The Start of Something Beautiful - My Adventure In The Andamans!
For my first solo trip I chose the breathtaking waters of India’s Andaman Islands. I was on a sabbatical from my life as a corporate drone when I made the decision – this is it. I need to take a break and give myself the chance to explore this beautiful world by myself. Yes, it was an impulsive decision, but one that I will forever cherish. And just like that, I’d made my first baby step into the ocean of discovery, one that I urge every one of you to make too! But it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’m making it out to be. My family comes from an orthodox background, and making them understand how trapped I felt on a daily basis was the first hurdle I faced. However, the struggle was totally worth it!
The biggest draw about the Andamans, and the reason I chose it as my first destination, are the waters of the beautiful Andaman Sea. And what better way to experience the island life than signing up for a diving course! I chose the Open Water Scuba Diving course at Dive India. It’s one of the best diving schools in the country and I’m so glad I did it! As a certified diver I can now dive anywhere in the world. I promise you won’t regret your decision!
Luckily I visited during the off-season, and so I was the only student at the academy. Thanks to JUJU, my fabulously named and supremely gifted trainer, my dive sessions were a blast. He believed in throwing me in the deep end of the pool, quite literally, and spent most of my first dive hiding from me while we were underwater to freak me out. But after my second dive that didn’t bother me nearly as much, and thanks to his rather unorthodox teaching methods I became confident in the water much faster than I ever would have otherwise. He was a great teacher, and by the end of the course, a good friend.
My first dive of the day would begin at 6AM, with a total of 3 over the course of a day, each over an hour long. When you’re underwater, you experience a whole new world, a world you wouldn’t believe possible. Exploring the open ocean is an amazing experience – suspended underwater, it’s as though you’ve entered an entirely new plane of existence. Flocks of fish dart by, weaving in and out of coral formations, while larger, more sedate specimens swim past you, completely unafraid of this strange intruder in their midst. I spent most of my time contorting in unnatural angles trying to capture everything on my gopro. Wherever I went, Juju was always close at hand to keep me out of too much trouble.
When I wasn’t diving I’d spend my days exploring the island. Havelock is only 18 km in length, a distance that’s easily covered on a bicycle. And that’s exactly what I did! I’d spend entire afternoons, and most evenings, riding from one end of the island to the other. The gorgeousness was indescribable, and the closest to nirvana I’d yet encountered.
Even though the island is sparsely populated, the sound of the waves lapping against the shore and the swaying of the trees are your constant companions as you make your way across the island. The ride itself looks like something out of a Lonely Planet guidebook, with forests and beaches mingling with local huts and fancy resorts. The waves had shimmered in shades of purple and silver and blue while the forests were lusciously thick and green. There were no streetlights; the moonlight was my only guide after sunset.
On the first day itself I rode for over an hour through forests and slopes to reach the Kala Pathar Beach. Being the tourist that I was, little did I know that the sun sets by 5:30 PM! To top it all off, a dark cloud parked itself over the beach soon after I’d arrived and burst open just as I’d begun to admire the ocean. Inevitably, I was stuck there. All by myself and with no network, I was a little worried about getting home. For all its beauty, I was still in a strange place far from the city I’d spent all my life in. After a brief panic attack, I struck up conversation with a chaiwala (tea seller for all you white folks out there) as he was shutting shop. He told me there was no way I could ride back down the forest road - it would be pitch dark, bumpy as hell, and dangerous, with not a soul to come to my rescue.
I had almost decided to spend the night on that secluded beach at the tip of the island (without any shelter, food or water) until my knight in shining armour appeared to save the day. I was first alerted to his presence by his ancient scooter backfiring. Atop sat a tiny, wizened old man, who just so happened to know the chaiwala. Owing to my bubbly nature and winning smile, the two of them took pity on me and resolved to help me home. And so I parked myself on the back seat of his tiny scooter, hoisted my bicycle onto my shoulders, and off we went! Through the forest we rode, our path illuminated by his flickering headlamp. Between the bumps and slopes and skids, to say nothing of the weight of the bicycle on my shoulders, I almost toppled off the scooter several times. But after what seemed like an age I’d made it back to my hotel, more bruised and battered than when I’d set out but with an amazing memory and an excellent story to store away.
For those 10 days I stayed in my little tent on the beach, all alone, and what an incredible understanding it was! I deeply felt every emotion possible in turn – freedom, excitement, joy, gratitude, love, fear, anxiety, doubt, midnight hunger, pride, paranoia - you name it. But those feelings are learnings and that learning stays forever and only makes you grow as a traveller.
I knew I would come back home changed. Perhaps with a deeper understanding of the world. And that was that adventures are the best way to learn. Do it while you can. Collect moments and memories, not things. My first trip validated what I’d known all along – travelling’s the only way to feel as though you’re really alive.
Some Recommendations –
Eat at Welcome Market Restaurant in Havelock for a delicious local seafood thali experience.
Full Moon Café and Andaman Bubbles Café for its combination of continental and fast food cuisines. Don’t forget to try the ‘Divers Breakfast’ here.
Do a session of Kayaking with Tanaz Noble in Havelock.
Check out Kala Pathar Beach during sunrise and Radha Nagar Beach for its breathtaking sunsets.
Dive or Snorkel with Dive India.
Emerald gecko is a good budget hotel with bamboo huts on the beach and is managed by a very helpful local guy there.
A visit to Neil islands is a must.
Make friends with all the locals, rickshaw-walas, storeowners, jetty managers, waitrons, resort managers etc. They are adorably friendly and helpful and will tell you soo many stories about the life at the island.
Make a one-day stop at Port Blair to visit the Cellular Jail and Marine Museum. Also while you’re there, make sure you stay at the Andaman Home Stay for a lovely, comfortable and affordable pit stop. Run by the Noble family, the owners are very warm and welcoming and will ensure you have eaten enough food at their table. There is an adorable energetic 5-year-old there to who will lighten up your tiring evening in a jiffy.
A Few Tips -
Rough it out - Stay in a basic tent - eat the local fresh seafood - hire a bicycle - explore the island. That will give you the true experience of the island.
The people of the Andaman’s are way too trustworthy, welcoming and sweet. Don’t worry you can leave your wallet on the road and no one will touch it. (Just kidding)
Its better to go off-season (June – Oct) if you want to stay away from the crowd and want all the beaches to yourself.
Carry a mat for afternoon siestas on the beach.
There is no network – forget your phones in your hometown.
Why go solo?
“Because how else can you feel complete freedom – to shed the baggage of everyday life, make your own choices, and even simply be the person you always wanted to be?”
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