The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to some of the world's most exotic, rare and pristine natural wonders -- small slices of paradise, or perhaps visions from a fairytale, but all very much there for you to experience in the flesh. I recently took a deep dive into some of the most untouched islands here. Here's a glimpse.
Long Island & Guitar Island
One of my favourite destinations here is Guitar Island, off Long Island. Tucked away off the eastern coast of the North and Middle Andamans, this island has a spotless white sandy beach that you can have all to yourself. There are no settlements here, but you can fine boats cruising for fishing. Other than that it's just you, the sand and the sea. Where else on earth can I find such a place, I wondered. But why this name, I asked curiously of the forest official who accompanied me here. "Its aerial view is in the shape of a guitar," he explained.
There is another spectacular beach you should visit once you are here -- Lalaji Bay Beach -- which is a perfect hotspot for beach combing, swimming and nature photography. It is situated on the northeast coast of Long Island and accessible via a 45-minute boat ride from Long Island jetty.
You can reach Long Island on one of the Andaman & Nicobar Administration-operated ships (4-5 hours; Rs 600-700) from Port Blair, via Havelock/Strait Island). It's off the main tourist trail and there aren't many places to stay. I stayed for a night at Vanashree, the Forest Department guest house (make sure you book in advance). There is also a privately owned resort on this island.
We arrived on a dinghy, while dark rain-laden clouds hovered above, threatening to change the mood of the sea. After a 15-minutes ride, our boat anchored on the coast and I got off to set my footprint on the beach. I saw that the sand was well colonised by various types of crabs, and I hurriedly tried to capture them with my camera -- one blink of an eye, and they are gone, out of sight in their sandy holes.
Rangat & its eco-tourism
At 7am the next day, I hopped on to a boat for Rangat, journeying for about an hour through some of the most beautiful, calm and pristine mangrove creeks. At the coast, a vehicle was ready to pick me up for my onwards journey. I had my breakfast at Rangat -- this is a decent hub with shops and restaurants in the market. The tourism department has its own guest house, Hawksbill Nest, which is quite comfortable and offers fresh local seafood in season.
Rangat is blessed with few remarkable eco-tourism spots. I first stopped at Aamkunj Beach (8 km from Rangat) which is a long, sandy and patchy stretch interspersed with pebbles. You can enjoy watching the sea waves, or sit quietly for some time on seats made from logs. Next was Morice Dera beach (12 km from Rangat) which has been developed as an eco-tourism hotspot. It has a unique twin rock formation right on the beach where you can walk along the ridges through a pathway. But the most exciting part was the 700m-long Mangrove Walkway at Dhani Nallah. It is an exemplary display of mangrove conservation efforts by the Andaman and Nicobar administration.
Ross & Smith Island
From Rangat, it took me about five hours to reach Diglipur town. About 4pm, I arrived at the town's market (this is the northernmost centre of administration, with a population of 40,000; a centre of strategic defence priority and you may come across the naval and coast guard establishments on the way).
My next stop was the natural marvel known as Ross and Smith Islands, off the east coast of Diglipur. These two islands are joined by a natural stretch of white, sandy beach, on which you can comfortably walk during low tide. It's quite magical.
Ross and Smith Islands can be accessed via a 15- to 20-minute boat ride from Aerial Bay Jetty. Note, however, that the boat rides stick to strict timings -- 8am to 2pm. A boat trip of six people costs approximately Rs 2500.
The Tourism Department has started some initiatives to promote eco-tourism in Smith Island. You'll find 10-15 thatched huts, a sitting arena, adequate hygiene facilities, changing room, a couple of swings set romantically amidst coconut trees, and lounge chairs. Quite interestingly, the west side of Ross and Smith Islands was extremely windy while the east side was calm and quiet.