Whenever we have vacations to travel, we Indians yearn for some emerald green forests, crystal clear waters and secluded sandy beaches. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are truly a dream destination that caters to all our needs. Collectively called ‘Andamans’, these islands are a delight for every kind of tourist since it has an amazing collection of history, geography, biodiversity and its exotic scenic beauty as well. Further, these islands have remained pristine and maintained their value as an ecotourism destination till now due to their seclusion from the mainland.
The history of Andamans is entwined with India’s colonial past and freedom struggle. British rulers acquired these islands in 1868 and made them a penal colony for convicts. The Cellular Jail stands testimony to the colonial times when freedom fighters were imprisoned here, since these remote islands isolated from the mainland were considered an ideal place to punish them.
The Andamans are a long chain of 572 islands placed north to south in the Bay of Bengal. The Andaman Islands are larger in size and are mostly inhabited by mainlanders, while the Nicobar Islands are sparsely populated by indigenous tribes. Only 38 islands are inhabited since the government has made sure that pristine forest and isolated tribes remain untouched. The island geography is truly in Indian subcontinent with some of the rarest sights such as Barren Island, the only volcano in India and Limestone Caves in Baratang.
Biodiversity that attracts eco-tourists
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have a tropical rainforest canopy, made of a mixed flora of about 2,200 different plant species varieties have been identified, out of which 200 are unique to these islands only. Similarly in terms of fauna, there are 270 species of birds, 225 species of butterflies and moths, 50 varieties of forest mammals including the Andaman wild boar. Saltwater crocodile and dugong are the most interesting animals for nature study.
The Andamans have a forest cover of near 90% of the total land area, which includes 12 different types of forest such as giant evergreen, tropical evergreen forest, cane brakes, bamboo brakes, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous, littoral, mangrove and brackish water mixed forest. No doubt, UNESCO has declared these islands as one among the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
However, since Andaman forests contain more than 200 types of timber producing tree species, the islands are under increased threat from the industry and immigration from the mainland. The archipelago also hosts many animal species, many of which are preserved in sanctuaries, such as on Interview Island, which has a large population of feral elephants. Interestingly, there is a swimming elephant named ‘Rajan’, which used to swim from one island to another!
Most visited travel spots
The Andamans are the perfect destination for travelers keen to explore a unique ecosystem. These islands are best suited to those who crave adventure in pristine forests, untouched backwaters and clean beaches. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities right from scuba diving and snorkelling to admire the island reefs, to trekking and hiking in the forest. Some of the best tourist spots in Andamans are:
- Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island is a picturesque natural paradise with beautiful white sandy beach, rich coral reef and lush green forest. No doubt, it was chosen as Asia’s best beach in 2004.
- Rutland Island is a pristine and least visited island with beautiful Mangrove forest and coral reefs. There is a 45 acre Totani Resort with quaint little huts, which can be used as a base camp for exploring the island. It is the ideal place for eco-tourists.
- Jolly Buoy Island, a small island, is a part of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It is the best place for snorkelling with its crystal clear waters and a rich marine life.
- Indira Point is the name of the southernmost point of Republic of India. The point has a 35 meters high lighthouse with a light of 16 nautical miles range.
- Limestone Caves in Baratang Island are one of the most visited destinations. Limestone Caves are naturally occurring caves made out of limestone structures. Travellers are welcomed to the sight of sun-basking crocodiles resting in the extensive mangroves.
- There are numerous uninhabited islands in the Nicobar archipelago that are off-limits to tourists. Some of them are home to the last un-contacted tribes in Asia, who have resisted modernization till now. Permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, which are rarely given.
Preserving eco-tourism in Andamans
The irony of tourism is travelers visit a nature destination since it has pristine locations with serene beauty. However, this serenity is lost when too many tourists arrive there and begin polluting the environment. This has happened across all scenic destinations in India and some of them are not worth visiting anymore. Fortunately, the Andamans have remained pristine and maintained their value as an eco-tourism destination till now due to their seclusion from the mainland.
Andamans are accessible only by air or by boat as the islands are located far off the Southern coast of India. While ship is a popular mode of transport, cheap flight tickets to Andamans are available from Chennai and Kolkata. Due to the length of the routes and the small number of airlines flying to the islands, fares have been relatively expensive. Travellers must note fares are high during the peak seasons during winter, although fares have decreased over time due to the expansion of the civil aviation industry.