Andaman Chapter 4 – Havelock Adventures
Previous chapter in series : Ross and Smith Island
Havelock Island – probably the most sought after location in Andaman. It’s a place with promise of undisturbed green water, blinding white sands and plenty of indulgence. A destination for a perfect vacation. It didn’t go missing from our itinerary either. On day five of our trip we finally headed for Havelock Islands (Now changed to Swaraj Dweep).
Reaching there was quite easy – easiest part of the trip in fact. The island is perched in the northern east corner of Port Blair around 50 km of oceans apart. The only method of transportation is ferry, which is available by various operators. The cheapest option is government boat with less than 500 Rs. per ticket. But based on advance ticket booking facility, we chose a private operator called Green Ocean. It was 1,250 per person and with that we had booked seats in their ‘Luxury’ class, middle slab of their three classes (Economy, Luxury & Royal).
The ferry was scheduled at early morning and we had to reach the jetty on time from Hotel Megapode, where we were staying the previous night. We woke up, got ready by 5 AM and went on to get our check-out formalities done. They seem quite pro at dealing with early morning check outs. They even helped us arrange a car for jetty drop. Our pre-ordered breakfast was ready and kept neatly packed at the reception slab and despite my worries the car came in perfect time. The cab guy also knew where exactly to take us for our Green Ocean Ferry, which was apparently different than the regular jetty. We whooshed through the city and reached Haddo Jetty in 15 mins.
|Our Boat Green Ocean 2|
It was a one storeyed building with high ceiling. There was a glass door and sticking outside from it was a baggage scanner similar to the ones in malls. A small queue had formed outside the gate, and joining this queue we went through the security process like the rest. We came into a big hall inside which had rows of chairs for waiting passengers. It didn’t look fancy, but it was quite neatly maintained. Definitely better than what I expected. We also had to report to lady by a desk of our arrival which felt a lot like airport check-in process.
At 5:45 boarding process started. We were led outside the building through the backside door leading to the loading area of dock. Our boat was standing right ahead of us parked parallel to the dock, and people were entering through a small doorway in the lower half. We followed the rest and landed in an area between two long halls. One side had the seating area for economy class, and the other side was ours (Royal class was on upper half of the boat). The place was noisy with people chattering everywhere as they were trying to settle down. I took my seat which was by the window on one of the many pair of rows facing each other. Between the pair of rows there was a table. The window was heavily tinted with a blue shade that made the view of outside unattractive. The whole boat was AC, so this was the only view available for us.
The journey was uneventful with our ship cutting through the endless water while never entirely losing sight of land. We reached Havelock on time, by 8:15 AM, after two hours and fifteen minutes of voyage. The Havelock Jetty was quite a let down from our earlier experience. There was no building to welcome us. Instead we disembarked on an open dock with a few shaded shelters on the side. Outside the boundaries of the port, everything seemed a bit noisy and clustered. There were a lot of autos running around and a few pedestrian who probably were about to enter the port or leaving from. There were also a few shops and restaurants. One of the restaurants caught our eye, because it was the only one made completely of wood and it also stood out for being prettier than the rest. It was called Dakshin and was operated by the popular Barefoot hotel. The ambience was good. So we went in for our second round of breakfast. Unfortunately, the Food was just about average.
|Lobby at Munjoh Resort|
After breakfast, we caught an auto and headed towards our hotel 5 km away. We rode through the narrow roads of Havelock. At first look, the island felt like a small town (or rather village) frequently interrupted by fancy resorts. The residential houses and utility shops were often overshadowed by the large wooden buildings next door. And there were more resorts on their way, as we could witness from the numerous construction sites. Ours was located near Vijaynagar Beach, called Munjoh Resort. It had a pretty entrance and we were welcome with a light music that was being played at the glass-roofed, sombre-looking restaurant set just inside the gate. We were received at the reception/lobby area which was also just inside the boundary, across from the restaurant. It had a tensile roofing made of white dotted cloth and was tastefully decorated with pretty couches, stack of books on wooden table and long flowery curtains hanging on one side. One of the wall was fully covered with paintings showcasing various attractive sides of Havelock and its nearby neighbours. Most of them were intriguing and covering all of it might take up a whole week. We didn’t have such time. The manager gave us a brief on all available activity options for tourists – a meticulously prepared sales speech, but nevertheless helpful. We chose a couple of them and scheduled it over next two days before heading towards our cottage.
|Beach behind our hotel|
The rooms were individual cottages built scattered across the backside of the reception, which was closer to the beach, but not enough close to hear or see it. From outside, the cottages seemed to have thatched roof, but from inside it was wooden. The decoration had the same sober feel as the reception, with a shade of white across all furnishing. It was a simple and elegant room. But when you compare to the price, it still fell short. But that’s what Andaman is for you.
