Andamanescapades
Eco Trips
Introduction

The word ecotourism is something that has only recently become a mainstay in the English language. Tours to rainforest, gamer reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries are growing in every region of the world. They go in tent camps, on safaris, to jungle lodges, and to rainforest resorts. Inspired by zoos and the throngs of animal themed television shows, people are taking to the jungles and savannas to see the earth's most fascinating creatures in the wild before it is too late.
At the going rate, some say the Amazon will disappear within the next few decades unless drastic measures are taken. Other forests and regions are in danger too. When these go places go, as do the habitats of all of our favorite and most unusual creatures. Although in some places tourism growth has threatened wildlife, in most cases it inspires many to conserve it.


  • ANDAMAN SCENARIO


    Mother Nature has been extremely kind enough to provide this Archipelago with Pristine white sandy beaches, densely forested mountains, ever green tropical rain forest and arguably the most traditional, and the oldest mankind or tribes makes it an exciting destination to watch –for.
    Forests cover about 84% of the islands’ geographical area the coastline of all the islands adds up to 1962 kms in length. It is bordered with luxuriant mangroves and magnificent fringing coral reefs. 
    A clean and pollution-free environment and lush green forests of the islands surrounded by blue sea water make Andaman & Nicobar Islands one of the most favored destinations for eco-tourism.
    Faunal distribution in these islands is influenced by fauna of both Indo-chinese and Indo-Malayan regions. Large mammals are absent in both Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Geographic isolation of these islands has resulted in high degree of endemism. The surrounding seas are equally rich in marine biodiversity. Endemism is more pronounced in land animals.

    MAMMALS

    Out of 55 terrestrial and 7 marine mammal species reported so far, 32 species are endemic. Common mammals found here are Andaman wild pig (Sus Scrofa andamanensis), Crab eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis umbrosa), Andaman masked palm civet (Paguma larvata tytlerii), Dugong (Dugong dugon), Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Whale (Balenoptera musculus), Spotted deer (Axis axis), Andaman spiny shrew (Crocidura andamanensis), Nicobar tree shrew (Tupaia nicobarica nicobarica), Andaman horse-shoe bat (Rhinolophus cognatus famulus), Lesser short nosed bat (Cynopterus brachiotis brachysoma), elephant (Elephas maximus) etc.

    BIRDS

    The rich avi-faunal diversity has always attracted ornithologists and bird watchers to these islands. As many as 246 species and sub species of birds are reported to inhabit these islands and of these 99 species and sub-species are endemic. Some important species are Andaman Teal (Anas gibberifrons albogularis), Megapode (Megapodius nicobarensis), Narcondum hornbill (Rhyticeros narcondami), Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica nicobarica), Green Imperial Pigeon (Ducula aenea), Nicobar Parakeet(Psittacula Caniceps), Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela), White-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), Edible-nest swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta), Emerald dove (Chalcophaps indica) etc. 


    REPTILES

    Sandy beaches of these islands are famous for turtle nesting. There are 76 terrestrial reptiles. Of these 24 species are endemic. Important species include four main species of sea turtles viz., Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata squamata), and Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Salt water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus),Water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator), Reticulate python (Python reticulatus), sea snakes and many other varieties of snakes including King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah).


    MARINE LIFE

    Due to its long coastal stretch, these islands have a very rich marine biodiversity. They harbour more than 1200 species of fish, 350 species of echinoderms, 1000 species of molluscs and many more lower forms of life. Among vertebrates, dugongs, dolphins, whales, salt water crocodiles, sea turtles, sea snakes etc. are common. Corals and Coral reefs are the most fascinating part of marine ecosystem here. So far 179 species of corals belonging to 61 genera have been reported. Reefs are mostly fringing type on eastern coast and barrier type on the western coast. Important genera include Acropora, Montipora,Pocillipora, Porites, Favia, Fungia, Gonopora, Millipora and Heliopora. Coral reefs are important breeding and nursery ground for fish and many other organisms and have been aptly called “The Tropical Rain forests in the Sea"


    Sea Turtle breeding areas


    Four species of sea turtles, leatherback, hawksbill, green and olive ridley, occur along the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, which consists of more than 300 islands with a coastline of about 1,962 km. And the Best time to witness this from November to March along the stretch of Andaman Islands . 

