Andaman and Nicobar: The Islands of beauty
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is an archipelago of 572 islands which are located at the junction of Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. With a total combined area of the island spanning across 8073 square kilometres, these islands are probably one of the best kept nature’s secrets. Once used as a place where the convicts were sent to live in exile by the British (Kalapani), the post British era islands have blossomed into a beautiful bunch of islands which have managed to grab enough tourist attraction.
Andaman and Nicobar are the Union Territory of India and are directly governed by the State of Head of India. However in practice it is the Lt. Governor is appointed to administer the territory directly.
The earliest known record of these islands has been reported by the Arab merchants way back in the 9th century when they were sailing past them while they were on their way to Sumatra. Although these islands were spotted in the 9th century very little historical evidence is available since then. Marco Polo has been said to be the very first westerner to set foot on these islands. The islands were captured by the Marathas in the late 17th century and were later converted into a navy base. It was then captured by the British and Japanese and later was returned back to India on gaining independence.
These islands are all situated in the Bay of Bengal and lie towards the Southeastern section of India. The island is sprawled across the sea. The largest city among the islands, Port Blair, is also its capital. These islands have a number of picturesque beaches which are a big hit among the tourists. The two most important islands here are Labyrinth Islands and Ritchie’s Archipelago. To the south of Andaman are the Nicobar Islands. These islands have been formed by submarine mountain ranges which also happen to separate the Andaman Sea from the Bay of Bengal. The Saddle Peak on the islands is the highest at 730 m and is largely formed of clay, sandstone and limestone.
Since these islands are surrounded by the sea, they experience a fairly moderate temperature all around the year. The warm tropical climate means that the humidity is always high with an average of 80% but the sea breeze which blows in helps in maintaining the temperature between 23 degree Celsius and 31 degree Celsius. Other than some occasional storms or rains, these islands do not experience any extreme climate. However, the monsoon may be a little rough on these islands.
Most of the natives of these Islands are found to be talking in Hindi. The official languages are English and Hindi. The other languages widely spoken are Bengali,Telugu,Tamil,Malayalam and Kannada.
Though these islands comprise of a few hundred islands, it is sparsely populated. Only about 12 Islands of Andaman and Nicobar are inhabited by people. Due to diseases most of the indigenous population of the Andaman has been wiped out and very few of them survive today. The majority of people living here are settlers from the Indian mainland. The majority of people living in Nicobar group of Islands are Nicobarese.
Until recently most of the tribes living on these islands practised hunting and hence ate what they caught. This is probably the reason why there is no cuisine that has been developed in this region. With all the immigrants that have moved in to the Islands, they got with them their local cuisine which now has been adopted by the natives as well. Since there is water all around, sea food is available in plenty and to an extent it dominates the diet of the people.
The connectivity in these islands is made possible by several roads and water transport. Several buses ply between south Andaman and Port Blair. Apart from these, there are call taxis, maxi cabs and tourist taxis which are present for travelling within the island. To travel in between islands there are several ferries and ships which help the people move about. Reaching a particular place usually requires both a bus and a ferry ride and the islands are connected by an interisland boat service. These islands are connected to mainland India by air route as well as sea route. The capital, Port Blair, is connected to the mainland by these routes.
The festivals celebrated on the islands are heavily borrowed from mainland India. Onam, Panguni Uthiram, Pongal and Durga Pooja are the most important festivals while Pongal, Janmashtami, Holi, Diwali, Mahashivratri, Christmas etc are also celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. The most fun festival celebrated on the island is Island Tourism Festival which is celebrated for 15 days every year in Port Blair between the months of December and February. Troupes from different islands congregate to display their skills and entertain people.
Tourism is an ever growing sector of the Islands with several hotels scattered all across the entire territory to for the comfort of the visitors. The most popular tourist attractions include the remains of the British colonial era like the Cellular Jail of Andaman. It also has a number of sanctuaries, garden and parks which appeal to the trekkers and ecotourists. Due to the abundant presence of water bodies, all sorts of water sports are also practised here and they have been a huge hit with both the locals as well as visitors.
There are two very distinct cultures in the islands. One belongs to the Negrito people from the Andamans while the other belongs to the Autochthones from the Nicobar. Irrespective of the number of influences that the islands faced, these tribes have managed to hold on to their culture. The settlers brought with them the culture from their home lands which influenced the natives greatly. The folk traditions which are still alive include several different kinds of ritual tribal dance and sea – farers. A few tribes even today remain in complete isolation and do not entertain a visit from outsiders. These tribes have managed to keep their tribal rituals and cultures alive. The beauty of these islands is a well kept secret which is slowly being realised by people. With the encouragement of the Indian government, they are fast emerging as a popular destination for tourists.