Exploring The Andamans - A long awaited trip!

We'd recently been to one of our most awaited trips - the enchanting, amazingly breath-taking, historic and splendid islands of Andamans! We'd been keeping to busy to share our incredible experience and we didn't want to post something in a hurry- and there's a big reason for that - we wanted to post a series of well-thought out posts, blog posts that match and do justice to the exotic memories the Islands gave us!
Neil Island , Andaman, India 

Oh thou Exotic Islands!

The Andamans is not just one single destination - it is a destination within a destination - an archipelago of mesmerizing Islands - a place so vast one can spend a whole year to explore the beauty of the Almighty in true spirit! Ours was just a meagre 7 night and 8 days vacation, that's the maximum duration our regular jobs allowed us the freedom for! How we wish it could have been longer! 

Planning for and reaching the Islands:

We'd been quite concerned while planning our trip from our research about the limited connectivity, dicey telephone network and the almost non-existent internet in the Islands. Finally we thought it was inevitable to take help from a local sightseeing operator - a personalised and private tour was the outcome of our long-hour discussions. We struggled finalizing the itinerary too - so many places and so little time! - but here's what our final itinerary looked like:

Day 1: Landing + Cellular Jail with Light and Sound Show
Day 2: Neil Islands
Day 3 and Day 4: Havelock Islands
Day 5,6,7 till departure on 8th day - Base at Port Blair city with trips to Jolly Bouy Islands, Ross Islands, North Bay Islands alongwith the port blair local Corbyn's cove Beach.

Pearl Park Beach Resort Neil Island
Come to think of it now that we have been there, done that - Do we think it was a fair itinerary? Pretty much yes! But we might have well included the adventurous Baratang road trip which includes witnessing the tribals enroute if one is lucky and perhaps the Ross&Victor Islands in North Andamans alongwith limestone caves- but that's a tough ask - a 14 hour long bumpy roadtrip from Port-Blair followed by ferries . Someone who is prepared to spare additional two days must definitely give these places a try!  Indeed it is definitely worth repeating here again that there's so much to visit and it's well upto you to decide the places you want to visit given the time and budget constraints!

Winter is the most appropriate time to visit, that's what we thought and hence planned our trip in January - of course to coincide with our wedding anniversary. Locals though, shared that weather remains almost the same throughout the year. 

The Islands are a couple of hours flight from Chennai and Kolkata. So choose whichever is convenient. We chose Chennai as flight timings were convenient. The Veer Savarkar Aiport at Port Blair is not a  fancy airport - quite ordinary and understandably so given the remoteness of the place. Passenger ships are also operated from Kolkata/Chennai/Vizag but we're not sure if it is worth it given the time it takes - 3 long days for one-way.

The local tour-operator we chose was "Experience Andamans"! And what a wonderful experience it was with them throughout our trip. Professionals in a true sense, they ensured every inch of our journey and each minute of our vacation time was spent in comfort and joy. We'll talk more about them in our upcoming posts when we share our day-by-day detailed experience of our trip. 

View fro Neil Island Harbour

For now, here's a few things that research never told us, only experience did:

  • No matter what weather you plan to visit the Islands, you carry the same set of clothes - simply 'coz the weather stays the same throughout the year - its a typical tropical climate. We needlessly carried a handful of winter gears - how stupid does it feel now!
  • Carry lots of sunscreens - your skin will scream "save me"! Thankfully, we did. The sun is hot out there and the beaches so beautiful - you wouldn't feel like leaving them.
  • Shoes are as good as wasteful luggage - slippers and sandals all the way! Plus, t-shirts and shorts are all you need. Beach hats are pretty much available everywhere - better get them there as a souvenier instead of carrying them over the seven seas! Good UV protected glares, swim-wears and a small bag just enough to carry your extra pair of clothes for each time you visit the beach - that's all you need for this trip. Make sure to avoid carrying lots of luggage as there will be lots of movements - island to island - ferry to ferry - hop in and hop off - and all this with bulky luggage won't be a breeze in a slightly humid weather.
  • The scary essentials - Mobile connectivity and cash: Postpaid connections don't work here. BSNL, Airtel and Vodafone are the only networks that work here but not everywhere! Also, only BSNL is a reliable network as confirmed by locals. Airtel works in Neil and Havelock too. Both of us had only Vodafone SIMs and phone was as good as a dead for the three days we spent at Neil and Havelock! Vodafone worked well in Port Blair. Coming to the internet, it is as good as non-existent. Even the hotels provide free wi-fi only at the reception area . And the result - guests spending more time in reception than hotel rooms :D . Plus, carry CASH! How important is that here! As your credit cards can only be used as playing cards especially in the remote islands like Neil and Havelock. Nobody accepts cards and understandably so because there's no reliable internet. We didn't find any ATMs in Neil. Havelock has only two ATMs. However, in Port Blair there are lots of Banks and ATMs. Ironically, the ticket counter at Cellular Jail in Port Blaironly accepts card payment! No cash accepted here please !
  • The emergency kit : Ensure to carry first aid, emergency medicines, spare glasses and anything else you can't live without since the Islands are still not that commercialised - they are remote, barren and isolated from the rest of the developed human societies - and that is the exact beauty and sanctity of the Islands. Just to give an example, there's no optician in Neil and Havelock. Broken specs in Havelock? Take a 2.5 hour long ferry to Portblair your only option. or fevikwik perhaps. But we haven't been able to fix anything with fevikwik till day but that's a different story altogether lol!