  • THINGS TO CONSIDER

    WEATHER

    The weather in many tropical destinations is often extremely hot and sticky. Rain can last for weeks and even during dry seasons a strong bout of rain can occur, therefore waterproof and easy drying clothing is a good idea. Protection from the sun in the form of hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are important in most rainforest locations, particularly those where you will be in rivers and lagoons. Cold fronts in many tropical destinations can occur on occasion, although these can be relatively rare.

    Emergency

    The biggest safety concern for eco tourists is not getting eaten alive by piranhas, but getting lost in the wilderness. Many tropical forests are huge swaths of land that go on for thousands of miles in every direction. If one is not careful to stick to marked trails or takes one wrong turn they can easily become lost in an almost impenetrable jungle where rescues are far from easy. The best way to prevent this type of mishap is to stick with your guide. If hiking on your own in the wild, satellite tracking systems such as GPS and phones and communication devices such as radios, walkie-talkies, and phones are excellent devices to have.

    Food and Water

    When traveling in a strange country eating strange foods and the chance to drink unfiltered water is quite common, as are certain ailments. Medicines to counter these travel illnesses are recommended such as antibiotics and diarrhea medicine. Only drink bottled water in tropical areas, as the chance for cholera and water borne diseases is still high in many tropical countries. If you cannot get bottled water or want to cut down on your plastic bottle waste try iodine tablets, purifying drops, or water filters.

    Medicine

    In tropical areas protection/vaccinations for malaria and yellow fever may be necessary. In Brazil you can't even enter the country or get a visa without a yellow fever vaccination. To combat malaria there are several things you can do. Malaria tablets such as doxycycline or mefloquine are recommended to prevent the sickness although you need to check which pill works in which part of the world as some mosquitoes are resistant to some medicines. The best protection against malaria though is basic protection against mosquitoes such as bug spray (best with DEET), mosquito nets, wearing long sleeves, mosquito coils, and the countless other remedies. Sand flies/no-see-ums are tiny little insects common in many tropical areas that dig into your skin and leave irritating little bites that turn into big red welts. There's no good way of stopping these nasty creatures except wearing long clothes. Some sprays and lotions may help, but none are one hundred percent effective. Always consult with your doctor before entering a strange country.

    Animal Bites

    Snake, spider, and other bites should be inspected and treated immediately. Local guides and doctors should be able to identify which species and the ensuing treatment. If possible, try to take a photo or remember as much information about the animal that you can. This will help a doctor in determining the kind of treatment necessary.

  • PREPARING

    Ecotourism Training

    It is one thing to see rare wildlife in their native habitat, but to actually understand how rare these brilliant creatures are and fully comprehend their behavior in certain situations is another. Read books such as naturalists' memoirs and wildlife guides are a good place to start. Try to feel what the experts do when they explore the rainforest. Be prepared to distinguish the subtle differences of species apart. Try to memorize charts of different plant and animal species in the destination you intend to explore, and then take the charts with you when you travel. Native literature is important as well to help understand the relationship the local people and tribes have with plants and animals.

    Attending lectures by scientists and experts at colleges, universities, libraries, and local clubs is also a good way to learn a bit more about what is going on. Take a visit your local zoo or botanical garden as well. Chances are they will have at least some of the flora and fauna you will be seeing when you take your trip.

    A good general fitness level is important to be an eco tourist. While many tours are simply just sitting on a boat, the majority involves a great deal of walking. This includes everything from hiking on volcanic beaches, following trails through the jungle or the steep hills of a cloud forest, slogging through thick mud, and light walking along gravel paths beside your resort or lodge. If hiking to isolated areas, you may need to be in great shape. You may be hiking up and down mountains, in extreme heat, and carrying a large load of food and equipment.

    Ecotourism Gear

    There is no piece of equipment that is absolutely necessary to be an eco tourist. The most memorable encounter you will have when looking for wildlife is that time that the animal happened to be sitting in the tree above you or crossed the path in front of you. There are a number of accessories that will make your trip easier and allow you to make the most of where you are.