After a while we headed towards the rear end of the property, where lies the extension of Vijaynagar Beach. It was only two minutes’ walk through the back garden and at the end of it we were greeted by the most intense white sands. The land curved slightly downward and joined the vast beach that laid ahead. The beach was long as the water had receded some distance. Even at the distance the ocean seemed like a shallow pool of blue-green water covering the whiteness underneath. Here and there some small rock formation were peeking their head from underneath. They could be the remains of some dead corals. We walked across the beach towards the north side, the main side of the beach. The landscape remained more or less same, as we passed by other hotels or residence on our left. We came across the government property, Dolphin Resort, and it lasted for quite a while. Once we saw a cluster of trees (or maybe just one tree) surrounded by their mangrove roots from all sides, standing away from but at the backdrop of the ocean. It made for a picturesque frame and we tried our best to capture it on our phones. And then we walked back the same route towards our hotel.
Our first activity was Night Kayak, and it was scheduled for 6 PM. Kayaking had to be done during high tide, when many corners of mangrove forests would be accessible through waterway. We were told that there was a possibility of getting stuck in middle of nowhere if you didn’t return to shore before high tide was over. That was scary, but I had to believe that we were in expert hands. We started from the resort after 6, it was quite dark by then. We reached port area and from there took a smaller road by the sea to reach a dark corner of the beach. It might have been as beautiful as any Andaman beaches, but in the post evening darkness everything looked only a shade of black. There was black sand beneath my feet and a vast black ocean waiting for us to ride in. The kayaks and the life jackets showed some sign of colour in the random splash of lights from our guides who were busy gathering up things. We put on our life jackets, helmet with headlight and some other equipment I couldn’t quite grasp. They put glow sticks around our wrists, which was to help our guide locate us in case we lose our way. Quite reassuring, isn’t it! I chose a double boat because the idea of venturing into this night sea all on my own was unthinkable to me. I was sure I would somehow panic to death. We settled inside our pockets on the boat and slowly pushed into the ocean. Our guide was just ahead of us on his own kayak. The sea was full of boats in this part and we slowly moved ahead through the mess. Few small waves passed under us and we peacefully went through it. It was nothing like the fight against waves that I had pictured. At the end of the boat area a rope was blocking our way, we moved it up and slid under it.
|Night at Hotel|
Everything was extremely smooth till now. It was almost like sitting on a solid ground, maybe slightly wavy solid ground. But beyond this was the open sea and there on we had to start moving faster to keep up with our guide. The riding trick was simple. You row with the right oar to move towards left and with left oar to move to right. However our problem was with intensity. That was never clearly specified. So as soon as we found ourselves drifting away towards the vast open ocean on our right, we rowed hard to get back on track and ended up tussling with some mangroves on the far left side. And for a while we continued this zigzag route around our guiding kayak while the person in charge calmly kept making conversation with us. To those conversation we screamed some answers in panicked voice and carried on with our zigzag. After a while though, we found our rhythm and we learned to use the correct strokes, and with right intensity. We discovered that the most effective strokes required the least amount of effort. And there on we followed our guide in a much smoother flow.
After a while we ventured inside the mangrove forests. Initially the channels between trees were quite wide, but as we went deeper and deeper they got narrower as well. We were soon surrounded by mangroves from all sides while we sat on our little boat within the small confinement of water in between. I had got accustomed to the feel of the boat around me by then and I could see myself trusting this small piece of log more than I could imagine. This was a blessing considering the path we were taking and were still about to take. Eventually we came upon places with no proper routes and we practically went through the trees itself – ducking under a branch here, squeezing through some bush there and generally moving through extremely narrow channels. We used headlight to see the forest all around us and often to save ourselves from getting hit by a branch. And we used the darkness to observe the bioluminescent in water which sparkled under the strike of our oars.
|Evening at Munjoh Resort|
Eventually we were led out of the dense jungle and made our way back to a more open area. We were quite satisfied by our experience of the forest by then and so we closed our lights and decided to look up instead. The dome above was a shade of bluish black, which was scarcely visible under a thick layer of stars. The whole sky twinkled and as I focused I could feel the milkyway forming. The darkness all around us made the whole starlight more prominent and enigmatic. Too bad we couldn’t carry our cameras. At distance we could see some faint lights from boats and once another group of kayakers passed by us. Aside from that it was as lonely as it could be and it was a perfect place to be in. I could stay there whole night just staring at the sky if it wasn’t for the fear of getting stuck after high tide. So eventually we headed back and as smoothly as possible for a pair of novices, we made our journey back till the shore.
|Sunrise behind the cloud|
Next morning we woke up with anticipation. Anticipation for others, me mostly dread. We were heading for Scuba Diving. As much as I wanted to look at colourful fish and corals, the process of reaching there did not sound pleasing to me. But sometimes peer-pressure gets the best of you. So I went ahead with it. We reached the place before 7, which was only a few kms from our hotel. First part of our training was simply watching a video. After that we had to sign a document stating our consent and taking full ownership of whatever happens during this process. So far so good.
After the office activities were completed, we were led outside, provided with proper outfit and equipment and once fully geared up we were led into the sea looking as professional as one could. We went inside till the water was up to our chest and continued remaining part of our training. First we learned to breathe though our mouth while a mask covered upper part of our face. Then we were given oxygen tanks. The trainer was a young guy with interesting hairstyle who kept making jokes and laughing encouragingly throughout this time. It made me feel more comfortable. After our training was over we took off our oxygen tank and boarded a boat which would take us to our final destination.
