Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to announce our first guest post on the NileGuide blog by accomplished travel writer Tony Perrottet. Tony is the author of four books, including Napoleon’s Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped, The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games, Off the Deep End: Travels in Forgotten Frontiers, and Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists. He’s also a regular contributor to international publications including Smithsonian Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Esquire, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, the New York Times and the London Sunday Times.
Back from the Edge of India
I’m just back in icy NYC after a wild assignment for Condé Nast Traveler to the (very warm) Andaman Islands. They’re a part of India – about 550 sandy little dots in the Bay of Bengal, surrounded by reefs. Nobody knows much about them, which is part of their appeal; foreigners couldn’t even explore them until 1995.
They’re one of the last frontiers of world travel – only eleven of the islands are inhabited, and you get about on a combination of ferries and dungis, carved wooden canoes that are manned by Karan tribesmen (Burmese who were brought over to the archipelago by the British about a century ago, when it was settled as a prison colony – Devil’s Island of the East. Before that, the islands were home to four Stone Age people distantly related to Africans, who had been cut off from the outside world for tens of thousands of years; some of the last tribes have only just come into contact, see www.survival-international.org).
It was a pretty incredible trip – anyone heading over to India should consider adding a week in the Andamans at the end, since they’re very laid-back and a great way to decompress after the chaos of the mainland.
I started off in Port Blair, a crumbling colonial relic (the word “Maugham-esque” barely captures how sleepy the place was) and headed over to Havelock Island, where there are some small-scale backpacker hostels (bamboo huts on stilts) and one thatch-roof “jungle resort,” called Barefoot. I got to swim with an elephant, which was pretty surreal – I still can’t quite believe it. (Rajan is the last one left over from logging days, when the pachyderms were all over the islands). There’s some of the world’s best diving on the islands – 120 foot visibility underwater – and only a fraction of the reefs have been explored. My favorite part was a three day camping trip in the uninhabited outer islands; I headed out with an Indian guide and his Austrian girlfriend, plus five Karan tribesmen, to pitch tents on a lonely stretch of sand called Long Island, snorkeling, drifting about on a kayak, and hiking in the rainforest.