Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lost In The Andamans: Sunrises or Sunsets, Neil it Down! (Ch 5/8)

Neil Island, an hour and half by ferry from Havelock, and two and half hours from Port Blair, is a highly under-rated destination in the Andamans. Neil was uninhabited until the arrival of Bangladeshi refugees in the late 60s, and today has a population of barely three thousand.

A lot less crowded than its more famous neighbor to the north, Neil offers excellent sunrise and sunset views at Sitapur and Laxmanpur beaches respectively. While not the best options for swimming owing to a rocky bed, these beaches offer long, romantic walks along the shore. 

Sunset at Laxmanpur
Sitapur provides the perfect vantage point for enjoying the sunrise
Neil Kendra, the main settlement on the island, is a lovely, sleepy village, and you can spend a beautiful day walking through the narrow roads between betel nut groves and banana plantations. If you wake up early enough, pay a visit to the local market, where fresh produce from the island is packed off for shipping.

After watching the sunrise on Sitapur beach at 515 am, we stopped at a small local cafĂ©. It was too early for breakfast, so we enjoyed a cup of tea, with some local sweets. “What language do the locals speak?”, I asked the owner. Pat came the reply, “Sab apna apna bhasha mein Hindi bolta!” Everyone speaks Hindi in their own language. The perfect way to summarize the Andamans – a microcosm of India, a wonderful mix of multiple cultures, languages and rituals, beautifully amalgamated!

The local market on Neil Kendra at 6 am
Bharatpur beach, a stone’s throw away from Neil Jetty, is perfect for swimming, almost a smaller version of Radhanagar. It’s also where you can enjoy a glass bottom boat ride, getting a glimpse of the corals and the vibrant life under the sea.

Traveler Pro Tip: Jolly Buoy Island, which we cover in the next chapter, is the perfect place for enjoying the corals, and unless it’s off your itinerary, you can give the glass bottom boats at Bharatpur a miss. 

Bharatpur is great for swimming
A short drive away from Neil Kendra is a natural bridge formation, also called the Howrah Bridge. A little off the beaten track, we walked a couple of hundred meters over a rocky beach and rounded a corner before we came across this amazing natural wonder carved by years of erosion!

The rocky bed also hosts millions of sea creatures – from tiny multi-colored fishes, to lobsters, crabs and even the rare sea urchin, trapped in the puddles during low tide, and reunited with the sea when high tide comes back in. 

The natural bridge formation is spectacular, but mind the tides!
This location is accessible only during low tide, so do check with locals before setting off. And while it’s easy to get carried away, keep a very watchful eye on the incoming tide  - this is one place you do not want to get stuck in!

Laxmanpur beach settles down for the night

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