Tranquility at its best: Neil Island
Imagine a view of turquoise blue seas along a golden sandy beach, frolicking in the blue waters at heart’s content! An awesome sunset is viewed at the backdrop natural rock bridge and the clearly a paradise for the scuba divers and snorkelers. Neil Island located in Ritchie’s archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar islands boasts of all these things and much more!
The island covers an area of mere 18.9 square kilometers and stretches to a maximum length of 5 kilometers. But Neil springs surprise for travelers, tourists and backpackers alike in its offerings. The Island comprises of 5 villages with population of approximately 3000. The place is still back in time. There are no ATMS, internet signals and mobile signals are also few and scattered. Neil is completely in contrast from the flamboyant Havelock. While Neil is calm, serene and still tucked away in time, Havelock is the bustling tourist spot offering a luxurious holiday. Just a few kilometers from each other, but Havelock and Neil are almost opposite in character. Neil is just a somnolent gem of the Andamans where time has also decided to take a break.
The entry to Neil is the Bharatpur Jetty. The Government ships and the cruises plying from Port Blair are the only way to get in Neil. Nowadays, ships are plied from Neil to Rangat also.
The primary attraction of Neil Island is the Bharatpur sea beach. A pristine beach bordered by a few shady trees and followed by a clear blue sea being kissed the blue skies. The Bharatpur beach is the perfect place for swimming and lazing around. You can also go for scuba diving and snorkeling from this beach. And those who do not want to venture into the seas, a glass bottom boat ride will show them the spectacular marine life. The coral reef is alive and we could view the most colourful fishes swimming in and out of the reefs here. We lost the count of the varieties of fishes we saw!
The natural rock bridge is the next wonder in this little island. The bridge is called the Howrah Bridge by the local people. It is near the Laxmanpur village (Well, the names seem to be taken from the Ramayanas!).
During the low tide the sea retreats back and the coral reefs reveal their wondrous self. The underwater marine life is also at your footstep (literally). So we decided to walk over the slippery rocks and to view the marine wonders with leisure! Vividly colourful fishes were darted about in the rocky pools. The starfishes lazily extended their tentacles.
There are sea anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, mollusks and many others whose name I do not know. But the corals were the most captivating!
There were green corals, boulder like corals, red coloured corals among them. We felt that we were in a giant natural aquarium.
There are not one but two natural bridges and we walked down to the second bridge cautiously through the rocks and corals.
But climbing the second bridge should be avoided because of sea snakes and huge crabs present there!
Well, I almost touched one snake as I tried to climb the second bridge! The moment I realised that it was a snake (and there were many of them there), I promptly climbed down and hurried back to safety. The sunset viewed from this beach is quite engaging.
The Laxmanpur beach no.1 is a secluded place in the morning. It poses a pacific and tranquil picture in the day. Just imagine yourself alone in stretches of silvery sands and blue waters meeting the blue skies a if in conspiracy!
Come evening and the place is altogether different abuzz with people coming to view the extraordinary sunset. It is a spectacle to see the sun set against the blue seas and colouring the sky orange and red. We just sat back and relaxed in the clear white sands of the beach and watch the sun set in peace. The serenity of the sea exuded from our souls too.
Finally the lesser known beach of Neil Island is the Sitapur Beach (again the Ramayanas!). This is the place to watch the sunrise. So the next day we started for the Sitapur Beach early in the morning past the green field. This beach is in the eastern part of the island. Very few people go to this beach and we were the only one in the beach lined by trees! At the end were huge rocks jutting out of the sea. This place was damaged by the 2004 Tsunami and it still bears its marks. We walked slowly over the soft sand with the water rippling at our feet. Nothing can be as beautiful and tranquil than watching the sun rise slowly covering the sky as well as our lives with light! Sitapur beach is my personal favourite.
The entire Neil Island is a beauty in itself. All the villagers know each other. Each of them has a tale to tell. The people are simple there; we just went to them and chat for hours. They were very happy to share their life stories with us. One such person we met was Sadhana Di who was definitely an inspiring figure in the village. The best place to eat at Neil Island is the “Mega Restaurant” run by Sadhana Di. It servers Bengali platter and a host of sea food delicacies like crab, prawn and sea fishes. There are other eateries mainly with the resorts. But our favourite was the Mega Restaurant. Sadhana Di was so kind to us, she used to take us to her store and ask us “Which fish shall I cook for you?” I used to point at one and voila… it would be on our plate!
The resorts of the Neil Island too are not yet totally commercialized. It still had the homely atmosphere. We stayed at The “Cocon Hut Resort”. It had a garden which eventually led to the sea through the mangrove creeks. Most of the resorts were adjoin to the beaches.
The main market of the island was in the middle – “Neil Kendra”. It had the marketplace and the only bank of the island – the SBI. The Ramnagar village was a little distance from Neil Kendra and was a little more populated than the rest of the island.
We had borrowed a scooty for Rs.400/- per day and travelled the length and breadth of the island with it and as we rode our way through the island we met different people. A little boy stopped us saying “Will you have mangoes?” My curiosity got the better of me and I said yes. He then ran to his garden, plucked mangoes from the trees and gave them to us. The mangoes did not cost much but the experience of having mangoes this way was priceless. We were also invited to go for fishing with the villagers!
The Neil Island, untouched by the noise and cacophony, still holding its old charm springs surprise at every step. The virgin beaches which eventually became one with the azure seas, the vast horizons, the sea sports are not the only beauties of this island. The village, their people all has their own stories which make the island a unique place. We left the island taking wonderful memories and with the vow to visit the island again.
So, when are your planning your trip to the Andamans? Please feel free to ask us your queries.