Port Blair and around

Port Blair, the capital, about 1200 km from Kolkata and Chennai, has only a handful of sights. The small town has changed in the last 30 years from one that received a ship from the mainland once a month if the weather permitted to a place connected by several daily flights from Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi . It has a hospital, shops, schools and colleges and a few museums, in addition to hotels and watersports facilities.

North of Aberdeen Jetty, the
Cellular Jail
(1886-1906)
was originally built by the British to house dangerous criminals and could hold 698 solitary prisoners in small narrow cells. Subsequently, until 1938, it was used to incarcerate Indian freedom fighters. The Japanese used it to hold their prisoners of war during their occupation from 1942 to 1945. Three of the original seven wings, which extended from the central guard tower in a star-shape, survive. The jail was renovated in 1998 and is well maintained and the gardens flower-filled. The
museum
displays photographs and lists of 'convicts' held. There is a 'death house' with gallows and implements used in torture. Entering the cells gives an impression of the conditions within the prison in the early 1900s. There is a well-presented
son et lumière show
 on prison life. Recommended.

Chatham Saw Mill
 is one of the oldest in Asia, employing 1000 workers. Tours take you through the different processes of turning logs into 'seasoned' planks. For tours, report to the Security Office just outside the main gate. The
Forest Museum
 here has unusual local woods including red paduk, satin and marble woods. It
shows how different wood is used in the timber industry and methods of lumbering/finishing.

The
Mini Zoo
 has a small, uninspiring collection in some very old wooden cages with a few specimens of unusual island fauna including a sea crocodile farm.
Marine Museum
 has a collection of corals and shells and a display of 350 species of marine life. The
Zonal Anthropological Museum
 is worth a visit; it has a small but interesting collection of photographs of 'exploratory expeditions' to visit the islanders and their dwellings. Woven baskets, pottery, bows and arrows and other beautifully crafted artefacts are on display.

Viper Island
, near Haddo Wharf at the mouth of the harbour, is where convicts were interned before the Cellular Jail was built.

Although the only beach close to Port Blair,
Corbyn's Cove
, 5 km from Port Blair, is only busy at weekends. The water is warm with gentle surf but the palm fringed white sand beach is not as clean as others.

South Andaman

An easy bus or scooter ride away from Port Blair is
Wandoor
, an attractive beach made more interesting by the vast hulks of skeleton trees that were deposited by the tsunami. The beach gets very busy at weekends, particularly Sundays. The jetty at Wandoor is the place to rent private boats to
Cinque Island
 which has spectacular snorkelling and diving.

Chiriya Tapu
, 28 km from Port Blair at the southern tip of South Andaman, is only an hour by road. Popular for birdwatching, it has excellent beaches with good snorkelling. From the bus stop, which has some tea shops, a track past the
Forest Guest House
(not possible to stay here), leads to the first beach. Continue along the trail through the forest for 20 minutes (several smaller trails are ideal for birdwatching), until you reach a second beach with very good corals 50 m out; at low tide you can walk a long way. The corals are not so spectacular along the coastline, but there is a large range of fish.

Mount Harriet
is good for either a morning or a whole day trip but make an early start to avoid the heat. A path through the forest starts by the derelict water viaduct in Hope Town, which joins the surfaced road near the top. Allow 1½ hours to the top. Alternatively, the bus from the jetty stops in Hope Town near the viaduct, or will drop you at the start of the road up the hill with a 4-km walk from here. Near the top of the road lie the ruins of the chief commissioner's bungalow, abandoned in 1942. It is also possible to ride a scooter to the top but you will pass the
Forest Check Post
 where national park fees are charged. Taking the forest path on foot avoids the check post and fees. From Mount Harriet, a signpost marks the 2-km
nature trail
, which is easy to follow to
Black Rocks
, the spot where prisoners were pushed to their death.

Ross Island
was originally developed under the British as the Residence of the Chief Commissioner and administrative headquarters. During the Second World War, it was occupied by the Japanese whose legacy is an ugly complex of concrete bunkers, still intact. The rest of the buildings on the island are ruins with spotted deer living peacefully among
them. In many cases the walls are only still standing because of the climbing trees. However,
the church in the centre and the Subalterns' club are impressive. The island is still under the jurisdiction
of the Indian Navy and swimming is not allowed despite the
clear enticing waters by the jetty.

About 30 km southwest of Port Blair, the
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
protects some exceptional coral beds and underwater life. Covering an area of 280 sq km, the park comprises 15 uninhabited tropical islands dense with forest
and with mangrove shores interrupting the aquamarine waters. Several species of exotic birds and plants thrive on the land while underwater lurk turtles, sharks and barracuda. The rich marine life includes
angelfish, green parrot, yellow butterfly, black surgeon, blue damsel fish, silver jacks, squirrel,
clown fish and sweetlips as well as sea cucumbers, sea anemones, starfish and a variety of shells - cowries, turbots, conches and the rarer giant clam, up to a 1 m wide. There are many beautiful corals - brain, finger, mushroom and antler - their colours derived from the algae that thrive in the living coral.
Coral and shell collecting is strictly forbidden.

Popular islands to visit are Grub, Redskin, Jolly Buoy (requires a permit, obtainable from
Directorate of Tourism
), Pluto, Boat Island, with Tarmugli to the west, Kalapahar or Rutland to the east and the Twins to the south.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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