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ANDMAN & NICOBAR      General Information of Andman & Nicobar

INTRODUCTION : - Palm leaves dancing in the mild breeze, powder white beaches, the sound of waves breaking on a coral reef, lush, green rain forests and chirping rare birds-this is what the Andaman and Nicobar Islands essentially are. An archipelago of islands, islets and rocks, this Union Territory of India is home to some of the oldest tribes in the country. Though facilities for trekking, diving and snorkelling are available here, the best way to enjoy a trip to these islands is simply relax by the sea.

GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Location : - Located in the Bay of Bengal, this group of 572 islands lies 193 km away from Cape Negrais in Myanmar, 1255 km from Calcutta, and 1190 km from Chennai. The two important groups of islets are Ritchie's Archipelago and Labyrinth Islands. The Nicobar Islands are located to the south of the Andamans, 121 km from the Little Andaman Island. Of the total 572 islands, only 36 islands are inhabited. The Islands are located between the latitudes 6 to 14 North and longitudes 92 to 94 East.

ACTS & FIGURES
Area : 8,249 sq km
Population : 280,661 (1997)
Religion : Hinduism (67.52%), Christianity (23.94%), Islam (7.60%), Others (0.94%)
Maximum Temperature : 31C
Minimum Temperature : 23C
Capital : Port Blair
Annual Rainfall : 3180.0 mm
Languages : Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Nicobarese, Telugu
Urbanization Ration : 26.80%
Per Capita Income : Rs. 12,653
Best Time to Visit : December to early April
Literacy Rate : 73%

Physical Features

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprise around 572 islands formed by a submarine mountain range, which separates the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea. The islands attain maximum altitude at Saddle Peak (730 m), formed mainly of limestone, sandstone, and clay.

Climate

The islands have a tropical climate. There is medium to heavy rain during the monsoon, in the months from May to mid September and November to mid December. There is no extreme climate except rains and tropical storms in late summer often cause heavy damage.

Flora and Fauna

The canopied rain forests of the islands harbor 3,000 species of plants including mangroves, epiphytes (130 ferns, 100 orchids), palms, woody climbers, timbers (teak, mahogany, Andaman paduk) and a wide variety of tropical fruits. Marine fauna is diverse including a wide variety of tropical fish and coral. Considering the diversity and uniqueness of fauna and flora and the fragile nature of the eco-system here, 96 sanctuaries spread over 466.218 sq km and nine National Parks spread over 1153.938 sq km have been notified on these islands.

HISTORY

Little is known historically about Andaman and Nicobar, a cluster of around 572 islands of which less than 50 are populated, stretching from the southern tip of Burma all the way down south till Sumatra in Indonesia. It is believed that Marco Polo was among the first from the West to set foot on one of the islands. Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha admiral had his base on the island in the early 18th century. From there, he attacked passing Portuguese, Dutch and English merchant vessels on their way to or from their various Asian colonies. In 1713, his navy even succeeded in capturing the yacht of the British Governor of Bombay. Despite many efforts by the British and later a joint military force of British and Portuguese naval forces, Kanhoji Angre was never defeated. He died in 1729.

The British established their first colony in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1789, which was abandoned in 1796. The British finally annexed the islands in the 19th century adding them to their empire. They turned it into a penal colony for Indian freedom fighters. The construction of the infamous Cellular Jail was completed in 1908. Hundreds of anti-British Indians were tortured to death or simply executed here. With the Second World War, Japanese troops occupied the islands and the local tribes initiated guerrilla activities to drive them out. When India achieved independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union.

PEOPLE

Ethnicity

Due to consistent emphasis of the government on progress and its encouragement to the mainlanders to settle there has resulted in the local tribes becoming a minority group in their own land.

The indigenous tribes are distinguished in two groups: the Onge, Sentinelese, Jarawa and Andamanese of Negroid descent living on the Andaman Islands and the Shompen and Nicobarese of Mongoloid descent living in the Nicobar Islands. Most of the tribes are on the verge of extinction. This sad destiny will most likely hit the Andamanese tribe first since their number is as low as thirty. The Sentinelese is the least studied tribe still living in isolation on the North Sentinel Island. Their number is estimated at 250. Outsiders attempting to make contact with them are driven away with bows and arrows. They continue to maintain a unique lifestyle living in harmony with nature just as they have done for thousands of years.

Arts and Crafts

The main crafts of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands include shell and exotic woods crafted for the tourists, palm mats, and beautiful natural shells. Due to the fear of over exploitation of the Islands' natural resources, trade of some products is now banned.

Fairs and Festivals

The islanders celebrate most of the festivals of the mainland due to the influence of the external society and the development that has taken place. Major festivals are Durga Puja, Pongal, Panguni Uthiram, and Onam. Other important festivals are Mahashivaratri, Janmashtami, Holi, Diwali, Christmas, Good Friday, etc.

