Andaman and Nicobar Islands – General Info
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing – Helen Keller”
The Andaman & Nicobar are groups of picturesque Islands; a total of 572 islands, islets and rocks lying in the South Eastern Part of the Bay of Bengal, in a long and narrow broken chain, approximately over a distance nearly 800 km from North to South.
The original inhabitants of Andaman & Nicobar Islands are the Negritos and the Mongoloids Tribes. The tribes of the Andaman group of islands are the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Sentinatese, all of Negrito origin, while the tribes of Nicobars are the Nicobarese and Shompens; both of Mongoloid stock. These islands remained secluded from the mainland till the end of the 18th Century when people from the outside world first arrived. The history of these islands could be divided into four broad periods ; The period of seclusion and piratical disturbances; the British regime – a period of foreign intrusion and settlement; the Japanese regime; and the Post-Independence period. Today, people of all faiths – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and so on, and of all languages like Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Nicobari etc, live together in complete peace and harmony. Inter-religion and inter-regional marriages are common here, giving it an amazing racial and cultural mix.
The sandy beaches on the edge of the meandering coastline are fringed with coconut-palms that sway to the rhythm of the sea. The rare flora and fauna, underwater marine life, corals, crystal-clear water and mangrove-lined creeks offer a dream-view of the rare gifts of nature. A visit to these islands will definitely be a memorable lifetime experience.
Capital : Port Blair
Distance from Calcutta :1255 Kms
Distance from Chennai : 1190 Kms
Distance from Vishakhapatnam : 1200 Kms
Altitude : Varies from sea level to 732 meters
Highest Peak : Saddle Peak : 732 meters
Climate : Tropical throughout the year
Humidity : 70 to 90%
Rainfall : 3,000 mm (May to Sept. & Nov. to Jan.)
Forest Cover : 92 %
Forest Area : 86%
Best Season : October to May
Clothing : Cottons throughout the year
STD Code : 03192
Access by Air
International: None. However the government does permit charter flights to land after taking necessary permissions from the Civil Aviation Ministry.
Domestic: Port Blair is well connected with Chennai and Kolkata by daily flights. Refer to Getting There page for full details.
Access by sea
Regular passenger ship services are available to Port Blair from Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam and back. There are three or four sailings every month from Kolkata and Chennai to Port Blair and vice versa. There is one sailing from Vishakhapatnam in a month.
The voyage takes about 50 to 60 hours. Details about sailing dates etc can be obtained at www.andaman.gov.in
It’s not known when the first inhabitants arrived on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but their presence was documented in the 2nd century by Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and again in the 7th century by Chinese monk Xuan Zang during his 17-year journey through India. Apart from brief interludes where the Cholas and Marathas used parts of the Andaman and Nicobar as a base, sporadic exploratory missions by European naval powers and fleeting references from travellers such as Marco Polo.
The more recent history of the Andamans starts with the establishment of British bases and a penal colony in the 18th century. The construction of the infamous Cellular Jail “Kalapani” or “Black Waters” was completed in 1908. Numerous anti-British Indians were tortured to death and executed here. During the British occupation, Islands were named after Generals who fought during the great Indian Mutiny of 1857, and till date these Islands retain those very same English names.
With the Second World War, Japanese troops occupied the islands and the local tribes initiated guerrilla activities to drive them out. Under Japanese occupation, several bunkers were built all around these Island, many of which are still standing. The Japanese viewed local islanders as spies and many of them lost their lives as a result. On 29th December 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the flag of independent India on the island. He also established the first independent government here. Netaji renamed these islands as ‘Swaraj’ (Self-rule) and ‘Shaheed’ (Martyr).
Following Independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union. Since then, massive migration from the mainland has inflated the island population from only a few thousand to more than 350, 000. During this influx, tribal land rights and environmental protection were disregarded to some extent, but now local lobby groups are becoming more vocal.
Indian nationals need no permit to visit Andaman’s. However, permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are given in exceptional cases only. Application on a prescribed form may be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner, Andaman District, Port Blair.
All foreigners need to specify that they intend to visit the Andaman’s while obtaining the visa to India. Foreigners arriving in Port Blair with a stamp reading “Entry to restricted areas not allowed” (or similar stamps) will not be allowed to enter the Andaman Islands. Do note that there is a line in fine print in all Visas stating that ‘entry to restricted areas not allowed’ and that is to be ignored, only if there is a separate rubber stamp then kindly check with your issuing authorities urgently!
With a valid India Visa, foreigners can arrive in Port Blair. However a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) is required to enter the Andaman’s which can be easily obtained on arrival at Port Blair from the immigration authorities. The permit is free of cost.
