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..........

Monday, December 28, 2009

Shock on Havelock

Just before we left Port Blair our so called travel agent handed over a brochure to us telling that we had been booked into a place called Andaman Bubbles in Havelock. The brochure was impressive and we were looking forward to a nice place to stay and perhaps have a hot bath after a dip in the ocean.

Little did we know that our jinx from Chennai had followed us on the Makruzz. As the cab turned into Andaman Bubbles we were greeted by a row of thatched cottages with no sign of a reception counter. We went searching for someone to show us our hut for the rest of our stay in Havelock. The reception was in the neighbouring compound, The Emerald Gecko, which had even smaller huts lining its perimeter.

The man was expecting us because he had some bad news to deliver. There was only one hut reserved for us!! To make matters worse he added that he wouldn't allow more than three persons to stay in the only available cottage.

Cell phones appeared by magic in our hands but NO NETWORK AVAILABLE!! What more could go wrong? We had a choice to drive up to Bare Foot Resort and shell out some 10 grand for each room we got or sleep under the stars on the beach!

Then perhaps out of pity or out of satisfaction gained at our discomfiture our host then offered us one of the huts in the Gecko. The only thing was that we had to share the toilets. There was an open shower room outside of each room.

I did not understand the logic. A shared shower was understandable and acceptable, for they charged only Rs.500/- a night for those huts. I know people do wake up to use the loo at night, but who would want to wake up at midnight for a shower. Would it not be logical to have a loo instead, attached to the hut?

We had no other option but accept his offer.

More to follow........

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Havelock Island

If you are in the Andamans it is impossible to get Havelock of your itinerary. It boasts of possessing one of the 10 best beaches in the world - the Radhanagar beach or Beach No-7 as it is called locally. For some strange reason all villages and beaches are called by numbers here.

20th December,2009 8.30 AM on board the M.V. Makruzz

Havelock is still preserved in it's pristine beauty because of it's relative inaccessibility. There are no direct flights or ships, unless of course you have your own helicopter or yacht. If you possess neither the next best bet is the Makruzz a stylish aluminium cataraman taking off from Port Blair a little after 8.30 AM. A seat on the Makruzz costs you twice as much as the regular vessels but takes you to Havelock in half the time. The only problem is that the all aluminium vessel bucks and kicks like a stallion so you also have double the chance of throwing up!!

The other options are the rather staid, steel ships (ferries) like the Bambooka. Starts earlier, by 6.00 AM or in the afternoon at 2.00PM, travels rather sedately compared to the Makruzz, but at a far steadier 16 knots. Reaches Havelock some two and a half hours after leaving Port Blair unless it detours through any other island on the way. The advantage of a vessel like this is that in case you feel queasy and sea sick you could catch some fresh air on the deck. In the Makruzz you are completely ensconced in air conditioned comfort, complete with a barf bag like in an airliner!

The Makruzz dropped us at the Havelock jetty at 10.30 AM. I had slept through most of the trip because I hadn't found my sea legs just yet.I was already worrying about how to get back to Port Blair.

I did not know that there was more surprise in store for us.........

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Starting Troubles

18th December, 2009

I was getting impatient. Patients pouring in an endless stream not a least bit concerned that I had a flight to catch. 1.00 PM and I wound up telling my receptionist to inform anyone who came that I'd already left. As always there were those few things that had to be thrown into the bag at the eleventh hour. My son, utterly unconcerned, continue playing with his friend.

Finally, we were off to Coimbatore to catch the 8.20 PM flight to Chennai. Airline inflight meals have always been unpalatable and this time was no exception.

9.30 PM - Kamaraj domestic terminal, Chennai.

10.00 PM - in my sister's flat. Bags strewn on the floor. Last minute packing and eleventh hour checks.

The horror started at 10.30 PM, and would last the next three days.

The air ticket from Chennai to Port Blair was missing. Frayed tempers, raised voices and panic in the air. The worst part of all that, no printer at home! Come to think of it; how do two individuals in journalism survive without a printer at home?