The Island Tourism Festival is celebrated every year for 15 days between December and February in Port Blair. Dance performances from the troupes residing in different islands are organized. One of the major attractions at this festival is the Andaman Dog Show.

Attire

Being far removed from the present civilization, the aboriginal people did not wear any clothes till recently. The Sentinelese do not wear anything even now while the Jarawas use only adornments of bark and shell, like necklaces, arm bands, waist bands etc. The Shompens are semi nomadic and cover their body below the waist only. The people of Car Nicobar Island have totally given up the traditional dress of tassel or coconut leaf petticoat and now wear modern clothes. The Onges survived without dress for centuries but have gradually adapted to the dress code of the mainland. Use of traditional items of adornment like necklaces made of shell, waistbands and headbands of bark fiber are now restricted to ceremonial occasions.

Cuisine

All of the tribes of these islands were hunters till recently and some of them had not invented fire. Because of this reason no particular cuisine has developed in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Now, with increasing links with the developed worlds, the habitants are adopting their food habits too. Seafood is available in plenty and many restaurants serve fresh seafood.

 

TOURIST CENTERS

The most obvious reason to travel to the Andamans is to let oneself go completely, to recharge the body and collect new ideas. The Andaman Islands, despite lying more than 1,000 km east of the Indian mainland and only about 300 km west of Bangkok, run the same time as Delhi i.e. the Indian Standard Time. On a trip to these islands, one should make sure to bring a lot of good books, some strong sun lotion, a hammock and snorkeling equipment.

Port Blair, the only sizable town on the islands, serves as the administrative capital. The center of the town is the lively Aberdeen Bazaar. Constructed entirely of wood, it has been razed to the ground several times in the past. However, every time, reconstruction was completed in no time and now it is as colorful as ever. Port Blair is the only place to do some sightseeing. The major attraction here is the Cellular Jail, slowly being claimed back again by nature, overgrowing with plants and moss. Today, the jail is a memorial to the freedom fighters, who laid down their lives to make the country independent. The library here has some interesting books for those interested in knowing more about the indigenous tribes. The Anthropological Museum displays some tools, dresses and photos. An interesting place is the Marine Museum, which covers the history and geography of the islands and the Fisheries Museum displays the rich marine life of the Andaman Sea.

Day trips from Port Blair offer various natural and historical excursions. One can either take a boat to Ross Island, the early administrative center of the British, or hike up Mount Harriet. Scuba diving is an option available in Wandoor, 30 km southwest of Port Blair.

The easiest accessible islands from the capital are Neil and Havelock. Small boats leave the Phoenix Bay Harbor four times a week to Havelock, usually docking at Neil on the way. One can be escorted by a school of dolphins or spot giant sea tortoise and flying fish. It is worth spending a few days on Neil. Basic accommodation is provided in the small settlement near the jetty.

Havelock, lying north of Neil is one of the islands chosen by the government to turn into a luxurious tourist destination. The coral reef here is still intact and is what makes snorkeling a great pleasure. Only the northern part of Havelock is populated. To make it easy to remember locations, they are numbered from one to seven. The boat docks at no 1. The best accommodation is at no 5 and when one plans to take a stroll on a beautiful beach he should head for no 7 then turn left at the junction at no 3.

HOW TO REACH

By Air

Five weekly flights between Calcutta and Port Blair and four flights between Chennai and Vishakhapattnam connect the islands to the mainland.

By Sea

There are around three to four ships sailing between Haddo Jetty, Port Blair in the Andamans and Calcutta and Chennai on the mainland. There is one sailing from Vishakhapattnam every two months. The Shipping Corporation of India runs these sailings. The distances between Port Blair and some of the important cities on the mainland are Calcutta - 1255 km, Chennai - 1190 km and Vishakhapatnam - 1200 km

Local Transport

The Directorate of Shipping Services maintains regular inter-island foreshore and harbour ferry services to cater to the needs of inter-island commuters. There are local buses, bicycles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, and taxis available for local transport on the islands.

INFORMATION TIT-BITS

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a restricted area to visit, which, one needs to apply for a Special Permit, which is valid for one month. Even with the permit tourists are allowed entry into only some of the islands. The Nicobar Islands are completely off limit for non-Indians and on the Andaman Islands, the permit is valid only for Port Blair and its surrounding area, which includes South Andaman and the islands of Neil, Long, and Havelock and some villages on Middle and North Andaman. Any non-resident wishing to say there overnight must register at the police station beforehand.

The easiest way to get a permit is to apply together with the visa at any Indian Embassy abroad. If one decides to visit the island while in the country, he will have to apply at the Immigration Office at either Calcutta or Chennai.

STD/ISD and postal services are available at all the major islands. Internet facility is available at Port Blair. Money exchange is possible in Port Blair as there are several banks and moneychangers


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