Sunset enroute Havelock to Port Blair!

Join us in our excitment as we share what stood out, what we brought back with us, and why the Andamans will be etched in our memories for the rest of our lives!

Keep visiting Our Travel Cravings for more!

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Navigating Diu Islands

Hello Fellow Travellers! Here's our second post on Diu after our Discovers in Diu where we shared our experience of trekking through the Islands on Day 1 of our journey. However, Diu being such a beautiful place, not everything could be covered in a single blog post! Here we share our experiences regarding navigating Diu and a few other aspects as promised in our previous post!. 

How to Reach Diu?

The easiest way to Diu if coming from Ahmedabad is to take the overnight bus from Ahmedabad which departs at around 11:30 pm from the Paldi Bus depot and reaches Diu around 8:30 am in the morning, just in time for a slight early check-in. Most of the buses are non A.C. However a couple of A.C. buses are available for around 500 Rs/person. There are no Volvo options. We highly recommend to choose the sleeper A.C bus for a comfortable ride. Our onward bus was of Patel Tours and Travels. The bus condition wasn't great and one may describe the ride as everything except comfortable. The only good part was that it reached us Diu on time which was a breather!

The return A.C. buses leave Diu at 7.30 pm (Non A.C buses leave at 7:00pm). Our return journey bus operator was  "Shri Jalaram Viral". The bus was highly comfortable and we could hardly feel our journey as we dozed off early after a tiring travel day. The bus also reached us Ahmedabad as early as 5:15 AM. In short, it was an effortlessly comfortable ride.

The roads from Ahmedabad to Diu are quite ordinary and we only hope the highways are upgraded to make this destination even more popular amongst tourists. Alternatively, travellers can choose to Ahmedabad - Somnath - Diu if enough time is on hand, as that route has good roads. This way one can also visit the famous Somnath temple pilgrimage. The distance between Somnath and Diu is around 80 kms and the route may take more than 2 hours.

Nagoa Beach in Diu - The Commercial Tourist Hotspot

Nagoa Beach post sunset
Water Sport activities viewed at a distance at Nagoa Beach

In our last post on Diu we had promised to reveal where we found the majority of tourists flocking in Diu? - The Nagoa Beach! The Nagoa Beach has undoubtedly turned in a commercial beach destination. The moment we reached the beach it reminded us of the famous Calangute beach of Goa. Although the beach itself is not that great - there are green patches in some places and cleanlinesss may well be an issue for some cleanliness-cravings souls - but it is the people and activities that makes this beach quite interesting. There are recreational options like Para-Sailing, banana boat ride, bumpy ride among others. There aren't any great beach bed options but one can find beach shacks to grab a quick bite or to satiate the masala corn taste buds. The nearby beach resorts have converted this otherwise ordinary beach into a great beach party destination. In fact the famous "Festa De Diu" Diu beach festival is located extremely near to this beach. 

As a side note, don't get surprised to find highly inebriated men caressing the beach sand sitting clueless on the beach in shorts with visible lack of clarity in thought and balance! Quite amusing. It speaks volumes of the role played by this Island to quench the thirst for liquor of people from the Dry State (Gujarat)!

A few QuickTips:

1. It is highly suggested to get a scooter on rent to visit Nagoa Beach if one staying at any place near the Diu Bus Stand. (We stayed at Hotel Khushi International - a stone's throw from the bus stand) Enjoy the beautiful and scenic ride from bus stand to Nagoa beach (around 8 kms) where one can even witness the cycle lanes on the sides of the main road. Catch a glimpse of the same in our short Youtube video ( Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEmeygiNsGo )

2. Laid-back tourists desirous of enjoying a purely relaxing beach holiday can opt to stay at any of the beach resorts either at Nagoa beach or Goghla Beach. However there's a catch. The Goghla beach is not actually on Diu Island. It is a beach on the coast of Gujarat arriving before crossing the Diu beach and reaching Diu Island. However, the Goghla Beach area currently falls under the Diu administration and not Gujarat State although outside the Island which is commoner's term means the nearest beach with no restriction on booze!

