There are few examples in the world of places that have none of the attributes and characteristics of a metropolitan yet have an eclectic amalgam of cultures languages and food habits. One such place is Andaman and Nicobar Islands, beautifully and rather strategically tucked in the Bay Of Bengal that forms part of the Indian Ocean. These islands are closer to countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka despite being Indian territory, giving India a peculiar strategic dimension in terms of geographic spread close to the Equator. The same fact also allows North Indian tourists their longest domestic flight.
The islands get their share of the amalgam because of their proximity to three Indian states-Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. All these three states have different languages, cultures, and cuisines. People from all the three states gradually migrated to the islands over the last many decades but continue to hold on to their distinctive food habits and other traits allowing very little fusion despite living together for long.
Andaman and Nicobar are set of two different islands but they are collectively defined as Union Territory of India. The islands were primarily used by the British to confine the Indian freedom fighters in what is now a very famous Cellular Jail. After India got freedom from the British, the Cellular Jail has now been consecrated as a place marking India’s long, arduous and traumatic fight for freedom in which hundreds lost their lives. Cellular Jail is now an intrinsic part of anyone’s itinerary visiting the islands, particularly of the Indians.
For those tourists who are looking for a break from overuse of their communication devices, these islands can definitely offer that respite since there is very poor internet connectivity, making the possibility of overuse of such gadgets impossible. The few cybercafes on the island offer more of frustration and loss of connectivity in the name of internet surfing. Ditto for mobile telephony.
One would be in a shock on the islands to note how easy it is for government employees. Despite the islands being Union Territory of India, very different rules seem to apply to the government employees who start their work at 10 am and go for lunch at 1 pm, resuming work for barely an hour from 3 pm to 4 pm after which the office gives over. The private sector employees also get to enjoy similar long lunch breaks but they work till 6 pm.
The short working hours of the government departments pose some problems for the tourists. Visit many islands requires permits which are only given by government authorities there but the office of these authorities is open for a short time, allowing very little opportunity for a tourist to get the permits and also be able to go around places of interest. For an island where most of the people derive their livelihood through tourism, the inconvenience caused to tourists by way of timings like this comes across as a stark occurrence.
Another thing that comes as stark is the extremely loud music that plays on public transport buses on the island. Making a mockery of any civic sense that can be there, the buses play music loud enough for people living in neighboring Indonesia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to enjoy.
One may also be surprised with that fact that locals travel as long as 7-8 hours in ferries from one island to another carrying live chicken in their handbags to offer their relatives or friends.
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Among all these traits of the place comes the unique features of nature that can be found on the islands like the Barataang caves that have been formed by limestone stalactites and stalagmites that shine and even glow at times. It also has some of the most stunning mangroves which dot the length and breadth of the islands.
No description of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands can be complete without the mention of scuba diving sites. Without argument, the islands are one of the few places in the world that offer such an exhilarating scuba diving experience. One can also do the entire PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course that is offered by many private companies.
It is these unique and distinctive features and sights that make a visit to these islands vivid in the memory for a long time.
The story first appeared in July 2018 Issue of Storizen Magazine. You can read it here.