The Andaman group of Islands lie Geographically closer to Myanmar and Thailand than India, but are officially Indian territory and are reachable only via Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. Having only heard of their existence a few months earlier, we were more than a bit excited to be going. You can only visit certain Islands and then when on the Islands some parts of them are out of bounds to protect indigenous tribes that were apparently here long before the Indians arrived (although how they got there is anybody's guess). Imagine if America had found them first, instead of being protected and allowed to roam freely, they'd be wearing croupiers outfits and dealing cards.
Theoretically you can visit a number of the Islands in one visit but you would need a long time as inter-Island boats either don't exist or are very expensive, so to get to any of the Islands you need to go from the capital (located on 'Middle Andaman' island) Port Blair – and buying tickets for the ferry to and from Port Blair is a very slow and bureaucratically insane process that involves several slips of paper, photocopies of passports, etc.
After reading about several of the Islands we went with Havelock; the most developd of the Islands – with perhaps 20 small resorts, a few more restaurants and is home to the Andaman's last remaining swimming elephant. The elephant belongs to the most expensive resort on the Island and is taken out once or twice a week for a swim. We didn't manage to see it, but someone staying in the next to ours did and the pictures were as amazing as they were ridiculous. A swimming elephant indeed.
The accommodation on Havelock consists mostly of beach-huts that vary in quality and facilities depending on how much you're willing to pay. The eastern side of the Island has a long strip of fairly thin sand with several resorts next door to each other for 3km or so – and this is where we stayed for the first 2 nights; at the 'Holiday Inn' (no relation). Being English, and overly keen to get a good tan, we headed out with our white bodies into the mid-day sun for a couple of hours. When we got back I got undressed to have a shower and after Lou stopped laughing I heard the words nobody wants to hear, least of all an Evertonian: “you look like a bloody Liverpool scarf!”. Nice one.
We had heard about a much nicer beach on the West side of the Island, 10km's away, and so on our second day we hired a scooter and headed over to see it. There wasn't much else around except 8 beach-huts, an attached restaurant and the most beautiful beach either of us had ever seen, so the next day we moved to the 'Dreamland' resort which charges 400-500rps a night .
We ended up staying for a week at Dreamland where days mostly consisted of getting up early for a swim in the sea, sunbathing, lying in hammocks, reading and generally resting up. Rather bizarrely, despite being some 1500km east of Delhi, the Islands still operate on the same time zone as the rest of India – India Standard Time (IST), so the sun sets at 5pm. After this time there is very little going on. A couple of nights we took a motorbike back to the busy part of the Island, where the restaurants are, and on our last night we discovered a bar 10 minutes walk through thick jungle inside another resort. Not the most pleasant walk in the pitch black, especially with leaves rustling all around you, but after a couple of Kingfishers the walk back was not so bad.
We had made a decision before we got to India that we were not going to eat any meat or fish at all, except in Goa where we would have some fish. After 6 weeks neither of us had been sick, and the vegetarian food is so good that at first you don't miss meat at all, but getting to Havelock and seeing so much fish on the menu was a sight for sore eyes. During the next 9 days we ate prawns, chilli fish, fish curry and fish masala which all cost about 100rps, but my favourite meal of the trip was a grilled red-snapper served with salad and chips for 250rps.
In years gone by there was a lot of coral around the coast of Havelock, but according to a local fisherman, a combination of the Tsunami in 2007 and 'El Nino' a couple of years later killed the majority of it. There still remains a small area with some live coral in it which we went snorkeling in and saw some pretty amazing neon coloured fish, but if you want really good snorkeling you have to go a bit further out, which we didn't really fancy after we saw the following sign:
After asking around about the validity of the information on the sign, it turns out that an American woman was killed by a crocodile the year before last on the Island. Salt water crocodiles are amongst the largest in the world and the one that ate the yank was apparently 6 metres long. I think even Steve Irwin in his heyday would have struggled with one that long.
When you visit a sparsely populated Island 400km off the coast of India, half of which is unreachable because of impenetrable jungle, you can be sure that as well as the locals, fellow tourists and the odd crocodile, you are not going to be alone. On our first night we were walking down a dark road when a motorbike's lights became visible in the distance. With the benefit of the light, no more than 6 feet in front of us we spotted a snake. It was fortunate for us that the motorbike had been coming, otherwise we may have stepped on it and I'd be joining the likes of Jimmi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix and err, Amy Winehouse in the '27 club'. Our good fortune was the snakes bad fortune as 30 seconds after illuminating the road, the motorbike ran over the snake and sent it flying in two opposite directions. I may have been exagerating the risk to our lives and it may (or may not) have been a grass snake, but still a snake is a snake and we didn't walk anywhere after dark without a torch after that.
Aside from the snake we didn't see anything that looked particularly tropical, except an apparently innocent looking centrepede that was yellow, blue and red in colour, moved like shit off a shovel and according to the locals who jumped out of their chairs and chased it away, if it bit you you'd be in serious pain for 24 hours. Another potential danger to human life are sea-snakes – which have venom ten times more poisenous than that of a king cobra. Luckily for us, but I imagine highly frustrating for them, their fangs are located right at the back of their mouths and so them killing a human is very rare (although not unknown). Still... a snake is a snake!
With just over 3 weeks left in India and having not yet seen any of the South or Goa, we decided to head back over to the mainland. The day we left I got a text with news of Everton's win at Sunderland in the FA cup replay. At the same time happy that Everton had won, it started to dawn on me that I was going to miss the first derby at Wembley since I was barely out of nappies... although given Everton's record in the derbies at Wembley in the 80's, some may say I'll be in the right place!