the multilevel complex portrays the daily life of the various aboriginal populations with relics, replicas and dioramas of their culture.
The Forest Museum & Chatham Sawmill is another noteworthy attraction. The saw mill was one of the largest wood processors in Asia. The museum provides a history of timber milling in the Andaman Islands as well as displays of locally grown wood.
Handicrafts are a mainstay in Port Blair, and visitors can head to the Andaman Emporium and the Sagarika Government Emporium to shop for wood carvings, jewelry, furnishings and more. The island is also home to a small zoo and a marine museum.
Clients who are visiting for more than a day should head to one of the other Andaman Islands. Ferry boats operate regularly and stop at various outposts around the Andamans where visitors are attracted to isolated beaches, local villages and clear blue water. Known for their eco-tourism, Havelock and Neil Island are two of the most notable for travelers.
On Havelock, travelers will find white-sand beaches, emerald green waters and lush flora and fauna. Eco-tourism is well-developed here and Beach No. 7, also known as Radha Nagar Beach, was named “The Best Beach in Asia” by Time magazine.
Neil Island, named for a British soldier, is one of the region’s growing tourism destinations. Agriculture is the main driver of the island’s economy but, increasingly, tourists are opting to stay on the island rather than neighboring Havelock for a more authentic island experience. The island offers basic hotel accommodations that cater to both domestic and international visitors, a handful of restaurants and a beautiful, craggy coastline.
Travelers arriving in the Andamans will most likely do so by air, but the islands can also accommodate cruise ships. Cruise lines such as Azamara Club Cruises call in Port Blair for a day. Daily flights operate from Chennai, Kolkata and Bhubaneswar to the Veer Savarkar Airport (IXZ) in Port Blair. Charter and seasonal flights also operate from other major cities, such as New Delhi and Hyderabad, and are more frequent during tourist seasons.