Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Greener Side of Andamans - Part-1

I'm not still sure which itch I enjoy most the most. A friendly leech bite in a rain forest or a sandfly nip on the beach. One thing I know, the friendly leech does not transmit any disease but the sandfly does. So if you plan a trip to Andaman's beaches make sure you pack some insect repellent along with your sunscreen lotion!

Having said that, I'm sure you are wondering why you are reading a blog about Andaman's friendlies in a page for woodcrawlers. Yes, this should rightfully fit in my earlier blog on Andaman because the word itself conjures up images of white sandy beaches and blue seas. However is has found it's place in the Woodcrawler's Journal because my trip this time had an agenda the did NOT include the beaches! I wanted see what Andaman's rain forests hid from our eyes, so this would be a trip to test the terrain for future trips!

Havelock Island has the best beaches in the Andaman's and the Radhanagar beach (Beach No.7) is reputed to be one of Asia's best. I had been here earlier, courtesy my sis & bro-in-law, and this time too I would not have been standing on this beach if not for their pushing!

4th September, 2013

I wasn't there for a holiday. I was doing a short trip of the islands because my brother-in-law's latest book, 'Adrift', was set in Andaman's. Since the book was based on a real life incident and most of the people involved were still in the Andaman's it was appropriate that the book also had an official launch in the place the events unfolded.

I had three and a half days to squeeze in a bit of green with the blue. I was probably the only person who got off the flight on 4th September with the intention to avoid the beaches and take in the greenery of Andaman instead! Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men are bound to go awry occasionally. For starters, the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands had not been able to give a time so I couldn't fix up anything. Since the entire trip was centered around this event I had to be flexible. I wasn't sure how to be flexible, especially when the places I wanted to go to were is extremely different directions and sometimes across the sea.

Chidya Tapu or 'bird island' needed an overnight stay because evening wasn't ideal in Andaman's in September. Rains and the early sunset would ensure photography was severely restricted. I was told that a four hour trek in the morning would yield results not only in the form of birds but also reptiles. Unfortunately, that never happened because of our fluid agenda. I only got to make a quick evening trip.

Munda Pahar beach

In that half an hour I spent there I saw the emerald pigeon, black eagle, red breasted parakeet, Andaman wood pigeon, collared king fisher, a long tailed parkeet and what looked like an Andaman crake (but I'm not sure because it disappeared into the mangroves quickly). The last five are endemics in these islands. Photographing was an exercise in futility because of the weather and low light. Not only that, I had made the mistake of leaving my favourite birding lens, the Zuiko 300mm 2.8 + EC20 2x teleconvertor behind. I thought, since I was on a short trip I would be better off with less baggage! What a regretful decision?

Here are a few bird pics from Chidiya Tapu......not good at all, but will pass muster as record shots!

Andaman wood pigeons, (too far into the mangroves for a good shot).

Red breasted parakeet

Collared kingfisher

Long tailed parakeet
This pic below is just to show you how bad the light can get in the evenings.
Unedited pic (except resizing), to show the light at 5.12 PM in Chidiya tapu

If you are going birding in Andamans keep the following in mind.
  1. Never combine it with beach trips! Decide if your priority is birds or beaches! 
  2. Days start early, by 5 AM, and night falls quickly. It is almost pitch dark by 5.30 -5.45 PM!
  3. Carry your birding gear, however heavy it might be.
  4. Leave your slow lenses behind (see point 2 above).
  5. A 300mm lens will become a cropper here. Even the 400mm without a TC will be a tad inadequate. The trees in the Andamans are 'HUGE'. You could probably kiss the clouds if you climbed them so if the birds land on the top branches as they always do, you would really have a hard time! 
I know you are laughing, but the fact is, I goofed up and I want to make sure you don't! This was only day one. If you are a true Woodcrawler, you'll have the patience to wait for the next part.....Onam is here. Let me celebrate with my family.

Note: All the words highlighted in reddish-pink are links. Please click them for more info

Travel Facts:

  • The best option to get to Port Blair is by air unless you want to take  long ocean voyage! 
  • All flights land & take off before afternoon because landing and taking off with heavy tail winds is a problem for aircraft
  • This means you land around lunch time and leave before lunch! Since it gets dark early there is very little you can do on the day you land. You can take drive to nearby spots like the Corbyn's cove, visit the marine museum, shop and top off the evening with the Sound & Light show in the Cellular Jail. 
  • Chidiya Tapu is 25 kms from Port Blair. The only place to stay is the Forest Rest House for which the booking is done at the Chief Wildlife Warden's office in Port Blair . A new resort is coming up, owned by Commander Baath who figures in the book 'Adrift'. 
  • Early morning is the best time for birding. You can go scuba diving or snorkeling off Chidya Tapu rest of the day. You can contact Karan Baath, son of Commander Baath for your diving needs.

1 comment:

Jayaraman said...

Good write up, Doc- Regards Jay