    Binoculars are an easy tool that can give you a much better view of a bird or an animal. Considering you rarely can get too close to wildlife, binoculars will allow you to see the creatures while they are hundreds of yards away or hidden amongst the dense foliage of the rainforest. Similarly, zoom lenses on cameras will improve your photos significantly when shooting wildlife that is often very small or far away. Go for lenses no smaller than 200mm. Lenses that are 300mm, 400mm, or higher are recommended for shooting birds. Your point and shoot, even with a small zoom, can get you some decent shots too when animals are extremely close, but don't expect national geographic type shots.

    Wildlife/birding guides for identifying different species can be a great help. Mosquito repellents are a must. A flashlight for hikes in the night and walking around the lodge or campground is a good item to have. Long sleeved clothing, even better if waterproof, are good for protecting against the sun and creepy crawlies.

  • PACKAGES

    Andamans – We lead u onto an undiscovered another world in the remote part of this expansive archipelagos. Sign on for a mind-blowing experience, which we believe, is ‘one hell of a trip’ for hardcore travelers. The trip is planned to keep one away from the tourist map: to explore the hidden away treasures in the most unexploited of islands and faraway seas. Like every other getoff~ trip – this will be one unforgettable journey living the days that one would dream of as an adventure traveler.

    The trip will explore its initial days in a research base hiking, canoeing and camping on islands with researchers. Rest of the journey will take one through many unexplored areas, which are tourist free – trekking to the highest point Saddle Peak, exploring uninhabited islands and visiting unmapped lime stone caves. We will be connected and lead by local people throughout our journey to get a first-hand experience of the place and hear stories that a tour-guide would miss.

    This trip is a 13 daylong expedition and an unforgettable journey – we are sure it will change ones perspective of travel. Extensive research and recce trips have gone into designing this trip.

    Departure dates; 13 March Duration; 12-13 days – itinerary is subject to ferry timetables and permits. Cost of the trip – Rs 45000/- look forward to ur support as always – thank u

    The mailer from “Get Off Ur Ass” warned us that the place was addictive … and sure enough it is. The more time you spend on these beautiful islands the more it grows on you, drawing you into its lush tropical cocoon. At the end of the trip, without exception we were all not just planning but vowing to come back …..

    There were finally just four of us who signed up on this trip to the A&N islands, which turned out to be a godsend as these islands are definitely not geared to cater to large groups. So led by the intrepid explorer Santosh from “Get off ur Ass” off we went, a motley crowd of two Germans, a well known journalist from The Hindustan Times, Mumbai and a Tour operator who for a change was on a holiday. This two week journey would take us from the bustling town of Port Blair into the Middle Andaman’s and onto the less touristy, sleepy laid back Northern areas to finally wind up at Havelock for the grande finale on the beach. Our base for the first 3nts was at the ANET research centre in Wandur where we stayed at their camp site. ANET is the base of the Andaman & Nicobar Ecological team, set up by the Madras Croc bank in 1989 with the primary aim to conserve the natural bio diversity on these fragile islands and also take up social initiatives concerning the threatened indigenous tribes.

    Accommodation at ANET was in charming but comfortable, rustic bamboo huts on stilts, with twin beds in each hut and independent Indian style bathrooms, set away from the main buildings. Mosquito nets and coils are provided but one needs to bear in mind that being in the midst of a tropical jungle, you are quite likely to have nocturnal visitors like large Spiders, lizards, beetles and the like and while walking around in the dark a torch is essential - just so you don’t end up stepping on a snake who is out on a stroll!! Here, it was always Andre, one of the Germans who found the spiders and the snakes or rather they seemed to find him with unerring accuracy……

    The food at ANET was without doubt the best we had on the trip – Navin the cook conjured up the most simple yet delicious meals with fresh prawns, mussels, red snapper, country chicken & local veggies accompanied by rice, chapattis and the staple dhal. As the days went by we quickly found out that other than deep sea fish, other seafood like prawns, Squids and lobsters were all very hard to come by. Seeing that we were surrounded on all sides by the sea this came as a big surprise!! Likewise no fresh milk is available, as although there are cows here there is no systematic collection & distribution of the Milk, so it is always Milk powder in your Chai - no matter where you are.. However for those who have a sweet tooth this is a good place to be in, as even the smallest eatery/ restaurant set in the back of the beyond will serve you fresh Rasagoolas – a standing legacy from the Bengali settlers who can be found in every nook & corner of these isles. The other communities that have a fairly large representation here are the Moppilahs from Kerala, the Tamilians, Ranchis and the Karen community who were brought in from Burma by the Japanese.

