Few destinations in India remain as pristine as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago of 572 islands sprinkled around the glittering Bay of Bengal. Of these, only 36 are inhabited, with one of the most popular being Havelock Island.
It’s against this pristine backdrop that the luxurious Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans has opened its doors to welcome guests. As far as five-star accommodation goes, it’s the first of its kind on the archipelago. Its 75 luxury villas — including a roughly 743 sq m presidential villa – are modelled after the low-rise traditional huts of the Jarawas, an indigenous people of the Andaman Islands, and look out towards a private beach.
Over at the island’s tangle of tropical rainforests, another option is the boutique hideaway Jalakara (below), which offers a more intimate atmosphere, with three guest rooms, three suites, and a private villa with polished plaster surfaces and wooden beams. With the absence of in-room digital distractions such as televisions, you may be more inclined to spend your time spotting the avian life twittering around the property, playing board games (provided by the hotel) or taking a dip in the infinity pool.
Best hikes and caves
Dense forest covers more than 85 per cent of the land on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, making the archipelago arguably the greenest destination in India. Not surprisingly, the different islands offer diverse trekking experiences. One of the most popular is the 45-minute trek to Elephant Beach on Havelock Island, which takes you through a thicket of dramatic mangroves.
If you’re not afraid of heights, take on the rocky cliffs of the 85 sq km Saddle Peak National Park on North Andaman Island, and ascend the highest peak in the archipelago, which stands at 732m tall.
Birdwatchers, too, won’t be disappointed, especially with a visit to the 4,662ha Mount Harriet National Park on South Andaman Island. Undulating with forest-blanketed hills, the park is home to 90 species of birds (above), some of which are endemic, such as the black-naped oriole with its striking black-and-yellow coat. Try to spot the orange-bellied Andaman treepie, the green imperial pigeon and the Asian fairy-bluebird too. The park is accessible from Port Blair by ferry via Bombooflot.
And if you prefer exploring more secluded spots, there are the limestone caves (below) of Baratang Island. The journey to and from the caves takes about 10 hours, and starts at Port Blair, where a boat will take you to the village of Jirkatang. There, you’ll travel by car along Andaman Trunk Road, which cuts through the Jarawa reserve, until you reach Middle Strait Jetty. A ferry will then take you to Baratang Island, where you’ll have to trek through 3km of slippery terrain to reach the caves, which are aglow with stalactite and stalagmite formations in intricate ridges and furrows.
Beaches for Miles
Some of the most isolated beaches are found on Neil Island, which is accessible from Port Blair via ferry. Here, the beaches are named after characters of the Hindu epic Ramayana. For sunsets of the most remarkable colours, head to Laxmanpur Beach, where you’ll find powdery white sand, and an abundance of corals and shells on the seafront.
Also worth checking out: Kakana beach on Car Nicobar – one of the few in the Nicobar group of islands currently accessible to tourists, via a 16-hour boat ride from Port Blair. The idyllic strip of clean sand fringed with palm trees is perfect for honeymooners and those who want to just sunbathe by the surf.
And since commercial fishing is banned in the archipelago, there’s a wealth of marine life (above) – think sea slugs and snails, species of ghost pipefish, jawfish, a variety of crustaceans and even dugongs – that makes scuba diving, seabed walking and snorkelling quite an adventure. Dive India runs diving classes from Havelock Island and Neil Island, with expert divers to teach you the ropes.
– TEXT BY KAMALA THIAGARAJAN
PHOTOS: ALAMY (CLICK PHOTOS), JALAKARA, VANDIT KALIA (DIVE INDIA), INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.