Of course, 11.30 PM was not the time to run around trying to buy a printer. So the next best option was to find a place to get a print out. The obvious choice was the cyber cafe around the corner. Bro-in-law and me got in the car with some apprehension. If the intelligent cop patrolling the roads on a weekend were to sniff our breaths, we would have another load of trouble to handle.

The usually reliable Reliance browsing center was closed, and the next one was too far away for two slightly inebriated individuals who were not too keen to test the police department's efficiency. Hotel's have business centers. That seemed the only option for us and we went searching for one. The first stop was a failure so we went further cautiously, to Raintree. I liked the name.

The chap at Raintree was more than helpful. He logged us in, helped print ten sheets of air tickets, pocketed his tip and charged us Rs.250/- for the trouble!

We crawled into bed well past midnight. We had a flight to catch next morning.

19th December, 2009

8.30 AM, Kamaraj Domestic Terminal again.

Baggage checked in and waiting for the security check. Our troubles seemed over. In an hour we would be off to Andamans.

Waiting in the departure lounge for boarding to be announced, the next bomb exploded. Bro-in-law saunters over and nonchalantly announces that our accommodation in Port Blair had not been confirmed! Panic again. Apparently someone else had more influence than a newspaperwallah! We relapsed into silence. We had no choice but board the flight. Something would happen by the time we landed.

The inflight snack was as unpalatable as ever and suspiciously tasted exactly like the meal I had the previous night.

12.30 PM. Veer Savarkar International Airport, Port Blair.

The airport manager was waiting with an appropriately apologetic expression on his face.
"Sorry Sir. The Circut House is not available but I have made arrangement here", he told us.
He escorted us to the airports guest rooms, checked us in and disappeared after issuing us a security pass that mentioned that we were Airport Guests!!

The rooms were spartan. Sheets on bed but none to cover ourselves. Single towels and no running hot water. Drinking water from the cooler in the lounge downstairs.

If you wanted to eat there was no choice after the 12.45 PM flight left. The restaurant closes at 1.30 PM and the airport goes to sleep. It wakes up only at 4.30 AM the next morning! A couple of bored security personnel at the gate whiling away their time watching the cricket match on the TV in the lounge were the only visible sign of life in the slumbering airport.

What a way to start a holiday!!

Be Warned

The Andamans are a group of 572 islands in literally in the middle of nowhere; around 1200 kilometers from any major port on the east coast of India. It's remoteness is what make it fascinating and preserves it from the regular holiday crowds. But if you are a run-of-the-mill tourist it is not the place for you.

Port Blair, the capital, is a small town compared to most tourist destinations on the mainland. If you are a shop-aholic don't even look in that direction. You go to Andamans to put up your feet and RELAX. The islanders have a laid back attitude to life and time here moves languorously. The day starts early, by 4.30 AM and ends abruptly with darkness descending by a quarter past five in the evening. Night life is almost unheard of and surprisingly our hotel actually downed its shutters at night!!

If you have a queasy constitution then you wouldn't want to be here. Travelling by road takes you nowhere. All important islands can be accessed only by boat and it takes a few hours to reach the most interesting islands. You need to find your sea legs quickly to enjoy the unspoilt beauty of this paradise in the middle of nowhere.

And if you are a fussy eater this may not be the place for you either. Outside Port Blair you have little choice. Havelock has some choice but access isn't easy unless you hire a bicycle or scooter (both readily available). The menu is targeted at the overseas crowd that flock here to enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling in the clear waters.

Menu is limited and most likely will list more than what is really available.If your tongue demands some spice then you will be more than a little unhappy. Unlike regular hotels and eateries, one strange experience I had is that water never comes first on the restaurant table. Not even when the food is served! You need to ASK for water.

If you plan to travel to this exotic destination, go with an open mind. Take each day at it's pace. Look at your watch but not too frequently or intensely. When it becomes time to return, rest assured, your mind will be as placid as the waters you swam in!

More to follow soon..........