In addition, permits can also be obtained from Indian Missions Overseas, Foreigners Registration Offices at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and the Immigration authorities at the airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
The Restricted Area Permit allows foreign nationals to stay on the islands for 30 days. This can be extended by an additional 15 days at the immigration office in Port Blair. Getting the extension depends on your reason for extension and luck.
For Night Halt
South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island and Little Andaman Island (excluding the tribal reserve), Neil island, Havelock island, Long island, Diglipur, Baratang, North Passage island, and islands in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (excluding the islands of Boat Hobday, Twin, Tarmugli, Malay and Pluto). Night halt in the park is only with permission.
For Day Halt
South Cinque island, Ross island, Narcondam island, Interview island, Brother island, Sister island and Barren island (you are not permitted to land on Barren).
Please note that the above can be changed at a short notice by the government and hence request you to contact the Immigration authorities for updated information.
Mobile & Telephone Access: Mobile providers include BSNL, Vodafone and Airtel with Reliance functioning currently only in Port Blair with excellent connectivity. As you travel away from the city of Port Blair to outer city limits or other islands, connectivity may become weak.
Internet Access: Good in Port Blair, but very poor dial up connections on extremely slow speeds in most other important islands like Havelock and Neil. Satellite internet is available in Havelock although expensive. Data cards (of a few companies) work in Port Blair, however do not work at all on other Islands. Most of the islands do not have internet access at all.
Island Tourism Festival
Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands celebrates an annual Island Tourism festival. The festivities include exhibitions, cultural performances and water sport competitions that carry on for a fortnight in the months of December and January.
Subhash Mela – January Every Year
Organised in Havelock every year on the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. This mela (carnival) is celebrated with a week long festival filled with cultural programmes, food stalls and small roadside shops.
Vivekanada Mela – January Every Year
Organised at Neil Island to celebrate the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekanada. This mela (carnival) is celebrated with a week long festival filled with cultural programmes, food stalls, loud music and small roadside shops.
Block Mela – January/February Every Year
Held at Diglipur, this highlights the developments that have taken place in the rural areas and displays the typical rural life of these islands.
Hari Bol Mela – February Every Year
This is gathering of all local villages where they sing religious songs and pray together. Free food is served in the evening to all people and the festivities last 3 days. As this festival is mainly a religious one, travellers are advised to wear attire that is conservative if attending the festivities.
PLACES OF INTEREST IN AND AROUND PORT BLAIR
This beautiful island of South Andaman with lush green forest and sandy beaches is the vegetable bowl of Andaman. Connected by boat from Port Blair, it provides an ideal holiday for eco-friendly tourists. Beautiful beaches at Laxmanpur, Bharatpur, Sitapur and the bridge formation on the sea- shore (Howra Bridge) are some of the attractions
Havelock is one of the few islands that is inhabited, although most of it is a natural paradise, replete with white sand beaches, coral reefs with a colourful array of aquatic life, palm trees, as well as dense forests in the interiors.
Radha Nagar beach on Havelock has been voted Best Beach of Asia, by Time Magazine. Other notable beaches include Elephant Beach on the northwest coast and Vijaynagar Beach. The coral here is probably the best on the island, making this an excellent spot for snorkelling. It’s a place where snorkelling and diving is possible.
Long Island is a beautiful, unspoilt island, with varied walks around the beaches, village and forests, and one of the loveliest beaches in the Andaman Islands, Lalaji Bay. You can reach Lalaji by walking through the forest (1.5 / 2 hours), going along the shore at low tide, or by boat.
Baratang Island is famous for lime stone cave, Mud Volcano, Parrot Island and thick mangrove forest, the place is accessible through ATR as well as boat service.
Rangat is 170 kms from Port Blair and 70 kms south of Mayabunder. The town is well connected by road and sea routes. The town has been described as a “ramshackle sprawl around two rows of chai shops and general stores divided by the ATR .Some nearby tourist attractions are Amkunj Beach (8 km away) and Cutbert Bay Beach (18 km away). The latter is an important turtle nesting ground, especially from December to February.
Mayabunder is a way station for several tourist attractions, such as excellent scenic beauty, mangrove creeks and beautiful sandy beaches. Beaches at Avis Island (30 minutes from Mayabunder), and Karmatang Beach.
Diglipur is the largest and farthest town located in the North Andaman Islands. It is more like a division or a county. It is 325 kms by road and 185 kms by sea from Port Blair which means a road trip might take the whole day. Yet, the beauty of Diglipur makes the escapade from the daily routines to this pristine place a worthy holiday.
Diglipur is a hub of a lot of tourist activities and attractions. Eco-friendly tourists flock in large numbers on the island for its abundant forest cover & marine life. Diglipur not only promises a rich flora and fauna but is also famous for its orange and rice production. There are a whole lot of places to explore in and around Diglipur.