Forest to Sea in the Andamans
In March 2021, we took four wonderful souls on an exploration of the Andaman Islands and its many natural wonders.
Here is a showcase of our trip from March of this year, told through images taken by our guests.
It took under five minutes from the time we got off our ferry at Havelock Island for everyone to suit up for their first glimpse of the ocean!
No amount of preparation, googling, review-reading could have prepared us for this as a beach view for the rest of our trip. Forests fringing right off the shore. White sandy beaches touching littoral trees and the azure blue at the same time. The water was so clear, we could tell where sandy patches led to shallow coral reefs. We made sure to spend a good portion of our days swimming and snorkelling until our shoulders were crispy and peeling.
We spent just as much time in the ocean when all the water vanished too. The tidal cycle in the Andamans is drastic enough to expose the intertidal zones for nearly 6 hours, twice daily. Flip-flops, sunglasses and a bottle of water are all we needed. From snails and crabs to juvenile fish and various kinds of seaweed, our walk was full of surprises. If it weren’t the sun setting on us fairly quickly, we would have probably followed the hunting eel and octopus until the tide turned!
Summers can get very warm, very quickly in the Andamans. To beat the heat but also get enough time to explore, we set out on our hikes at sunrise. We covered littoral ‘beach forests’, towering evergreen forests and young mangrove forests. We saw the most birds along our littoral forest walks, what with the clear viewing provided by the towering trees and an open canopy. Our evergreen forests were more about examining the understorey- the barks, underside of leaves, forest floor for any sign of the more cryptic life. Crab spiders, wanderer butterflies, cottonbugs, endemic lizards, poison nuts, fungi- the forest was full!
The Andaman coastline habitats are some of its most prized possessions, especially if you are a fan of long walks on the beach. The white sand dunes are not without life. When we aren’t busy building sand castles or burying ourselves, we’d notice the animals busying about with the mundanities of their beach life. We were most taken by the feeding patterns of the sand bubbler crabs. Beach strolls will never be the same again.
Oh yes, regular pauses were made to document the humans that made this trip absolutely fantastic!
Midway through the trip, everyone was ready to take the plunge into the slightly deeper ocean! It was everyone’s first time diving in the Andaman Islands. They chose to do a PADI Discover SCUBA dive, we took our good friends on Havelock Island - DIVEIndia Scuba and Resorts. Evidently most of the group was nursing butterflies in their stomach as they made their way to the training area up to seconds before they made a giant stride into the water. Post dive however, it was hours of recalling every species they had seen, at every twist and turn, during their one hour underwater. Coral boulders provided the colourful background for all the fishy action. Schools of fusiliers, sergeant major damsels, barracudas, snappers, unicornfish *breathe* groupers, rabbitfish, parrotfish, urchins, clams, anemone, octopus!
The weather was good to us through the trip. Extremely sunny days right at the start made sure plenty of time was spent cooling off exploring the ocean. Evenings cooled down relatively quickly, to allow us to have our meals at outdoor cafes, like the island’s best- Full Moon Cafe! Just as the cumulative tropical heat was beginning to cause some exhaustion, the first of the April showers began!
Clear skies let the coral and fish in the tide pools dazzle in the sun.
Cloudy skies made looking up at 40 meter tall trees for parakeets, forest pigeons and minivets an absolute delight!
Gentle sea breezes meeting perspiring humans results in some very happy hikers. Our hike up to the lighthouse at the tip of the South Andaman Island was the perfect place to say goodbye.
If I had to choose a favourite moment, it would definitely be a tie between the snorkeling and the dive. With snorkeling I didn't expect to see so much so easily and the dive- I didn't expect to be able to do it so easily! The titan trigger fish we saw was definitely an "oh my God, I can't believe my eyes" moment.
My takeaway from this trip. The sea isn't scary. You don't need to be a pro swimmer to appreciate nature and gain a deeper understanding and respect for it. There is so much to see just within our borders, we don't need to spend big money travling to faraway exotic locales to experience aquatic life. You need very basic things to be happy in life! Travel is one such thing. I definitely think this trip has given me a lot to think about how to adopt a more sustainable, ecologically less harmful lifestyle.
Ramya aka Britisher Dharmaraaj
There are a few things that I witnessed on this trip that made me feel connected with the natural world. The sensitivity to light that those red feather worms felt and how quick they responded to it showed me how mindful you need to be when dealing with different sorts of animals.
The car horn mimicry of the Drongo showed me that we really need to be careful about what filters its way through to nature as animals are highly able to be influenced and can change their natural behaviour, which has carried them through evolution for so long. Same with the amount of trash we saw washed up on shore and how natural landscapes being littered can affect entire ecosystems.
I do think this trip will influence how I interact with my environment. Travelling to and from the different islands, being amongst other tourists visiting the Andamans on the ferry rides made me reflect on the different ways tourists can experience the destinations they choose to spend their vacations in. The experience we had during our visit allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the endemic natural environment of the Andamans and it truly felt like we integrated with the lifestyle of those who spend their lives working with nature on the islands, even though we were only there for just about a week.
I will take this experience and use it to explore the places I live in and visit in the future focusing on the natural life present there rather than just exploring the tourist-y destinations that people/tourists usually go to explore.
Mir Raza Ali alias Meer Raja
Standing on the deck of the government ferry and looking out towards Havelock, I felt extremely optimistic and grateful to have briefly experienced the island. The feeling of sand between my toes slowly roasting under the Andaman sun, walking around getting drenched in the rain with mud on my chapals, or even being able to openly talk to people without judgement and listen to their stories were all moments that reminded me that this is what life is supposed to be about - to live amongst good people, uncertain elements and the gifts of the natural world.
I felt fully immersed, calm, grateful and alive throughout the trip. Island life is tough but I felt replenished and respirited (if that is even a word) every day that we spent amongst the people we met, the places we visited, nature and her elements. To get a glimpse of the power and beauty of the ocean, the forests and the uncertainity surrounding it all was humbling.
I feel re-energized on many levels to commit in nurturing my curiousity towards the natural world, education and conservation. I will try to be better to lead by example for those around me to live a plastic-free life and to be conscious of their consumerist choices. Also, I'm motivated to just spend more time outdoors, observing if I can.
Fatima Ali aka Fat Tuna
Until we meet again...
About the Desination: The Andaman Islands are comfortably sandwiched between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman sea. The 300 odd islands that make up the Andamans are actually exposed regions of an underwater mountain chain connecting Myanmar and Sumatra. These islands not only harbour a diverse set of coral reefs, but they are also home to dense tropical redwood forests, mangroves and thriving endemic wildlife.
Before becoming a part of independent India, this archipelago was under British occupation and was used as a penal colony during the war. For at least twenty thousand years before that, the islands have been home to over 10 indigenous tribes, some of whom still live here today.
Over the past couple of decades, the islands have transformed into a tourist hub. However, in our experience, what there isn’t enough of, are experiences that allow you to truly connect with this magical place- the elements, nature, people and culture. The Andaman Islands have enough on offer for us to dedicate an entire lifetime to explore. However, these islands are also fragile and their natural resources are finite. To enjoy a holiday in this place requires us to do this responsibly, leaving a minimal impact and finding ways to support the local community. Our explorative holidays are meant to do exactly this!