Neil Island is known for its lush green forest, and sandy beaches are the vegetable bowl of Andaman’s. The place provides an ideal holiday for eco friendly tourist, recollects Vibha Singh
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block
White sand, clear water, shades of blue, colourful corals, clear visibility up to deep waters – the beaches in Andaman’s are absolute bliss. The water is so crystal clear that you will be able to watch fishes roaming around even in knee length water levels. Even in afternoon when there is no sunrise or sunset phenomenon to be viewed this place had those qualities that make you want to stay there forever. You do not need to go to the sea for watching coral reefs or marine life, the water is so clear here that you can watch all these from the seashore also – nothing short of a magical experience. As we were on an adventure trip so we decided to explore the two most visited and habitable islands Neil and Havelock.
Neil Island is certainly the most beautiful island in Andaman and is also called the vegetable bowl because of plenty of vegetables grown here. The island is named after a British colonial officer, it is the most southern island of Ritchie’s archipelago- and it is situated about 40 kilometers to the northeast of Port Blair.
There’s very little information or even maps of Neil Island. Ideally there are only four places to visit here the Laxmanpur beach for sunset point as the beach turns golden color as the sun goes down tuning your hearts to the nature’s beauty. Natural bridge commonly known as Howrah bridge, Sitapurbridge which is the sunrise point and Bharatpur beach. Beaches on Neil are greatly affected by tide, so during low tide swimming in many beaches is impossible due to the sharp corals and rocks. But one can lie down in the water whole day without any disturbance and if you get bored of lying on the beach, there are exciting options to go for that include scuba diving, undersea walking or snorkelling to experience the vibrant marine life.
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The coastal belt surrounding the area is the abode of one of the richest coral reef ecosystem in the world. The coral reefs and under water formation are untouched by human activities. We had the best snorkeling of our lives in here. The reason being that Neil offers extremely dramatic scenery underwater, and we all were impressed by the deep underwater canyons, caves and tunnels, not far from the shore. We never used fins and had no trouble reaching some of the most beautiful and breathtaking spots.
The other sports which one can experience in group is undersea walking which was superbly fun as it absolutely required no experience, no complicated equipment to handle. You get to walk on the smooth and clean sand of the sea floor with a helmet with oxygen which offers a close up view of the underwater world without any hassle. You will be lowered down and guided by divers and lead you to walk on the sea bed and enjoy the corals and fish.
You get to see the corals and the numerous fishes swimming around you up close. Even you can feed them and be ready to be swarmed by different kinds of fish. The caution is that this activity is not recommended for people who have ear problems as they may feel uneasy underwater when using the oxygenated helmet. This is a must-do for people who enjoy being in the water and marveling in underwater scene.
But for most of the travellers it is an ideal destination for scuba diving. There are great range of diving sites for all skills and tastes and certainly enough to fill a whole week. Margherita’s Mischief is a calm diving spot with crystal clear water and boulders on the soft sand. Dugongs are often spotted here, and you may also get to see Batfish, Pufferfish, Blue-spotted stingrays, Angelfish, Soldierfish and Yellow Snappers. Another wonderful site is K Rock which is perfect for all levels of divers, due to the easy current. As the name suggests, it is a volcanic rock that’s huge and stands on a sandy seabed. For the first-timer scuba diving takes your underwater adventure to the next level where you get to swim with the fishes. If you are doing this for the first time, you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time learning the techniques so be aware of the time you spend on this vis-à- vis other activities.
We met a couple from Netherland who told us several times that they had never seen such an amazing scenery, docile fish and so much color before snorkeling in the Andaman Islands archipelago. Because most snorkeling sites are actually near the shore, you can just grab your mask and fins and explore at your own pace, for free. But you should certainly watch out your feet for the live seashells at the shoreline. Also found here are some dead corals in different shapes.
After our exciting experience in water next day we went on cycling expedition through the paddy fields, date and banana plantations, mango gardens and tract of dense tropical was quite edifying in itself. Ripe mangoes are an additional charm of the archipelago and supposed to blossom through-out the year. Also another point of attraction are the two major events which are celebrated with fun and frolic in the island which includes the Subhashmela which is a very famous festival of the Island and is celebrated in the first month of the year, January for about a week. The festival marks the birth anniversary of NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose. Another mega event celebrated by the local people for a continuum of ten days at the onset of winters and lures large number of tourists all over the world. It is so popular that people from various countries visits the place to enjoy this festival.
How to reach:
Government ferry: Takes 02 Hrs. to reach Neil Island
Timings : 06:15hrs. & 11:30hrs.
Private Cruise : A newly launched Macruzz coastal cruise operates between Port Blair – Neil Island – Havelock Island. It takes 45 minutes to reach Neil Island from Port Blair.
Timing : 08:00 hrs.
Best time to visit: Between October and May.
Stay:Most of the accommodation options are close toLaxmanpurbeach where you can get a basic bamboo hut at Rs 800. Beachside accommodation options are bit expensive.
Food:Most of the hotels, beach stay have their own restaurants serving all kind of dishes. Local food and cheap restaurants are situated in main market near Jetty stand. This little market also has an internet café and STD booth for making calls.Only BSNL signals work at Neil Island.