Andaman and Nicobar Information
Capital: Port Blair
Languages: Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Nicobarese, Telugu
The name of Andaman and Nicobar Islands brings to our mind an image of palm trees, white beaches, green forests, sound of waves breaking on a coral reef, and chirping rare birds. It has many islands, islets and rocks, It is also home to some of the oldest tribes in the country. Though facilities for trekking, diving and snorkeling are available here, the best way to enjoy a trip to these islands is simply relax by the sea.
Geography of Andaman and Nicobar
Andaman and Nicobar Islands are located between the latitudes 6° to 14° North and longitudes 92° to 94° East. 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. A cluster of total 572 islands, only 36 islands are inhabited.
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.
Brief History of Andaman and Nicobar
The documented history about Andaman and Nicobar is limited. 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.
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.
Government of Andaman and Nicobar
As a Union Territory, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is nominally under the direct control of the Indian Head of State. In practice, the position of Lt. Governor is appointed to directly administer the territory.
The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a vast forest resource base with 7,171 sq km of the total area of island covered by forests. A large variety of timber is found in the Andaman group of islands.
The Islands have reported the occurrence of diatomaceous earth, gold, limestone, nickel, selenite and sulphur. The Oil And Natural Gas Commission is continuing the exploration for oil and gas there.
The Union Territory has a number of small scale, village and handicrafts units. The number of export-oriented units is also increasing in the agro-processing sectors.
The Andaman and Nicobar Integrated Development Corporation has made its presence felt in civil supplies, tourism, fisheries, industries, and industrial financing activities. Around 50,000 hectares of land is under cultivation here.
Paddy is the main food crop and is mostly cultivated in the Andaman group of islands, whereas coconut and areca nut are the main cash crops of the Nicobar group of islands.
Different kinds of fruits such as mango, sapota, orange, banana, papaya, pineapple and some root crops are also grown on the islands.
Andaman and Nicobar Travel Information
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.
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.
Arts & Culture in Andaman and Nicobar
The 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.
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.
Festivals of Andaman and Nicobar
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. 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.
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