(Originally published in Mid-Day, April 2016)
A complete non-touristy guide to Havelock Islands
“Four days in Havelock?” Travel agents will likely give you a bewildered look if you say that you plan to stay 4 days in Havelock. They would not recommend more than one night in Havelock. Unless you are on a diving training course or a self-planned extended honeymoon. In typical tour packages, the island is just a morning-evening affair.
Named after the British General Henry Havelock, this tiny island is towards the north-east of Port Blair (capital of Andaman & Nicobar Islands) and about an hour by ferry. With its pristine beaches and azure blue sea, Havelock has become a popular tourist destination in the recent years. Especially after Time magazine ranked the Radhanagar beach as Asia’s best in 2014.
One can cover the whole island (that is, the accessible areas) through its one road that starts at the jetty and forks into two at Govind Nagar market—one leading to Radhanagar beach and the other to Kalapathar village.
There are 7 beaches in Havelock, each represented by a number (Beach 1, 2, and so on) or the village name. The prominent ones are the Radhanagar (Beach 7), Elephant, and Kalapathar. Most resorts are along the road that connects Havelock jetty to Kalapathar beach. A typical tourist itinerary will touch these three. Elephant beach is accessed by a boat from Havelock Jetty as there is no road to this beach.
So, what will you do in Havelock for 4 days?
For starters, one can get lost in dreams or just be one with the nature, lying on a beach for hours together. Have books and beer for company, though optional. And if you get bored with one beach, take off on a rented bike (easily available and fuel is cheaper as this is a union territory) to the next.
When you’ve had enough of daydreaming, reading, and being one with nature, slip into the water for a great swim (the best being Radhanagar). The water is so clear and shallow that you could walk beyond the waves break, turn back, and watch the waves froth and hit the beach. Float in the gentle swell of waves, while watching out for the occasional huge wave that breaks earlier and throws you off balance. Or swim along the waves, and for more thrill, parallel to the waves. It’s safe. If you venture beyond a point, lifeguards will holler out.
Or go for diving every morning, but it will make your pocket much lighter. Most resorts have a tie-up with the 2–3 key diving operators. Dive India is the most respected and offers long- and short-term training courses as well.
If other water sports is what enthralls you, head to Elephant beach. Take a boat from the main jetty at Havelock in the morning, reach the Elephant beach, finish all activities, and return.
If you are craving for a little adventure, take the less-trodden path—a 2-km trek through the lush rainforests to reach Elephant beach. Somewhere on the road from Govind Nagar to Radhanagar, a trekking trail starts and disappears into the forest. A bus waiting shed is the landmark. Local villagers hang around here and accompany you as paid guides to traverse this trail. If it is post-monsoon, be ready for ankle-deep slush. Venture only if you have a good pair of shoes. The mostly unmarked trail ends where the thick green foliage gives way to the sandy marshes dotted with stumps of dead trees. And soon the blue waters of Elephant beach appear.
On your way to Kalapathar, after the last beach resort also disappears from your rear-view mirror, the long road flanked by tall trees on one side and sea on the other offers a beautiful ride. Kalapathar beach less-crowded compared to Radhanagar. Ahead of the beach, the road climbs up and before long, it is lush paddy fields. The road takes you to Kalapathar village.
If mornings and evenings are for beach hopping, afternoons and late evenings can be set aside for restaurant hopping.
Though Radhanagar is the most beautiful beach, there are no good eating places nearby. Other than the restaurant in the Barefoot resort and a small vegetarian café near the beach, there are only shacks that serve basic food. Good enough to recover the energy spent swimming.
Eateries of all types and budgets dot all along the road from Havelock Jetty to Elephant beach.
At the Barefoot Bar and Brasserie near Havelock Jetty, sit in the first-floor restaurant and take in a good view of the jetty. In the late evenings, instead of taking the rented bike, carry a torch and enjoy long walks before hitting one of the restaurants.
Anju Coco restaurant is between Beaches 3 and 5. It serves Indian and Chinese. Ambience is good and so is the food. Neatly designed layout also includes floor-level seating..
The Full Moon Cafe, run by the couple Adil and Niamh, is in the Dive India resort premises. Great ambience and great food. Plastic is banned here and they serve RO water in glass bottles. Adil, who is originally from Kolhapur, left his corporate job in Mumbai to start this cafe in 2006.
One of the evenings, we visited the local vegetable market, which is built in front of a temple. And found a shop that sells Banofi pie. The misspelled name got the better of us to try it out. Like the spelling, the recipe also might have been wrong!
And if all these are done with, spend some time spotting the live sea shells, befriending them, and chatting with them. Live shells on the beach are a rare find but beaches in Havelock are full of these living shells of myriad colours, sizes, and shapes crawling around. They play dead the moment they sense movement. Wait patiently and they will start moving again. Guess the high tide leaves them stranded on the beach
The wonderful beaches, lush rainforests, and good food—our 4 days in Havelock was worth every dime.
The wonderful beaches, lush rainforests, and good food—4 days in Havelock is worth every dime.
Reaching Havelock: Havelock can be reached by ferry service from Port Blair. Advance booking needed. Resorts normally arrange it for you on request.