Snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing if you are the outdoors type and serene landscapes to lose yourself in if you are the contemplative type: Havelock Island in the Andamans has it all…
The sun hinted at signs of retreating. Its golden rays gleamed across the water. The clock struck five and within minutes the splendour of the surroundings was concealed in a veil of darkness. A pathway hewn between a cluster of trees led us to a resort about which we had heard rave reviews. Beyond the lanky trees is a beautiful beach we were told. Our cottage was just a few meters away from the crescent shaped Radhanagar Beach, one of the most famed beaches of Asia. We were in Havelock, a highly popular island with tourists in the Andamans.
Barefoot is a resort by the sea. Cobbled pathways lead to cottages that have donned the colours of the earth. There are 10 fan-cooled Nicobari cottages, eight air-conditioned Andaman villas and an exclusive Nicobari suite. Locally available natural material like cane, bamboo and dried leaves have been extensively used in the construction. Cradled by a canopy of trees, these cottages, with warm lighting, thatched roofs, wooden floors and sunlit bathrooms, strike a chord with nature. There is a conscious effort to optimise the use of natural resources and integrate with the environment in a symbiotic manner. Walking into nature's arms was a pleasure and an experience to treasure.
Recipes from around the world amidst aromas that are truly Indian have made their way into the kitchen at Barefoot. We treated ourselves to a platter of mouth-watering delicacies. The dishes ranged from chocolate pancakes and idlisfor breakfast to pasta and parathasfor lunch followed by gulab jamunsand chocolate truffle for dessert. Visitors can hang up their feet at the lounge bar and enjoy a drink too.
While we were at the restaurant one afternoon, the clonk of a bell cracked the silence. The tingle heralded the arrival of Rajan and all eyes turned in his direction. Rajan, a 60-year-old elephant, has made Havelock his home. Adopted by Barefoot, Rajan has become an icon of the resort. He has a long-standing relationship with his mahout with whom he shares an intimate bond. Rajan is taken into the forest during the day and spends the night at the resort. Among other things that make this gentle giant special is his ability to swim. He loves to wade into the water and paddle in the sea. Visitors can dive and snorkel with Rajan and have their photograph clicked underwater.
Lured by the exciting outdoors offered by Barefoot Adventures, we chalked out a plan for our stay at Havelock. Snorkelling, scuba diving, joy fishing, island camping, finding Rajan in the forest, diving with Rajan, kayaking and hiking in the nearby hills were some of the activities on offer. There are many good spots for snorkelling and scuba diving around Havelock. While scuba diving is for experts, snorkelling is for novices. With no prior experience, scuba diving would have been a tough proposition so we chose to explore the waters of the Andaman Sea with our snorkels.
Aboard a dungi (a small motorboat) loaded with snorkels, fins, tender coconuts and biscuits, we headed out to Elephant Beach, the first stop for the day. Elephant Beach seemed like a piece of heaven on earth with boats anchored to the shore and tree stumps flaunting artistic poses against the backdrop of the blue-green sea. Floating on the surface of the water and breathing through the snorkel, we marvelled at the world that lies beneath. Bold and beautiful corals painted the ocean bed with a riot of colours. The silent orchestra of the depths of the ocean was mind blowing. Schools of fish seemed to be going about their business hastily. I watched in awe as the fish pranced around the colourful corals gleefully. Hump-head parrotfish, clown fish, cleaner wrasse, sea stars were a few that we could identify from the many that crossed our path. We were told that these waters are home to a colossal number of species of fish including exotic ones like manta rays, pacific lionfish, parrotfish and marbled stingrays. South Button, Aquarium, Henry Lawrence, Inglis and Lighthouse are other good spots to feel the pulse of the sea and explore life under the surface of the water.
Walking along the beaches at Havelock is an out of the ordinary experience. Shells of myriad colours and shapes strewn on the silver-white sand invariably have live creatures inside. The intricate sand art created by crabs is intriguing. These beaches are throbbing with life, quite literally. The water sparkles like a million gems as the sun hovers over its expanse, the waves dance to the tunes of the wind, the shade of the trees on the beach is inviting. Slow and laid back, these beautiful beaches are perfect for those who like to escape into the beauty of nature and the bliss of serenity.
Ideal mode of exploration
We rented a scooter and hit the tarmac to explore Havelock Island. Riding along the shoreline, we stopped at beaches along the way. The play of light and the colours of the water were a sight to behold. Starting from Radhanagar Beach we traversed the entire island on our bike reaching the Kalapathar Beach on the other side. Although we were assured that Havelock is very safe even at night, it got a bit spooky as we made our way back with the headlights piercing the darkness. There were no signs of people for miles on end. Braving the chilly wind and creatures calling out from the bushes, we reached the resort.
Intensive logging has thinned down this densely wooded island. The residents are migrants from the mainland and visitors are tourists from India and abroad. Boats trickle into the jetty ferrying people and almost everything else that is used on the island. Newspapers are brought in all the way from Kolkata every day. On the island are seven villages, splendid beaches and fields of areca, coconut, paddy and banana. Village One has the boat jetty and carries a trail of litter left behind by the large number of tourists who visit Havelock. Village Three (Govindnagar) has the market place and is abuzz with activity. This is where the locals buy commodities that are brought in from the mainland. Colourful Indian artefacts, shells and local handicrafts on display in roadside shops make a walk down the bazaar an interesting one. Village Five has a string of resorts, restaurants and cafes lining the beach. Village Seven (Radhanagar), located towards the northwest of Havelock, is an ocean of calm. The TimeMagazine voted the Radhanagar Beach as the best beach in Asia in 2004.
Everything you want
Crystal clear waters, sun soaked beaches and strips of silvery sand draw beach buffs to Havelock. Spectacular coral reefs and colourful fish that dart underwater make this a great spot for snorkelling and scuba diving. Hills overlooking the sea and mangroves bordering rivulets add variety to the landscape. Be it walking along the beach, diving into the sea or just devouring delicious food, Havelock presents a slice of adventure, tossed in bright sunshine and garnished with a cool blue of the ocean.
Getting there: Port Blair is connected to Chennai and Kolkata by air and sea. Ferries ply between Port Blair and Havelock. Ensure that the flight timings and ferry timings to Havelock Island are well co-coordinated. Scooters are the best way of getting around Havelock. Carry your driving licence.
Season: The weather is warm and oppressive for most part of the year. It is relatively cool in the peak season lasting from December to January. Avoid a visit to the Andamans from May through September.
Tariff: The tariff for cottages and villas range from Rs. 6,500 to Rs. 9,000.
For reservations contact: Central Reservations, Barefoot Group, B-4, RM Towers, No. 108, Chamiers Road, Chennai -600018; Ph: +91-9003115483, +91-44-24341001
For more information log on to http://www.barefootindia.com/