Standing on the deck of a cruise liner called MV Samson that was too swanky for the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, I gazed into the dark storm chasing us in the middle of the ocean with a mix of trepidation and wonder. It was my first time sailing in a ship. My next few days in Little Andaman, Andaman archipelago’s southernmost island and arguably the most beautiful, would go in a similar fashion — the island’s inaccessibility would seem daunting, yet its unmapped beauty would feel equally alluring.
There are more than 500 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar group, but less than 38 are inhabited and even lesser are open to travellers. Beyond the usual suspects of Havelock and Neil, few wander as far as Little Andaman. It was practically off the tourist map when my eyes fell on the large blot on the map between Andaman and Nicobar seven years ago.
Those were exciting times, when the internet failed to point me in any reliable direction about the island’s tourist infrastructure or sights. However, the sole comforting factor was that I knew that the Little Andaman had found its way onto the travel itineraries of intrepid hippies for the longest time. It was reassuring in a way — I felt that my quest to visit this island won’t be in vain. So, I swallowed my fear and got on that ship to an island I had no idea about.
I soon realised Little Andaman was a special place when a huge monitor lizard, a giant rainbow and a glorious sunset welcomed me on the first evening. The unimpeded stretch of beach from the Hutbay jetty till as far as the eye could see was phenomenal — a thick forest with green cover that contrasted beautifully against the electric blue ocean-fringed coastline.
Put up in a shady hotel that was next to remains of buildings destroyed in the 2004 tsunami, I hardly caught a wink, trying to ward off imaginary ghosts at the site of such tragedy. Morning brought with it a wave of relief. The ocean behind the hotel beckoned me with its sparkling waters and the soothing sound of crashing waves. I was leaving footprints on a beach that must have seen fewer outsider footfalls in its entire existence than a Bangalore city mall on packed weekends!
I walked further along to see fishermen returning with their catch. Without any trawlers eating into their business, the fisherfolk manage a very decent catch. Andaman is known as mini-India, understandably since most of its inhabitants are migrants from the mainland. Bengalis, Biharis, Tamilians and Telugu people form the majority of the population here, and, not surprisingly, the fishermen whom I ran into were all from coastal Andhra Pradesh. Chatting with them in my mother tongue, thousands of kilometers away from home in a remote island felt surreal, subtly reinforcing the idea that it is a small world indeed.
Scared of spending another night in the hotel, I took up on the offer of a fellow traveller I had met on the ship and went in search of one of the two so-called resorts that have sprung up along the coastal road. Makeshift bamboo huts erected on an open ground formed the entirety of the resort, but I was thankful that at least there’d be company.
Next morning, my fellow traveller and I hired a scooter, setting off in search of a beautiful lagoon. Named after the black limestone rocks that jut out of the coast, Kalapathar beach and its lagoon, flanked by thick forest, seemed like a great place to spend all day doing nothing. We lazed under the shade of a tree, watching the waves crash through the small opening in the rocks and slowly fill the lagoon up as the tide rose through the day. A few locals came to fish for their dinner, while another disappeared into a literal hole in the wall. I followed him into the jagged rocks. It opened into a cloistered view of the ocean on the other side. If Little Andaman felt like the end of the world, this small cave took that feeling a few notches higher.
Later that day, we passed by the market where men gathered by the roadside, animatedly playing carrom and other board games under the twilight sky. We rode back to our rooms across bridges over crocodile-infested creeks and along the deserted road through the forest with a million stars twinkling above our heads. The whole day had been profound in a way — the island’s simplicity evoked in me a great joy at losing myself in the mundane, never mind that I had been bitten silly by pesky sandflies, one of the island’s only two deterrents. The other, of course, are the saltwater crocodiles that have claimed quite a few lives over the years.
Back at the makeshift resort, we settled for a night of fried fish, cheap liquor and some friendly banter with an Australian couple who had come to the island to surf. Little Andaman is a well-guarded secret in the surfing community. The complete lack of tourist infrastructure made a visit to this tropical paradise all the more appealing. Little Andaman isn’t for everyone; if you can brave it, you are privy to its unparalleled beauty along with only a few others.
“Another day in paradise”, cheerily called out the Australian brunette the next morning at breakfast, as she stowed a wildflower in her hair and walked towards the beach. Parakeets noisily flew above the trees surrounding our resort. A lone surfer walked out of the blue ocean and I stood there admiring the delicate patterns in the sand made by a crab the previous night. I may return to this island one day, and, perhaps, I may fall in love with it more, but the heady feeling of finding my unknown paradise, like first love, might not return.