Back in the game at last!
Sincerest apologies for that little absence over Christmas and New Year, if a 23 day disappearance can be considered “little”
I fully intend to make up for that by spilling the beans on THE MOST delightful holiday destination I bet you’ve never been to. So as a belated Christmas present to you all, follow my advice and continue reading….
I’d never even heard of this place until a few months before we decided to go there, but then again I always was crap at geography so that isn’t saying a lot! However I’ve seen my share of gorgeous tropical islands and beautiful beaches and I promise you we hit the absolute jackpot this time: the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Although a long way from the mainland, the Andaman and Nicobar islands are actually part of India. There are nearly 572 islands in total, of which 38 are inhabited and they are located in the Bay of Bengal, over 700 miles East of India and about 300 miles west of Thailand and Burma. One of the islands in this group is so primitive that if you ever appear on its shores little dark men will come out from the bushes with spears and arrows and try to kill you. (I promise I am not making this up.)
Apparently this tribe of about 100 people has been living on a tiny island (SENTINEL ISLAND) alone and mostly undisturbed since God knows how long. Quite why there’s this number nobody knows for sure. There would be enough food to support a lot more, but 100 odd seems to be the population they stick to. Perhaps they know something the rest of the world doesn’t?
Obviously tourists aren’t allowed to go to Sentinel Island. In fact nobody is, apart from about a dozen scientists, so I’m afraid don’t have any photos of angry little dark men with spears. Apart from this 30 year old pic I found of Sam Allardyce.
Anyway, I discovered at the last minute that the only internet I’d be able to get on the various islands is satellite internet. That’s if you’re lucky – most of the islands have no internet at all.
From my travels I know all about piss poor internet connections and I’ve been on islands with satellite internet before. It’s expensive and it’s extremely piss poor. Any website running more complicated than words on a page (ie every modern website in existence) takes forever to load and just viewing a photo, let alone uploading one, is painful. Forget watching YouTube vids right away and if you ever find yourself having to book a flight or a hotel – well I wish you good luck. (I just rocked up at Chennai airport on Saturday with no hotel or onward flight and started from scratch. By the way there’s a wry little saying about Chennai: “it’s not worth stopping over in”. Whoever said that was spot on!)
The internet is so bad that on one occasion the shop owner said to everyone “Can everybody please stop browsing? We’ve a man here from Germany who is trying to send an email” and there wasn’t even an attachment with his email! When the email failed to send and the shop owner tried to charge 100 rupees for the “service” the bemused German replied in a totally deadpan voice. “Pay you for what? You should be paying me for my time”
So blogging was nigh on impossible and I had to jettison any ideas about keeping in touch. Sorry about that prolonged absence – won’t happen again guv’nor, promise! In mitigation, I haven’t had a holiday since July 2009 (from the blog that is, I’ve had loads of holidays ) and I have to say the 23 days with virtually zero internet was great. I am….refreshed!
So let’s get on to the business of telling you about this place, shall I? I was tempted to keep all this under my hat so fewer people get wind of this little “secret”. But then all these lovely photos would go to waste, wouldn’t they? And I can’t resist a little gloat as you well know, so here goes. ……
First things first, the Andaman islands are very HOT. It’s always nice to be greeted by a sight like this on New Years Day:
Unless you’re ginger I suppose.
But even if you are, the sun cream is dirt cheap because everything in this country isn’t such a bloody rip off as it is in the West. A 200ml bottle of factor 15, factor 30 or factor 60 only costs 240 rupees, or €3. (Note to greedy western producers: that’s the SAME price for each sun protection factor, not a higher price for the higher factor. I’ve always thought of that as akin to a tax on the whiteys and the gingers. Like being ginger wasn’t punishment enough.)
And that’s the second thing about this place. It’s just so amazingly, refreshingly cheap. OK, this room isn’t exactly luxury but cumon, for 1000 rupees? That’s less than €15 a night.
As for the food, oh lordy! Every morning we’d sup on some fresh pineapple, pomegranate or beetroot and carrot juice, or lemon ginger honey tea. And gorge on fruit pancakes, stuffed with papaya, melon, apple and bananas. My favourite mangoes were out of season, but I didn’t let this little fact completely ruin my holiday. Everything’s grown on the island of course and there’s a market in the village with fruit and veg so fresh it’d have Mark Fowler stiff in his little West Ham pants.
