We just got back from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands with Phoebe and Enrico, our friends from the US who stayed with us last week (they're the ones who are on a 180-day world travel tour). The islands are between Myanmar (Burma) and India, and some of them are inhabited by protected tribal populations. It boasts some of the best scuba diving in the world, and is home to "Asia's Most Beautiful Beach" as rated by Time Magazine in 2004. In retrospect, there is SO much to do and see on these islands, it will definitely warrant a return trip...or two.
We left Pune at 3:45am for a four flight journey that would take us to Bangalore, Calcutta, Port Blair (the fly-in hub for the Andaman & Nicobar Islands), and finally to Havelock Island, about 65 kms. away.
After a seamless relay of on-time (but frigidly air-conditioned) flights, we arrived at Port Blair and stepped into an oppressive wall of humid, tropical, 34ºC heat. We made a short stop to immigration for our travel visas and were met by our agent to take us to the sea plane. When we got into the car however he said there was an aircraft issue requiring several days for repair and that we would not be flying after all (we saw an operating sea plane the next morning....curious, that). By that time we'd missed the last ferry to Havelock and were stuck.
The next 12 hours were kind of a pain in the butt. We ended up staying in Port Blair, and the next day were in the government ferry line at 5:30am pushing and shoving to try and get a ticket aboard one of the big inter-island people/goods ferries. It didn't end up working out and after a really frustrating and confusing couple of hours, which ended up with us back at the hotel lobby wondering if we were ever going to make it to Havelock, the agent showed up, beeped his horn, and leapt out of the car, barking at us to get in for a mad dash down hilly island roads where we were just in time to snag 2 seats aboard the departing 8:30am private ferry (we're guessing 2 people were no-shows) Success at last!!!!!!
We docked at Havelock and after registering with immigration once more took an autorickshaw to our resort, a laid-back place called Emerald Gecko. Given the drama of getting there, we immediately booked ferry tickets back to Port Blair for our departure date. It meant we'd have to spend another night in Port Blair, but by then we had learned that there were some interesting things to do there, so it ended up being fine. Also, we REALLY didn't want to miss our flight home and the private ferry was a really comfortable, nice way to travel.
Our little straw hut was about 100 paces from a small white-sand beach on the Andaman Sea, so after dropping our stuff in the hut we made a made dash to change into our swimsuits and jump in the water, desperate for relief from the stress of getting there. As soon as we did, we were sure that the hassle and the headache was worth it.
Some highlights of the trip were:
I would definitely, absolutely recommend a trip here to anyone, but would suggest spending a first night in Port Blair to sort out transportation if Havelock is the final destination. It was unclear whether our experience was normal, but I would not want to be caught off guard during high season when good rooms might be hard to find. As for the wall of tropical heat: the body adjusts quickly and we were fine after a few days of adjustment. Can't wait until our next trip!
On Sunday we drove to Mumbai to pick up friends who were staying with us for a few days. They're about 30 days into a 180-day adventure through Asia and Europe (read their travel blog HERE) and had just gotten into Mumbai via Rajasthan. We met them in Colaba, a neighborhood in the south of the city, and after hitting almost zero traffic we were pleased to have time for a quick lunch at Mahesh Lunch Room before having to head out for the 3.5 hour drive back. I must admit, seeing friends from home made me a little more than misty eyed than I thought it would :-)
We had a few fun days before they had to grab their train to Mumbai and I was able to share some of my favorite things in Pune with them, the last of which was Parvati Hill. Since summer temps are exceeding 100º, we went in the early morning around 9:30am to avoid getting too hot, especially since there are 103 stairs that lead to the site. It's is a pretty neat place to spend an hour or two, and though everything is brown right now I'm told that monsoon brings rains which turn the brown to bright green, a sight I'm eager to see.
At the top of the hill there is a bunch of stuff to do and see. There's a two-story museum which has a lot of Peshwa artifacts; it costs Rs. 10 to enter and although most of the signage is in Hindi, the artifacts themselves pretty self explanatory. There are also several temples on the grounds, all near one another, which house different idols, and a big temple at the very top of the hill, Devdeveshwar Temple, where for Rs. 5 one can climb the stairs that lead to a 360º view of Pune!