It was only a ten minutes ride before we stopped. We could still see the outline of lands at distance on almost all sides. But we were quite far off. There were total six of us for Scuba and five member crew to help us. Three of them would be guiding us under the water and other two for camera and on boat assistance. Three of us got ready and slipped into the ocean with their respective guides. I stayed back along with other two. It was quiet out there and neither of the remaining three of us spoke much. I was soaked fully from earlier and water felt cold against my body. Slowly I started to shiver ever so slightly, partly from cold, partly from fear. And we waited.
|30 Ft. under water|
After the promised twenty minutes they all started to come back up one at a time and it was our time to gear up. I sat on the gunwale facing away from the sea as the boat guy put life jacket on me, fastened the oxygen tank (which was quite heavy) and strapped fins to my feet. We were asked to jump on our back. But before I could do it, he gave me a push and I fell smoothly into the water. As I hit the water, I sank down still looking up at the bright sun above me and then started to rotate downwards. For a brief moment the perfect blue ocean world came into view with thousands of fish floating around, and then it disappeared and sunlight greeted me again which came filtered through a layer of water. And then I was above the surface, floating. My guide was a young fit girl. She met me there and repeated the instructions once again, just a reminder. Once I confirmed all the communication signs, she started to lower me under the surface. The sunlight mellowed and the blue deepened. My ear started to throb immediately. We were told this would happen, but still it instantly freaked me out. Majorly because of all my bad experiences in flight. I tried the trick of blowing air through ears and surprisingly it worked. So I relaxed. And then began to descend further.
It was not unlike how the ocean world looks on TV. The colour around me was pleasant blue through my swimming glasses. The floor below was covered with corals of different shapes and sizes. High above, I could see the hazy reflection of the sunlight on the surface right next to a broad elliptic shadow formed by the bottom of our boat. The sound around us had a muffled quality which was mostly the sound of my breathing followed by the bubbles passing through water. And around us were the infinite number of fish floating peacefully, busy in their business without a regard for us. It felt like we were invisible to them, or maybe considered a part of their group. There were too many types to keep count of and with my naïve eyes I could identify only the ones that I had seen in movies (embarrassingly most from “Finding Nemo”). Some were shiny silver, some more colourful. Some stayed in a big group, some were just floating by alone or in pair. Some were tiny and fast and some big enough to scare you. But nothing of real danger (by that I mean no shark). Once or twice my guide would catch my attention by pointing finger to some interesting ones. Otherwise she would only steer me towards wherever I needed to be. It was smooth and without a glitch, except for the occasional pain in my ear. Twenty minutes seemed lesser than I had imagined and pretty soon I was being led upwards where the bright light broke though the surface. Getting out of water was the easiest part once they took off the oxygen tank and after that it was time for riding back to shore, which I did shivering rigorously, but this time only because of cold.
The rest of the day I was having a feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while. The feeling of exam being over and knowing that you had done well. We didn’t have any more activities planned and were free to do whatever we pleased. In our case, we mostly wanted to do nothing. Which we did for a few hours. But then came lunch time. We were quite fed up of food at our hotel, which despite being quite presentable, had not been particularly tasty. So we went out in search for food elsewhere. There was a popular café nearby called Full Moon Café, we decided to try that out. It was a short walk from our hotel, about 20 mins. After that we had to take a right in a narrow lane which led inside till the café. The place was semi-open with thatched roof on wooden pillars. It was quiet in there and had some light music playing. The sea wasn’t visible from there, even though we could sense its presence nearby. The food was decent, better than our first option definitely and the ambience was fulfilling. We decided to spend the afternoon there as long as our limited orders would allow.
|Waves at Radhanagar Beach|
We left the café after 3 and started to walk back towards our hotel. It was last few hours in Havelock for us. Next morning we were to wake up and leave for our next destination, Neil Island. Against all rationality, we felt a bit of shame on not visiting the most famous attraction of Havelock Island, Radhanagar Beach. It played with our mind and we made a quick decision of heading there. We stopped an auto on the road, and headed off towards the beach. It took 20 minutes of drive, most of which went through forests and some parts through the villages. The destination turned out to be pretty much what we expected - crowded and noisy. The water of course was absolutely beautiful and the beach was long and flat. I could see the appeal, especially when the turquoise water hit the shore in massive yet pleasant waves. But the crowd was taking away the charm of this place. We walked across the beach towards south-west, away from the crowd. The crowd lessened, but never quite disappeared. No matter how far you went, you had company. Once in a while there were ways though the bush on our right which led inside the woods. We tried a few of the ways, but it didn’t lead very far. So we came back to the beach. Once we were satisfied with the idea of our visit, we decided it was enough and we should head back. On our way out, I glanced back at the beach and wondered how wonderful it must have felt to be here even a few years back when it could still be called lesser known.
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