Andaman is a natural paradise and the beauty of its forests, mangroves and caves often becomes secondary to the white sand beaches. I decided on a day trip to Baratang Island from Port Blair for the limestone caves and mud volcano which was a 12 hour journey to and fro. At hindsight, I wish I had planned better and stayed over night in Baratang Island.
Port Blair to Baratang – 3 Step Journey through 100 kms
Port Blair to Jirketang : Approx 46 kms by road
This stretch can be done in about a little more than an hour by car. The state bus takes about 1.5 hours. We started around 3.30 am in the morning and reached around 4.30am to join the long queue of vehicles with passengers waiting for the 6am convoy through the Jarawa Forest Reserve. All vehicles registering before 5.45 am are allowed to join the convoy which is led by a state bus with armed forest guards on board. There is a temple and a few food joints selling idli/vada/tea/coffee for tourists.
Jirketang to Middle Straits: 47 kms through Jarawa Reserve Forest Area in Convoys leaving at 6am, 9am, 12noon and 3pm only
This stretch of Andaman Trunk Road passes through the forest reserve where the vehicles (2 wheelers not allowed) have to move in line at a steady speed without overtaking, stopping or rolling down windows. Photography is strictly prohibited in this stretch with forest officials patrolling regularly. I saw a jeep laden with bananas, fruits being carried for the Jarawas by the Andaman Aadim Janjati Vikas officials.
The forest ride is beautiful in the early hours of the morning and you may spot a few Jarawa tribesmen going abut their life on the way. They are of African descent and survive on fruits, honey, pigs and fish. A few years ago tourist vehicles would stop and interact with Jarawa Tribes offering them spicy food which led to disease and death among the Jarawas due to infection. The Jarawas are taking baby steps towards civilization, wearing clothes, attempting to converse in Hindi and opening up to medical treatment in hospitals when needed
Middle Straits to Baratang or Neelambar Jetty:
The forest stretch leads to a jetty from where there are regular ships to Baratang. The cars ferrying tourists for the day trip are parked here while everyone proceds towards Baratang. The 10 minute ride across the straits costs Rs 10 per person and is large enough to carry trucks, buses and vehicles moving towards North Andaman. I parked myself in the upper deck and soaked in the infinite expanse of blue and green merging into the sky in the far horizon
As soon as we got off at the Baratang (Neelambar) Jetty; our driver procured the ticket and permit for travel to Lime Stone Cave and Mud Volcano at Rs 850. Lime Stone Caves are accessed after a speedboat ride while mud volcano is a few kms away from the jetty
Baratang Lime Stone Cave
We shared a speed boat with others for this 15 minute roller coaster ride. The splash of water as the boat rocked over the waves was thrilling and the slow journey through the stream flowing within the mangroves was quite an experience. A 1.25 km well marked path way led us to the small cave in about 15 minutes. It is very important to carry a torch though the boat guides do have one on them. Having seen these kind of caves in other areas I was not very impressed or excited. The conch shaped structure and the pillar being formed by the stalactite and stalagmite growing out towards each other are the highlights of the cave. Stopped by for a glass of home made lemon juice and some freshly sliced cucumber in a shack near the caves. Travel responsibly and encourage local entrepreneurship is my motto in most situations 🙂
Baratang Island Mud Volcano
This one was a disappointment, specially having seen volcanoes in other parts of the world. Can be avoided if pressed for time or you are exhausted to walk. We traveled in a Car to the Mud Volcano Site about 3 kms away from the Jetty. This volcano erupted in 1983 and more recently in 2003. The temperature is not as high as the initial eruption which nearly burned down vegetation around. A short walk through a covered pathway led us to the mud volcano site. It appeared to be a barren field with bubbling eruptions in 2 locations which were continuously throwing us slush.
Mud Volcanoes are common in Middle & North Andaman areas generally created by gases emitted from decaying underground organic matter. Slushy mud comprising sandstone, rocks and other material is continously pushed upwards and settles on the groud; sometimes the push force may be very strong to result in eruption of several feet. The presence of mud volcanoes is indicative of an earthquake prone tectonically unstable area.
We managed to cross over to Middle Straits by 12 noon and joined the 12.30pm convoy returning to Port Blair around 3pm.
Baratang Parrot Island
This trip is done between 4pm and 5pm in the evening when the parrots are returning to their nests. The boatride to the island off Baratang may be Rs 2000 and it works if there is a group
- The Day Trip for 12-14 hours scrambling from the wee hours of the morning is not worth the sites but the journey only
- I would recommend an overnight stay to enjoy the beauty as well as a visit to Parrot Island. Do ask your travel agent about this option.
- Start from PortBlair latest by 7am to avail the 9am Forest convoy from Jirketang
- Reach Baratang Island latest by 11.30am. Complete the limestone cave ride by 1pm and then post lunch proceed to mud volcano.
- Check into the guest house or resort (Dew Dale)
- Leave for the Parrot Island at 4pm and stay overnight
- Next morning take the first ferry to Middle Straits to join the 6.30 am convoy towards Port Blair. You will reach Port Blair by 9.30 am which gives time for city tour/ proceed to Wandoor and Jolly Buoy or take the afternoon ferry to Havelock
- OR proceed North towards Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur
- 25 Kms away is Gandhi Ghat in Kadamtala to cross Humphrey Straits
- 71 kms away is Rangat (Dhaninallah; Aamkunj Beach)
- 140 kms away is Mayabunder (Karmatang Beach)
- 203 kms away is Diglipur (Saddle Peak ; Ross & Smith Island)
- Andaman Trunk Road passing through the Jarawa Forest Reserve is under litigation in Supreme Court due to the sensitive route. As advised by the jury, this arterial road that connects Middle Andaman to South Andaman needs to be closed to protect the Jarawa tribes. An alternative ferry route is being developed from Port Blair to Baratang which is expected to be operational shortly.
- Trip Cost
- Budget Trip – Travel by Bus at Rs 50 per head and avail the sightseeing trips by speed boat and car at Rs 850 per head. Bus leaves from Aberdeen Bazar, Port Blair
- Contract car for the entire trip can be between Rs 7000- Rs 8000 based on capacity of the vehicle
- Forest, Panchayat and PwD Guest House accommodation has to be booked much ahead since it is cheap. Dew Dale resort may be Rs 3000-Rs 4000 per night