Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Life Under the Blue.

I'm not a good swimmer. As a matter of fact my skills in the water are as good as negligible though I claim "I can save myself". Perhaps I could, many years ago, but I guess the muscles that I possess  are so unprepared that I'd end up with a cramp if I tried swimming for more than a few minutes. But now I have decided that I'll learn to swim with my son during his vacation. The motivation? The undersea life in Andamans, of course!

The tourist guide, the dunghy wallah, the resort manager and everyone on Andaman swear you dont need to know swimming that I'm left wondering. True, if youv'e travelled more than a 1000 kilometers across the sea and did not risk your life to peer underwater, all the money you spent is wasted. Then if you are like me and were a little reluctant about experimenting with rusty skills there had to be a way out. The solution was the Glass Bottomed Boat!

Both in Elephant beach and Wandoor you have enterprising boatmen with this craft; a boat with an outboard motor and the center of the floor replaced by glass a few inches thick. You sit on either side with your knees knocking on the the fellow traveler's knee sitting across you and peer down at a world that is magical.

A few hundred feet off the beach the land dips down suddenly into  the coral bed. The edge of the reef is where all the action takes place. Most of the coral is broken and dead after the tsunami but is regenerating slowly.

The view through the glass is not 'photo quality' but it gives a fair idea of a world far removed from ours.

I was a bit disappointed with the colours that I saw but then I realized that the glass itself had a blue tint to it and the sunlight never really was hitting in the right angles. There would be moments of sudden brightness and colour with large intervals of monotone. Fish of all sizes and colours would pass under your wondering gaze. Before you could identify one another interesting shape would glide by. The boat was going around in circles and before the camera could focus through the water we would be over another part of the reef.

It was then I realized the value of learning to swim. Snorkeling and scuba diving will take you closer to the scene of action but a fundamental knowledge of swimming would make things more interesting. There were folks 'snorkeling' with a life jacket on but that was just floating on the surface. You need to learn to swim to get close to the action.

There is one other place to get close to the action. The tide pools. If you are willing to wade thigh deep and stand immobile at a place you could have the action at your feet. Of course, if you are a Canonian or Nikonian you'd be reluctant to carry your gear though. As for me. I'm an Oly fan and my E3 has no fear of water! See what I got for my effort.

The secret is is stand absolutely still. Even a small movement will create ripples on the water surface and your focusing will struggle and it goes without saying every fish within the next few meters around you will scatter for the nearest cover. My patience was tested but the prize catch came late in the day as I was about to wind up.

Less than a meter from my legs, from under a rock a school of catfish peered out cautiously. Slowly, and reluctantly they ventured out to perhaps swim out further. I tried bending slowly to get a close up but that was the last I saw of them. Light was fading and I had to go but my actions had one spectator. He was looking for his meal and now he knew where to hunt!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Elephant beach - Havelocks' best

21st December, 2009
TIME Magazine's rating for Radhanagar beach as one of the ten best beaches in the world lingered all of 20th  December. I thought it was right (though a certain beach in Langkawi, Malaysia kept popping up in memory ever so frequently); but that was till I reached Elephant beach.

Breakfast of hot idli-vada at Nala's Kingdom at 8.00Am. In a dunghy by 8.30AM, we were off on a half hour boat ride to Havelock's best kept secret. 

 Tucked away north of Radhanagar, and actually passed by when travelling to and from Havelock Jetty on the ferry this little piece of paradise somehow escapes the attention of day trippers. Strangely, this beach has no Number! Or someone did not tell me.

Most of the beach was supposedly washed off in the tsunami of 2004. Now only a narrow strip remains but so what. That's enough to keep your clothes and bags on.

After all, what is a beach all about, except soaking in the water!

The remains of the trees that got uprooted are still lying around. If you are innovative like my son you could use it as a diving platform, except that the water is so shallow that you'll be splashing down up to your ankles!