    Based at ANET for 3nights our days were filled with activity and there was never a dull moment. The first day we trekked through a tropical forest down to the Knaidera beach – this set the prelude for the rest of the trip…… lush tropical jungles merging into the silvery, white sandy beaches that gently slope away into an unbelievably aquamarine sea. There is a wealth of marine life to be found on these beaches and it is a fascinating experience to walk through the rocky enclaves, carved out and smoothened by the sea. Picture postcard scenes are the order of the day here and it is often difficult to believe that we are not in a lost bit of Paradise!!

    The next day found us on a Dungy – the local motorized wooden boat to explore the Crocodile sanctuary and the Mangroves. However this boat cruise is more about observing and learning about the unique system of life that exists in the Mangroves than seeing Crocs, as in spite of being declared a Croc sanctuary in reality there are very few of them to be found here. On the way back we stopped to enjoy some impromptu snorkeling. The highlight of our stay in ANET was undoubtedly the evening we went hunting for Mussles in the swampy Mangroves, guided by the charming John who was our “Guru” here. This certainly was a very unusual experience for us city slickers and proved to be great fun! Was vastly amusing to watch everybody groping around gingerly in the thick gooey, grey mud to find the Mussels, while trying to combat and maintain their balance in the sticky mud which just sucks your feet in and clings to them. Each Mussel was greeted as a great find and a feeling of immense satisfaction, as it dawned on us that just like early man we were actually foraging for our food in the wilds…. Loaded with a huge basket of Mussels we headed back to the base camp to get them ready for dinner and what a meal it was!

    The fourth day we had a very early start, with the Germans having to take the ferry to Berating as foreigners are not permitted to drive through the Jarawa tribal reserve in taxis, although they can travel through if they are on the local bus!! There are fixed timings for the vehicle convoy to pass through the reserve, so you have to be there well in time. The drive through the reserve is very scenic and here we got our first glimpse of the beautiful Jarawas as they whizzed by in an open pick up truck – apparently they were getting a lift from the forest dept!! At the last check post in the reserve we again ran into a couple of young Jarawa girls and it was sad to see them proudly sporting necklaces with pendants made out of plastic Ponds talcum powder containers and empty Sprite bottles strapped across their backs!! To me this was a heartrending sight, as this was definitely not a positive outcome of our interaction with these beautiful, free people…..They really must be left alone to get on with their lives without any interference from the so called civilized world!

    We met up with our German friends at the Baratang ferry and after lunch at the local tourist guest house made our way to Mayabunder to a guesthouse called “ Sea & Sand”, which was to be our base for the next two nights. Painted in a cheerful fluorescent pink shade both inside & outside, the group promptly named this guesthouse the “Pink Panther”….

    On our first day here we set off with local guides to explore “Interview island” which can only be accessed by a 2hrs journey in a local Dungy boat, through waterways bordered by lush mangroves which open out to the sea. These Dungy boats literally just skim over the water and although they do tilt & rock the locals assured us that they never tip over. The evening boat ride back to the mainland in the dark was a magical experience – as the sun set and the stars came out the only sound was that of the motor and the surf, as the boat skimmed like a bird over the inky black waters bordered by the brooding mangroves!

    “Interview island” was where we trekked to the West coast accompanied by armed paramilitary guards which are a similar set up like the BSF. You cannot explore this island without being escorted by them, just in case there is a run in with poachers or the elusive Elephants which live deep in these forests. The trek here in itself was a lovely one and not too tough. Enroute to the top, we stopped to see the Bats cave, which was quite an experience for those of us who ventured in. The most memorable thing that happened to me on this trek was having to walk back to the forest base camp with only one floater, as the other one gave way!! I will never forget the feel of my one bare foot sinking into the thick carpet of leaves, to grope and find a foothold amongst the multitude of entwined roots that crisscrossed the wet, slippery forest floor – sensual, tactile impressions but unnerving as I was never quite sure as to what my bare foot would encounter…