And of course there’s the fish. Being by the sea they weren’t ever going to mess that up. I’d decided to go vegetarian when I left – just something I’d been planning on doing for a while – but that doesn’t apply to fish does it? So I’ve been eating numerous prawn biryanis – €2 to you sir – and the best tandoori fish tikka I’ve ever had. As nice as any fish dish I’ve tasted in my life. As for luxuries, the lobster was 1200 rupees and tiger prawns were 800, but that’s still a good sight less than you’d pay at home, isn’t it? I mean, look at this delicious whole grilled Red Snapper. It cost the princely sum of 250 rupees, so little you feel guilty. Means you can always tip really generously, which goes down well.
Note they serve the fish with the head still on. The majority of the islands’ population are Bengali and one of our group, an old school mate has parents from Bangladesh. In his 20s he learned to speak Bengali so they really looked after us when he started speaking their lingo. Fish heads are a Bengali luxury but I couldn’t summon the bottle to munch any fish brain I’m gutted to say.
You can do your own fishing too. Four of us went fishing at night for €50 total with some local fisherman. You get to keep the catch and it was darned tasty. We caught loads more that these 6 fish but this is what we took home with us.
Activities wise there’s lots of diving and snorkelling. Some of the Andaman islands took a bit of a battering in the 2004 Tsunami so a lot of the coral died, but it is starting to grow back gradually they say. Personally my favourite activity was heading the 10km down to Radha Nagar beach on our mopeds (which cost the princely sum of €4 a day to hire), eating bananas and drinking coconut water and lazing around with a good book. Mmmmmm, yes I did a lot of that and I have a quite ridiculous tan to prove it. Here’s a picture of Radha Nagar beach, or beach number 7 as it’s known to tourists. It was voted “best beach in Asia” not too long ago. Not too shabby is it?
But there are loads of other smaller beaches – some of which are completely deserted – where it is difficult to say whether it is better or worse than the “best beach in Asia”. It’s just paradise all over.
Have you ever seen orange coconuts?
Me neither. I almost fainted when I heard the price of more the regular green nut – just 30 rupees (and as low as 20 rupees on Neil Island!). I am a nut aficionado and by comparison, in the North of Brazil they were about 75c, in Rio they were € 1.50 and in the South of Brazil they were a mammoth €2 each. But here the nuts here contained about a pint of the sweetest coconut water (perfect for hydration and the best I’ve ever tasted) and the “meat” was plentiful too – for pennies! Bananas were 30-50 rupees for a bunch of about a dozen, so we’d load up on nut and ‘nanas and laze in the 35 degree heat with a good book. And then we’d be back for samosas at lunch time – 10 rupees each to you Sir.
There’s some interesting animal and plant life on the islands too:
A joy to see healthy dogs. So many of them were limping or had one eye.
Dare you to eat those?
I think this is a Salamander, although I’m not sure. They don’t half shift across the water on their slimy little bellies though.
The goats who stare at men
I thought these were sea shells until they are started moving. Hermit crabs!
Even some of the insects are pretty
All creatures great and small!
And the views aren’t bad either:
So there you have the Andamans and Nicobar Islands: an up and coming tourist resort that is still beautiful and unspoiled. It hasn’t been overdone yet so I’d recommend you get there sooner rather than later. In fact it’s a long way from a “mature” holiday resort, with a clear gap in the market for a few higher end resorts. But that’s the whole charm of the place if you ask me. It’s a tranquil place, not a party island and efforts to start beach parties by the Israeli acid heads with their shitty techno music tended to get nipped in the bud by 10.30pm by the local constabulary. It’s definitely not the sort of place for a group of lads to get together to go on the piss because they don’t really go in for alcohol in a big way here – you’d be better off in Goa for that malarkey. But this is a perfect “other worldly” spot for taking your other half for a treat.
They say that India was the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. Well having spent a 23 day stretch on the Andaman islands, I’ll second that!