The waters here are crystal clear. The reason, to my mind, is the sand here. Unlike in Radhanagar and Vijaynagar, where the sand is ultra fine making it easily churned up and muddy, in Elephant beach the particles are slightly large and rounded. Sand here does not stick easily and drops off when you dry out.

And the hermits are here too in all sizes and shapes, competing for the next best shell, like in all the beaches in Havelock.

If you are a little more adventurous than I am, there is a whole new world for you to explore. UNDERWATER!!

If you are in the Andamans you cannot return without a peek at this fascinating world. The CORAL REEFS.

More about them soon....

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Beach No: 5 - Vijaynagar, Havelock Island

While all the hype is about Radhanagar the other option is Beach No:5; the Vijaynagar beach. I should think it would most likely be unavoidable because almost all the prominently listed 'resorts',  except Bare Foot and Dolphin tents, are located along this beach. Unlike Bare Foot, which is located a 100 meters off the shore and inside the 'jungle', most resorts on this side are on the beach.

Vijaynagar beach @ 5.45 AM
You can wake up before sunrise and wait at the beach's edge for the tide to come in! And that could be a pretty boring wait unless you want to walk a few 100 meter further to meet up with the tide as it comes in.

Otherwise, like me, you can look out for local early birds on look out for breakfast in the tide pools.

Or you could just spend time watching the sun peek out coyly from behind the clouds.

The beach isn't half as good as Radhanagar but as the tide comes in and the sun goes up the turquoise blue returns.

I didn't make an attempt to jump into the water but I guess it is just as good. The water was more clearer here and it made the occasional sharp coral underwater more visible. Otherwise it could give you a pretty painful scrape!

The best beach on Havelock, if you ask me, is neither Beach No: 5 or 7. Perhaps Radhanagar is a little to OVERRATED. 
For there is another beach, which curiously did not have a number attached to its name! The Elephant Beach.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beach No:7 - Radhanagar, Havelock Island

Some years ago TIME Magazine rated the Radhanagar beach on Havelock among the Top 10 beaches in the world. My sister had been telling me about this place for awhile now and I was getting curious. My limited interest in beaches notwithstanding, I wanted to see this "one-of-the-10-most-beautiful" beaches in the world.

After checking into the Emerald Gecko we clambered on to the rickety cab drove off to explore Beach No: 7. It was nearing noon and we weren't really hungry despite an early breakfast. If we felt hungry later, there were not many choices there. Either we ate at the Bare Foot Resort or in one of those roadside dhabas. So we drove to Bare Foot first to enquire about restaurant timings and walked down to the section of the beach in front of it. The jungle goes right to the edge of the ocean and the short walk takes you through shades of the giant trees.

Once you hit the beach the view is breathtaking. A gently curving shore, soft sand underfoot and waves lapping the beach without the usual clamour of the large breakers.

I had to admit. It really was one of the best beaches I had stepped on in my life. The best part was the crowd;  there was none! No noisy tourists, no chaat wallahs, no fishermen, nothing but pristine unspoilt white sand and clear waters.

It did not take long to wade into the shallow waters.


One thing about beaches in the Andamans I noticed were the dogs. Some had belts around their neck other's didn't but all were friendly and skilled in their art. Crab hunting!

Two friendlies were keeping pace with us till one of them spied some movement further up the beach. With frenzied barks they were off. Once they got to their target they got to work; systematically and in total coordination, pooling their skills to reach some the crab that had the misfortune to attract their attention.

If you are not very careful while walking in the beach you could end up crushing some tiny creatures underfoot. Crabs, of all hues and sizes. Hermits of all sizes and shapes carrying temporary homes on their backs till they a bigger and better one.

Crabs can be artists too. As we walked further up the beach we came across small spherical sand balls on the water's edge.

In some places they were so close the it appeared we we were walking on ball bearings lying on the beach.

Each of these groups of sand balls had a small opening in the center through which a tiny crab laboriously rolled out these tiny sand balls.

Some of the patterns were so beautiful that these crabs deserve prizes for their artistry.

More of the beach life to follow. Keep checking in..........