Of virgin beaches and Indian history lessons

Along with its crystal clear blue water, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands also provide the visitor with vital insights into Indian history.

Port Blair: Along with its crystal clear blue water, long white sand beaches, mangrove-lined creeks and diverse marine life, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands also provide the visitor with vital insights into Indian history.

The infamous Cellular Jail here -- now a museum -- stands mute witness to the torture of incarcerated freedom fighters. Completed in 1906, the jail has a seven-pronged, puce-coloured building with a central tower acting as its fulcrum and a massive structure comprising honeycomb like corridors.

It acquired the name cellular because it is entirely made up of individual cells for the solitary confinement of the prisoners.

"The light and sound show at the Cellular Jail was very good and aptly covered this vital part of Indian history," said Akash Jain, a 15-year-old who came to the islands with his family.

The next stop in the history tour is Ross Island, now effectively a suburb of Port Blair and the place where the British had the headquarters of what was their penal colony. The slowly submerging island was originally 200 acres. Now only 70 acres are left above water.

"The island was turned on its knuckles during a massive earthquake and later during the (2004) tsunami. It has ruins of old buildings like a church, ballroom, chief commissioner`s office, cemetery, bakery, swimming pool, printing press and troop barracks. The dilapidated structures supported by overgrown trees are testimony to a bygone era," the only private guide at the island, Anuradha Rao, told a reporters.

Rao`s grandfather was born on the island and she loves to walk you through its history.

The lesson over, you can get back to nature. And for that, the nearby Neil and Havelock islands may be your best bets.

The Havelock island, with its beautiful sandy beaches and rich coral beds, is ideal for adventure tourism with facilities for snorkelling and scuba diving available. If you have money to spare, you can even go scuba diving with a trained elephant.

The Radhnagar and Elephanta beaches at Havelock are picturesque, clean and relatively deserted. Once you had your fill of the sun and the sea, rent a two-wheeler and explore the small island with its amazing and amazingly cheap sea food eateries.

A trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is an experience that not only shows why these are called "emerald islands" but just how far they are from the mainland, physically and mentally.

Physically, as you fly the 1,200-odd km from either Chennai or Kolkata over the Bay of Bengal, the distance to the group of 572 islands is brought home once again. Mentally, the fresh air and the relative lack of people show how far you have travelled from crowded India. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited.


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