The second island destination on our week-long stay in Andaman & Nicobar Islands in India was the smaller, and less popular Neil Island. A government ferry from Havelock jetty took us to beautiful Neil island in two hours. The government ferries, mostly used by locals are a cheap way of traveling between the islands, but we had to purchase our tickets at least a few days in advance. I preferred the government ferries over the private one that we had used for transfer to Havelock from Port Blair, because we could hang out on the deck and enjoy the views, while we were confined to the closed, AC regulated indoors in the private ferry.
We hadn’t booked any place to stay in Neil Island, as I found that only few businesses there have booking available online. We just relied on our luck and figured that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find accommodation. And sure enough, we did. Some asking around with the auto drivers at the jetty terminal, and we found a place called Kalapani, that had a rocky beach practically on its property.
The place where we stayed at had basic huts with mosquito nets and fans, but the highlight for me were the numerous palms on the property. There were some hammocks to enjoy, and a rocky beach with a good sunset view.
We were told that there was a beach with water sports nearby, so we hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuks in India) to take us there the next day. I also noticed that Neil was much cheaper compared to Havelock island. It just had a very small-village feel to it.
The beach we went to was called Bharatpur beach, and it was quite popular by the looks of it. There were stalls offering water activities like snorkeling trips, glass bottom boat tours and jet ski rentals. We wanted to hire jet skis and ride around, but it turned out that it was not possible to ride them on our own without a certified driver steering it, so we passed.
The beach was long and sandy with clear shallow waters. There were numerous stalls along the beach selling various items like souvenirs, fashion accessories and foods. We went on a snorkeling tour on a glass bottom boat ride, which was mostly for my mum. We actually saw a turtle through the glass bottom but not when we were snorkeling! Nevertheless the reefs were stunning and we saw some beautiful marine life.
Early next morning, we went on a pre-arranged diving trip. My boyfriend and I had opted for ‘fun diving’ as we are licensed divers and three people in our group were trying out their first ‘discovery dive’, which is an introduction to scuba diving for people who have never dived before. There were many things that disappointed me that morning – the dive center was very unprofessional. We were taken to the beach much latter than the planned time. And when we finally did, it was decided that we’d have to dive in turns as they had only one boat to take us to the site. The discovery divers went first, and I and my boyfriend waited for around 4 hours(!!) on the beach which wasn’t pretty by any means (in fact it was dirty and construction was going on nearby.) After 4 hours, our people returned and my sister said that they weren’t even given fins, let alone taught even the basics of diving. They were basically held by the tank as they hovered vertically on the water. The reason we were given was that many Indian tourists accidentally kick the fragile reef with their fins, and cannot manage swimming on their own due to anxiety in the water, inability to swim etc. So it’s apparently a norm for all dive schools on the islands to hold the discovery divers and assign them the simplest task of just breathing through the regulator. I think it’s very irresponsible and against normal diving standards of taking completely inexperienced into the water, without even explaining them the very basics of the scuba equipment and techniques of diving. But I’m well aware that in countries like India (and my own Nepal), rules, guidelines and very often common sense aren’t there for abiding by.
I and my boyfriend finally went into the water after the exhausting wait, and while it was very choppy on the surface, it was calm and relaxing once we were in. The reef was shallow (14-15 meters at deepest) and small, but it was gorgeous and colorful. We were really counting on our luck to see sea turtles and sea cows which are famous in the area, but we didn’t see any. It was amazing anyway, as diving always is for me. Even though we wasted those hours in vain, treasured family time that I could have spent with my mum and brother back at the hotel as they dived, one hour of diving calmed me by a great deal.
During the day, we spent our time walking around. We were surprised to see that the rocky pool in front of our accommodation had completely dried by the next morning. I assume it has to do with the waves.
We took a long walk on the rocky shores of the sea, and discovered some interesting things like a dead puffer fish, and big crabs. We were walking on the rocks that’d be covered in chest deep water by the evening. The fact that it was cloudy made the walk even more relaxing, although the photos of the sea didn’t come out blue.
During our evenings, we spent our time in the kitchen/sitting area of the site, chitchatting with other guests but mostly playing games among ourselves and lounging on the hammocks. One evening I got a scare, as my boyfriend experienced a sharp, uncontrollable pain on his back after swimming in the rock pool in front of the hotel. To realize that we were on a remote island with no proper hospitals in the whole area made me very nervous. But luckily it subsided in an hour, and we till this day haven’t figured out what it was. Traveling to far-flung locations like the Andaman Islands is surely exciting, but definitely not when one is in emergency medical need.
Overall, we really enjoyed our short time in Neil Islands. It was more authentic, less touristy than Havelock and very beautiful there, and a perfect place to recharge. If anyone is considering traveling there, I have a few tips that can be useful:
- Remember to book your ferry tickets at Port Blair few days in advance, especially if you’re planning to use government ferries and it’s the dry season.
- Bring basic emergency kit and medical supplies with you.
- Remember that the island is very small and laid-back with minimal infrastructures and facilities.
- Bring plenty of sunblock and mosquito repellent.
- Bring enough cash, as there are only two ATM machines (which we didn’t use) on the island with inconsistent service.
- If you’re coming from a more organized part of world than India, prepare mentally for unexpected delays and very laid-back attitude.
- Allow some free time between your departure from Neil Island and onward flight from Port Blair due to possible ferry cancellations from unexpected weather change. It’s the tropics after all.
- Expect a total disconnect from the world, as internet availability and mobile services are sporadic.