The Andamans Deconstructed with Nayantara Jain

Marine conservationist Nayantara Jain took us on a discovery of the Andaman Islands in our series Away From Home. Here’s her take on the Andamans — deconstructed.

How are the Andaman Islands different from the rest of India?

They’re much closer to Burma, Thailand and Indonesia and they are further east to peninsular India. And that reflects in everything from the colour of the ocean, to the vegetation that grows there, and the kind of trees and birds you find there. Yeah, so life in general, looks a lot more like the South East Asian part of the world.

Who are the Karens? Can you tell us a bit about the other worlds?

The Karens are a Sino-Tibetan language-speaking ethnic group, and reside primarily in Kayin state, southern and southeastern Myanmar. They were brought in to the Andamans by the British. But some of the older tribes like the Jarawahs and the Onge people have been living in the Andamans for thousands of years. We’re not entirely sure how they even got there. Some anthropologists believe that the Sentinelese people who live on one of the islands, came to the Andamans as part of the first great human migration out of Africa.

What is the best time to go experience the Andamans?

The best time to visit the Andamans is between the months of December through to March. By April, it starts to get quite hot.  But the water is beautiful at that time. It’s crystal clear; it’s like a lake with barely any waves. You almost don’t need to dive to see what’s going on under the ocean.

What adventures are waiting to be discovered at the Havelock Islands?

You can dive, snorkel and go kayaking. There are some gorgeous walks and treks that the locals run. Guides can take you bird-watching, chasing lizards, and to experience all types of water activities. If you like to stray off on the beaten track, I would suggest going to the Little Andamans where you can also do a lot of these things. And also maybe surf a little and really be away from the rest of the touristy crowd.

It’s only the remoteness of the Andamans that afford it this protection. I think as more and more of us start visiting the Andamans on holidays, we’d continue to recommend them to other people. It’s equally important that we do so knowing that the infrastructure that is in place is geared to protect the island from our impact. This is something that we need to do ourselves, consciously. Each one must play his/her part. You try not to buy mineral water as far as possible and refill your water bottles. Many cafes have RO plants and they would happily refill your bottles up if asked. When you buy snacks and memorabilia, try to buy locally made items from the local shops. Obviously, it goes without saying, be careful not to litter. Pick up stuff that you see on the beach so it doesn’t wash into the ocean.

How should one treat the Andamans when they visit there?

What is Reef Watch?

Reef Watch is an NGO that I run. It was established in 1993 by Prahlad Kakar and his wife Mitali Kakar. Reef Watch is one of the few NGOs in the country that is focussed entirely on protecting India’s ocean and the life inside it. Some of the work I do through Reef Watch involves researching coral reefs and coral reef organisms, awareness building. If marine conservation interests you and inspires you, then there’s a lot of ways that you can be involved with the world that we do.

Photo Courtesy: TheVibe Originals Media Library, Sukesh Vishwanath, Pranshu Dubey.

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