After breakfast in Havelock we set out for Neil Island located within the same Ritchies Archipelago. The journey to Neil Island from Havelock Island was approximately one hour by Makruzz Ferry. When I stepped out of the jetty in Neil; it seemed like a village by the sea with a narrow winding road cutting across from east to west with lush green cover.In conversation with locals I gathered that the first settlers of Neil island in 1967 were Bangladeshi refugees who came to India to escape the ethnic cleansing in the pre liberation period of Bangladesh Independence War of 1971. They were farmers with a green thumb who converted the fertile Neil Island soil awarded to them by the Indian Government into the vegetable bowl of Andaman & Nicobar. The language spoken is Bengali and Hindi.
How to Reach
- There are ferry services from Havelock and Port Blair in the morning
- If you are keen to combine Havelock and Neil Island then visit Havelock first. Take the morning or evening ferry to Neil from Havelock based on your plan
- Return to PortBlair by 4pm ferry if you are on a day trip to Neil from Port Blair or Neil
Around Neil Island
Though the island is named after James Neil who was instrumental in suppressing 1857 Mutiny, for me it is the “Blue Island” where the different shades of blue and green merge and intermingle. I lost my heart to Neil which has the perfect blend of a small village by the sea, with modern amenities thrown in and simple locals who are blissful in their world. The beaches (Sitapur, Bharatpur and Laxmanpur) in Neil Island are named after the central characters of the mythical Ramayana.
Natural Bridge & Coral Point which can be visited during low tide only
We arrived in Neil a little before noon and it was the ideal time to head to the Natural Bridge and Coral Point. This is about 2 kms away from the jetty. The last stretch is a walk over protruding rocks and shallow pools of crystal clear water through which we could view corals and fishes. I spotted sea cucumber, brain corals, jackfruit corals and an octopus which quickly retreated into its den.
The Natural bridge is a rock jutting out from the main wall with a giant hole in it created by the continuous lashing waves over the years. The wall alongside bore the brunt of Tsunami and protected Neil Island from devastation. In the far corner another natural bridge formation is underway. The bridge is also known as Howrah Bridge locally, a name given in jest by the Bengali settlers for whom the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata was the ultimate marvel
I walked along Laxmanpur Beach post lunch enjoying the wind on my face. Between multiple stops to admire the different shades of blue and green, I had to watch my step on the beach strewn with shells, dead pieces of coral and small pebbles. After some time I found a tree trunk blocking the way; some people attempted to climb and cross over but I loved the feel of walking past through knee deep water in sinking sand. My eyes were soothed by a glorious sunset in spite of clouds just when I was giving up hope. The slices of local mangoes smeared with salt and chilly was just what I needed on a cool spring evening.
Sunrise in Sitapur Beach
We trooped to Sitapur Beach at 4.30am next morning to witness yet another sunrise over the sea but were disappointed with the thick cloud cover. Visit Sitapur Beach only if you are a sunrise freak like me
Ambling in Bharatpur Beach
Bharatpur Beach is along the jetty with clear waters where all the adventure activities are held. Like most beaches in Andaman this one too has changing rooms and rest rooms that are well maintained. I walked into the sea here which felt like a large swimming pool with sand below. With very little swimming skills, I remained afloat for a watching a bunch of tourists play ball. Its quite a merry place with everyone dipping in the blue green waters
Glass Bottom Boat Rides, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling for coral watching and high adrenaline water scooter rides are available here. The dives and snorkeling are done deep into the sea which is an experience by itself. The rates can vary between Rs 500 to Rs 3000 for these activities
Where to Stay
Neil has hotels and resorts to suit every budget.
- Tango and Pearl Park are near Laxmanpur Beach;
- Silver Sand and TSG Aura are off Sitapur Beach.
- Amulya Residency and Hawabill Nest is in the middle of town about 5 -7 mins walk from Bharatpur Beach and Jetty.
- The rooms in Amulya Residency (7063907064/9933287387) are spacious, airy, very well maintained and light on the pocket. The Bengali meal in the adjoining restaurant was heavenly specially the juicy crabs which blew me away.
Traveling around Neil Island
The scene here was pretty similar to Havelock, cars, autos and suvs on a tiny stretch to cater to tourist demand.
- If you are comfortable with a 2 wheeler just go ahead and hire a scooty or a bike for Rs 300-400 per day and enjoy your freedom to stop, see, soak the amazing beauty of the island.
- Hire a cycle for Rs 200 a day and trust me this is the best way to go around this tiny island
- Auto Fares and Cab Fares are pretty standard and expect to pay at flat rates rather than going by meter and distance. All the points except for Sitapur Beach can be visited in Rs 500-Rs 1000 based on the kind of vehicle ie auto/car/suv
Best Time to Visit
On the Ground ~ Conversation with Locals
I had a chance conversation with a teacher from the local school who grew up in the island in the 80’s and then served as a teacher in different islands after completing his higher education from Port Blair. He gave an insight into the local life, economy, impact of tourism and evolution of Neil Island over 50 years. Like every other family on the island received 15 bighas or 5 acres of land from the government in the 70’s for cultivation. It was nice to know that the children of the local school were environmentally aware and cleanliness crusaders. The local school churned out brilliant students over the years one of whom is a nationally renowned surgeon. He lamented that the advent of tourism to this tiny island has brought about prosperity but education is slowly taking back seat.
I spoke to some of the older people well into their 70’s who were happy to lead a simple life inspite of having children well settled in mainland India. They loved the smell of the earth, the peace and happy to be away from the religious bigotry and intolerance that chased them out of Bangladesh several years ago.
- Day Trip
- Take the morning ferry from PortBlair and return by the 4pm Ferry. There are no evening connections to Havelock from Neil as of now, just in case you want to spend the day in Neil and move on to Havelock.
- Visit the Natural Bridge and Coral Point since they can be accessed during low tide only. Spend the day in Bharatpur Beach by the jetty & make a quick trip to Laxmanpur beach if time permits
- 1 Night ; 1 day Trip
- This trip can be done on the way to or from Havelock Island & Port Blair
- Natural Bridge and Coral Point have to be visited during the low tide period only
- Post lunch, head to Laxmanpur Beach Sunset point which is the edge of the island
- Early morning head to Sitapur beach only if you are a sunrise buff else head over to Bharatpur beach after breakfast indulging in adventure activities, swimming or simply lazing until about 45 minutes before the departure time of the ferry
- Cost Rs 10000 – Rs 12000 for 2 excluding activities
- 2 nights Trip
- Similar to above; spend the day lazily on Bharatpur beach and head over to Laxmanpur beach in the evening