Port Blair is the gateway to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The first thing that strikes about Port Blair is the clean roads, dust bins located at frequent intervals on road sides and a very conscious civic administration engaged in continuous upkeep. Located in South Andaman islands, Port Blair a little more than 16 sq kms in area is also the capital of the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar and the only town in the entire area. While planning a trip to the emerald green waters of Andaman every traveler needs to spend a day or two around Port Blair to get the essence of the island. Once dreaded as Kala Pani from where very few returned, today Port Blair is a travelers paradise.
Best Time to Visit:
Port Blair and Andaman Islands can be visited all through the year though the monsoon months of June to August may be a little difficult to navigate through the islands. November to February is known for great weather, clear skies and calm seas. Temperatures through the year hover around 30 to 35 degrees
Around Port Blair:
The squeaky clean roads are often winding down the port or along the coast. The pace of life is slow and content, no one seems to be in a tearing hurry to reach anywhere which is a far cry from the cities in main-land. The old wooden houses with tin roofs are giving way to concrete structures but shopping malls and multiplex theatres are yet to make an appearance. You can easily be taken behind by 20 years if not for the cars and mobile phones that seem to be keeping up with the times. The city goes to sleep early so there is not much of night life either.
While you can hire a vehicle for the day; it is very convenient to hire autos from one point to another specially if you are a solo or a small group of 2 or 3. It works out inexpensive and convenient.
If there is one historical building in the country where every brick on the wall has a story to tell then it has to be Cellular Jail in Port Blair. Constructed over a period of 10 years by convicts for the convicts under the Imperial Raj. The freedom strugglers were incarcerated here under various charges of treason and have been subject to inhuman torture. The small cells, the names of people who have served their terms, the installation art exhibits to portray the torture brought tears to my eyes. Most of us born in post independent India have been fortunate due to their sacrifices. The premises are open through the day and also host a Light and Sound show in the evening narrating the story of the inmates of Cellular Jail.
Chatham Island: Inside Asia’s Oldest Saw Mill
Chatham is a small island at the edge of Port Blair which was earlier connected by a wooden bridge now replaced by a concrete bridge. Asia’s oldest saw mill is located on this island and is a must see spot during a trip to Port Blair. Beyond the wood processing the mill is testimony to the changing faces of history right from the colonial settlers to the arrival of Japanese during World War II and finally being an integral part of India.
There are nearly 7 museums in Port Blair and each one with a distinct theme. I could manage only Samudrika which is catered to by Indian Navy. The essence of the islands including tribals, marine life, history is displayed in a nutshell in this museum. I loved the section on corals and infact spent a long time admiring their natural beauty. I also wanted to visit the Anthropological Museum and Fisheries museum which have a great collection about the tribes and marine life in the islands but could not squeeze them in my schedule.
Located at an arms length away from Port Blair, Ross Island was referred to as the Paris of the East by the English who settled there for decades. The ruins of the life they left behind after the earthquake that nearly split the island. In recent times, Ross Island bore the brunt of the tsunami and protected Port Blair from mass destruction. Plan a visit towards the evening to walk around, relax with the deer and peacocks under the coconut trees or simply watch waves lashing on the broken edges. Complete the visit with the laser based Light and Sound Show. Most tourists visit in the morning but I would strongly recommend an evening trip to get the most out of it.
Corbyns Cove Beach
There is so much to see and do in Port Blair that Corbyns Cove is often left side stepped. This is a small cosy beach lined with palms and coconut trees. Actually, the drive to this beach from Cellular Jalong the coast is very scenic. I sat on an abandoned tree and watched people jump in and out of water along with the mild waves. A few water sports are offered here but not as much variety as in the different islands.This is a nice stop gap during a busy day around town.
These are a part of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park which comprises of several other islands. This is the best place to view the corals through the crystal clear water. The ship ride towards the open sea where the island is located is simply spectacular. The color of water changes to different shades of blue and the green groves on the numerous other islands just add to the beauty. The beautiful corals and snorkeling in the clear waters is a prized experience. A must do half day trip from Port Blair while visiting Andaman Islands.
As the name suggests; this is the famous bird island about 20 kms away from Port Blair to view the the spectacular sunset in the sea. I had to postpone Chidiya Tapu for a later visit due to paucity of time but the pictures that I have seen and the narratives that I have heard make me feel that I have indeed missed a memorable sight. This picture is taken from Fore Shore Road in Port Blair for illustration purpose.
The claim to fame for Baratang is the limestone caves, the parrot island and the mud volcanoes all located on different islands in the vicinity. The route passes through the Jarawa Reserve Forest area where the vehicles have to move in a convoy without stopping and if luck is on the side then you can see the Jarawas clothed in flaming red moving about their daily routine. The limestone caves are like the ones in other parts of India but the boat ride through mangroves is very exciting. Parrot Island is not accessible during a day trip since the birds are best seen in the evening during their home coming. Baratang is also a stop over for tourists going towards the more rustic Diglipur in North Andaman. Day Trip costs may be Rs 5000 upwards depending on vehicle type and capacity.
Port Blair has quite a few restaurants catering to vegetarians and variety of other cuisines from the South, North and Bengalis but surprisingly not a thriving sea food eatery joints. The road side carts cater to a few fish items, rolls and chaats. I had a few meals in Megapode where I was staying, a thali in the Bengali Restaurant near the Junglee Ghat area, some roadside chaat grabs and finally found my bliss in Light House Restaurant near the Water Sports Complex. The crab and the fish fry both were good and remains one of the best meals I have had during my one week trip to the Islands.
Fancy Shopping Malls have not yet made their way into Port Blair. The main market area is Aberdeen Bazaar located along the many roads and bye lanes that lead away from Clock Tower. Most of these businesses are run by the early settlers in Andaman Islands who came primarily from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. I did some window shopping of clothes and domestic ware which were mostly items that you would find in mainland India. The T shirts with pictures of Andaman are better priced in the Islands. I passed by the flower shops near the temple; the fresh smell of jasmine filling my senses; a little further down the fruit seller was busy stacking up red apples while fresh and tasty samosas were being fished out of hot oil across the road. One bite into the samosas, reminded me of the taste back home in Calcutta and I moved on.
Port Blair Itinerary:
Day 1 – Chatham Saw Mill, Museums, Cellular Jail, Corbyn’s Cove, Ross Island
Day 2 – Jolly Buoy, Chidiya Tapu
Day 3 – Baratang – Shopping