Andaman & Nicobar Islands Diary: Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep)
Neil Island: An air-conditioned ferry takes one across to Neil Island from Havelock. After a one-hour ride costing Rs 1350 one reaches the 13.7 sq. km. island famous for its coral reefs, sunrise and sunset views.
Bharatpur beach is the island’s most beautiful beach. It is a favorite of scuba divers and snorklers. A few options like water scooter and banana rides are also there. On this beach glass bottom rides at Rs 700 pp are quite popular.
Water is crystal clear and watching corals from the glass bottom of boat is an exhilarating experience. Beds and walls of corals, under 10 to 20 feet of water, are clearly visible through the toughened glass bottom on bright and sunny days. Schools of colourful fish swimming around the garden of corals leave you in a trance.
Corals are in all shapes, colours and sizes. Finger carol, mushroom carol, jackfruit carol, blue diamond carol, brain carol….the list of names is endless. Boatman keeps drawing your attention to these and keeps rattling off their names. During the entire boat ride eyes stay glued to the glass bottom moving over the majestic flora and fauna of the marine world.
The ride leaves you in wonder and awe of this unique and mysterious world of marine life. According to a boatman in winters water clarity improves by many notches and views are even more spectacular on sunny days.
Bharat Nagar beach, a clean white sand beach, is best enjoyed during the low tide when water recedes for nearly 500 meters and one can go walking deep into the ocean bed made of white sand. Life guards do keep an eye on holidayers frolicking on the beach especially during the high tide. They keep cautioning them, especially the ebullient non-swimmers in groups who invariably get carried away by their enthusiasm and start venturing into waist deep water and beyond.
During the low tides expanse of white sand is a captivating site. One can admire this for hours from the shores lined by sun lounges, tree trunks and plastic chairs placed imaginatively on the beach by the administration as well as shack owners for the convenience of beach goers.
If lord Krishna was lording over the Havelock island, it is lord Rama to the fore on the Neil island. Sitapur, Lakshmanpur, Ram Nagar and Bharatpur are the four popular villages on this island.
Sitapur beach is famous as a sunrise point. This beach of rock bed and dead corals is not for swimming. Hit the spot early at 4.30 am and you are in for a treat. Pray there aren’t any clouds in the horizon.
Weather is at its most unpredictable in this part of the world. It only takes a few minutes for the sky to turn sunny from cloudy or vice versa. From light drizzle to heavy downpour to bright and sunny in a few minutes is the mother nature’s way of reminding us the mortals as to who is in charge. Clouds converging suddenly from nowhere do spoil the sunrise and sunset views for tourists on short visits to these islands.
Lakshmanpur 2 beach is famous all over the South Andamans for its spectacular sunset view. It is the only beach in the South Andamans where you can enjoy candle light sunset snacks and dinner of Maggie noodles.
Always remember that on these islands you must be at the sunrise point by 4.30 am and by 4.30 pm for sunset views.
Stay back at the beach at least for 45 minutes after the sun’s disappearance in the horizon to experience the play of pink, orange, amber and white colours of lights in the twilight sky.
I personally feel the post-sunset period of 30 to 45 minutes is the most exhilarating. This can be called the second sunset of the evening. It fills the sky and clouds with colours and is the mother nature’s very own not to be missed laser show in the horizon during the twilight hour.
The scene is just the reverse in the morning where play of lights begins before the break of dawn but with less intensity.
Except the Bharatpur beach all other Neil island’s beaches are dead coral beaches. Dead corals make walking bare feet on the sand impossible. Beaches are strewn with dead calcified pieces of corals. In some places the entire beach beds have become the final resting grounds of giant dead corals, giving birth to mangroves.
A local boatman explained: Typhoons and deep-sea storms are killers of coral reefs. These typhoons not only cause devastation over the ground, but they also uproot and flatten lush rich coral gardens under the water. Once dead these plants are washed ashore and get dumped on the white sand beach beds of the island. A stark reminder of mother nature’s fury as well as a completed life cycle.