    Finally we were off to Diglipur which is a small, dusty town located in the farther most ends of the islands. In and out of ferries, we finally reached Diglipur and went on to explore Smith & Ross which are uninhabited twin islands connected by a sand bar. This beach was a dreamscape – absolutely beautiful and with surprisingly very well appointed facilities given that it is literally in the middle of nowhere. The myriad blues of the sea here is sheer magic and the water is so inviting - warm on the surface but cool in its depths,calm and clear it is difficult to resist and stay out of it even for a minute. This is a popular spot for day trippers but we were lucky to have the place more or less just to ourselves and it was with carefree abandon that we explored the beach, went snorkeling, collected shells and trekked up through the jungle to explore the abandoned lighthouse. A picnic lunch and plenty of fresh Coconut water saw us through the day and it was with great reluctance that we left these islands at sunset to head back to the mainland. For the night we checked into “The Turtle resort” a typical govt run modern monstrosity, which offers basic but comfortable a/c accommodation. Being run in the usual inflexible bureaucratic style, meals etc have to all be ordered well in advance or else you will just have to go hungry!

    Next day saw us all up at the crack of dawn and as we got ready to leave there was a tangible tension in the air as this was the day we were going to scale the highest peak in the Andaman’s – Saddle Peak (732mts). We had all been discussing & looking forward to this trek, having been warned in advance that it would be a tough one and sure enough it was! I had to turn back halfway as it was just too steep a climb and the stifling tropical heat was oppressive. My two friends who did made it to the top confirmed that it had only got tougher by the minute and said they found themselves wondering why on earth they were putting themselves through this ordeal on a holiday!! Incidentally, the 3km walk across the rocky beach and through the forest to the base of the peak is also a beautiful stretch and well worth the visit, even if you cannot make it right up to the top of this fabled peak. We returned to the resort for lunch and a well earned rest after a very active morning.

    Late night found us at the nearby beach to see newly hatched turtles being released into the sea… was a very heartwarming experience to be able to cradle them in the palm of your hand before releasing them into the incoming tide and watch them make their way out into their new world, flaying frantically with their little fins as they swam to freedom .. Freedom at midnight??

    It was now time to turn back from the Northern parts of the islands to Havelock and Port Blair. So in the morning after a late breakfast we headed back to Rangat to stay in the “Hawks Bill” tourist guesthouse, another nondescript govt run place but again the best available. We had to stay here for the night in order to catch the only ferry to Havelock which was scheduled for the next day morning.

    On to Havelock by ferry which took a good 4hrs stopping enroute at some very picturesque islands. Although there is an A/c seating arrangement in the hull of the ferry, I found it better to spend most of the time on the top deck where even though it does get hot, there is always a fresh sea breeze to cool you down. Havelock is the most popular beach destination in the Andaman’s and as expected overrun with tourists. Here we stayed in a pleasant little place called “Sea Shells” which had a/c rooms but not much by way of a beach. Mopeds and scootys were hired to explore the island and visit the beautiful beaches nearby - definitely the best way to get around out here… Visited the Elephant training camp only to find it totally deserted but on our way back to our resort we were lucky to run into the camp Elephants tethered in the shade near the beach – made for some good photos with these graceful animals silhouetted against the sea.

    There are excellent facilities run by professionals for all kinds of water sports at Havelock, like Scuba diving, Deep sea fishing, Snorkeling and Sea kayaking. So whilst one of the group went off to do a Scuba diving course the rest of us went Sea kayaking. In spite of the fact that there were no apparent safety measures in place for the same, kayaking through the lush, silent Mangroves with the Jungles rising up in the distance and ending up cruising in the open sea proved to be a fantastic experience and 2 hours too short a time. Surrounded by such beautiful, mesmerizing scenery this cruise called for a retake.

    At Havelock the group split and went its separate ways with each one finally finding their way back to Port Blair by the ferry. It is best to take the Speedboat in the evening as the noon Ferry is very slow and reaches Port Blair at the same time as this Speedboat does!! Due to the ferry timings from Havelock, one will have to spend the last night at Port Blair to connect with the onward flts to Chennai / Calcutta.

    This was a fascinating, unforgettable trip, well researched and put together by “Get off Ur Ass” to offer the jaded traveler just the right amount of activity peppered with unusual experiences…. Kamini Chandran (2466 words)


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