3. Don't miss the Naida Caves, The Diu Fort, Diu Museum and Chakratirth Beach. Read our Discoveries in Diu to know more!

Diu Fort - Walk Through the Entrance
Diu Fort Entrance Gate
Diu Random Park
The historic St.Paul's Church Side view
Beach at the Diu Fort

Our Discoveries in Diu

The fact that Diu is a tiny beach island is known to all. The fact that it is a run-for-a-quick-booze destination with Gujaratis, Gujarat being a dry state, is not clandestine. But on our short weekend trip to Diu we discovered some hidden gems, few enchanting secrets and a few historic tales of the forbidden islands which was once a strategic point of contact between the Indian princely states and the Portugese!

It was perplexing to know that Diu became a part of India only in 1961 after 450 years of Portugese rule! In fact India had to conquer the Islands to win it and the Instrument of Surrender was signed on 19th December 1961.

Diu Museum
The key fact here is the 450 years long Portugese Rule! A logical mind will be quick to imagine the extent of cultural transitions in this tiny island over the span of these 450 years. And doesn't this place reflect the same! In fact the extent of Portugalization - if that was even a word! - of this place is mesmerizing. 

St Paul's Church 
St Paul's Church Diu
With a population of just around 40,000 odd, it is a welcome change from the over-populous tourist destinations across India. In fact when we walked down the empty lanes in the interiors of Diu on our weekend winter afternoon, we could hardly trace a walking soul, it almost felt like a sleeping city. It was a walk down the memory lane as if we were walking through generations of history through the centuries-old churches and churches converted to museums and houses of intense Portugese architecture and finally leading to the vacant beaches - Oh! that feeling of sanctity and peace - is priceless! The intricate designs of doors and windows and gates and aisles of independent bungalows take us back to the Roman, Gothic and Neoclassicism architecture. Only an expert in that field may make accurate revelation of the type of architecture so a naive couple like us can only name it as Portugese architecture.

The distinguishing architecture
The beautifully crafted streetlamps 
The deserted lanes on Saturday afternoon
In fact, subtle things like the design of street lamps make this place feel special. We stayed at Hotel Khushi International and spent our first day just trekking through the old Diu city which is still very much inhabited by locals but has a mystic feel of being a secluded city.

After spending a few moments at the Diu Fort and Jallandhar Beach we walked across the several seemingly residential lanes going through the Fort road, and we found St. Paul's Church on one of those lanes. Just a few hundred meters from St. Paul's Church there is a small museum housing statues which are centuries old. The life-like sculptures was enough to give us goosebumps as we were the only spectators in the otherwise empty musuem. All during these times we were like -Is the city dead? Where are all the tourists? 

But we didn't mind what felt like a private Island tour!

Sun, sand, empty roads and coconut trees
Quite colorful homes they were!
Finally we could spot an Autorickshaw just when we were out of the museum, but wait, this guy was in a lot of hurry. A bit of convincing and extra money did the trick and he finally agreed to drop us to our favourite "Naida Caves". The Naida Caves was the best thing to happen that afternoon. We reached there around 4:30 pm and it seemed like walking into a archeological excavation camp and witnessing history first-hand. It was jaw dropping the view the natural beauty of this place through the glitters of sun light gleaming inside through the natural openings of the caves. We couldn't resist but take lots and lots of photographs of the banyans, the caves, the sunrays and us! This place was pure bliss and I instantly felt that the entire trip was worth right on the first afternoon!

The enchanting Naida Caves

It took us some efforts to find another auto back to our hotel because they were far and few. Luckily, by evening we got our scooter-on-rent that we had requested a few shops in the morning. We immediately knew now that we wont be leaving much of Diu unexplored! And only when we started exploring on our two-wheeler we finally got the answer to our question : "Where are all the tourists ?" Find it in our next post! Till then enjoy the captivating photos below. Plus, there are two surprise short videos below too! Cheers! Happy Travelling!

A Few QuickTips: 
1. There are only about 48 licensed two-wheeler vehicles available on rent in Diu. On winter weekends, due to rush it is hard to get hold of one so make sure to make the first effort to book your scooter.
2. One can easily visit Diu Fort, St. Paul's Church, Diu Museum, Jallandhar Beach and Naida caves trekking through the day if your hotel is around Diu fort. So when one does not get access to scooter, don't bother! Keep other places for the next day when there's a scooter available.
3. If you love photography, this place is a paradise - No entrance fees anywhere, no camera fees anywhere, no photography restrictions anywhere!
4. Of course, winter is the best time to visit as the weather is just perfect to roam around the entire day.
The Diu Bridge connecting Gujarat with Diu Island
Visualization of a relaxing holiday!
The secluded beaches
The landscape of the vintage town
Entrance of Diu Fort
Spell-binding landscapes - ample of them!
The intricate artwork takes us two centuries back

The view of Pani Kotha (Sea Fort-Cellular Jail)

Diu QuickTour through Two Short Videos!