During our trip, the location most fitting this description was the Andaman Islands and within that the Little Andaman Island, where we spent Christmas in 2009. The Andaman Islands are the peaks of an underwater mountain range protruding from the water in the middle of the Bay of Bengal.
About India’s most isolated province most indians have never heard of – it doesn’t even have an international airport.
It can only be approached from Calcutta and Chennai by a 3-5 day cruise or a plane and only with the right permits. We received a permit for 15 days, which was extended on site by an additional 15 days after getting and presenting the ship (or plane) ticket certifying the departure from the islands, and several other documents.
30 DAYS IN PARADISE
In addition to the usual Indian bureaucracy, it is made difficult for foreigners, but even for Indians, to get here because there are six different anthropologically highly protected tribes on the archipelago (Andaman and Nicobar Islands). Among them, the Sentinels, who to this day fish with spears, are unfamiliar with farming and aggressively reject all forms of contact with the modern world.
The capital of the islands, Port Blair, did not live up to our expectations and it’s not worth the hassle. As soon as we arrived, we tried to get a boat ticket out, which we managed at the cost of torturous, many-hour long queuing. We visited Havelock Island and Neill Island before heading for the real hidden treasure, Little Andaman. Havelock and Neill Island are also very beautiful, surrounded by mangrove forests, white sand and turquoise water. 10 years ago, tourism was just about starting, which meant there were beachfront bungalows, restaurants and scooter rentals on the islands. In Havelock, we met a Spanish and a French surfer, Gilles and Jordi, who were also preparing to go to Little Andaman to find a legendary, almost undocumented wave.
With huge luck I managed to get a board from Motu, who we started talking with in a bar, and who considered himself the first surfer from India.
By the end of the night he lent me his board to take to Little Andaman and we agreed that I would leave it for him in Port Blair in another bar before we would leave the archipelago.
PROTECTED TRIBAL RESERVE
Little Andaman is the southernmost member of the Andaman Islands, contrary to its name, it is by no means small and it’s inhabited by a very colorful group of people. A narrow strip of the east coast is covered with coconut palm and areca nut (betel palm) plantations, and it gives home to Tamil and Bengal settlers who arrived after India gained independence. The second generation has already been born on the island and is visibly feeling good. Our residence permit was only valid for this area, the rest of Little Andaman is a tribal reserve forbidden even for Indians.
Hotels, restaurants and public transportation practically don’t exist on the island.
Of course you can eat in many canteens cooking for the locals, since in many houses there is no kitchen, there is always a communal meal somewhere. What did we eat for a month? Same as the locals: typically thali, which is rice, lentils and two other types of curry, every day different ingredients: potatoes, small fish or okra. There was also a crepe-like dish rolled up with spicy vegetables and ketchup. By the way, our room was above one of the canteens, which was the only accommodation in the village called 16 km, as it is 16 km from the port on the only concrete road on the island. On the first day, our most important agenda was to get some means of transportation, to which the only solution was to convince two kind strangers to lend their motorbikes while we were there.
LEGENDARY SURF SPOT
The island’s natives are a black tribe of African descent called Onge, one of six indigenous groups in the Andaman Islands. It is not only impossible to meet them due to the lack of a permit – their settlements can only be approached by boat, and fishermen simply do not take you there. One of the ship captains managed to obtain an Indian documentary thirty years ago that captures the first attempts to contact the natives. In addition to the Onges, there are also Nicobareans on the island, they are the most populous and assimilated tribe of the six, who belong to the Mongoloid race.
While searching for waves, we left the our designated zone and got to a nicobarean village.
They were very friendly and of Christian religion, and they invited us to their Christmas celebration, where everyone from the village presented some production to the community on the village stage. Together with Luca, Gilles, and Jordi we arrived on the island as the only foreigners, and during our two-week stay, we received a total of two foreign companies. Once a Scottish surfer – who had been on a catamaran around the world for a year and a half – and once in the form of a Japanese-Austrian-Italian wild camping trio, we ended up spending Christmas Eve with them on the beach.
Among surfers, Little Andaman has a legendary reputation, regarding waves we didn’t catch the most ideal season. We found one of the three famous waves, the others can only be reached by an 8-10 hour jungle tour or boat ride. We were unable to get a boat, the locals out of superstition around the anniversary of the tsunami (December 16, 2004) did not venture out to sea, and our half-day trips did not lead to results. Since then, we’ve met an Indian surfer who said we were going in the right direction, only very little, but without the right amount of drinking water and food supplies, it’s not even worth setting out.
Since then we have been traveling and guiding others professionally, but when someone asks me what was the most special place I’ve been to or where I would like to go back, Little Andamans always pops to my head among the first places.
The original article appeared on drivemagazine.eu.