The Andaman Islands
The opium of custom, whereof all drink and go mad.
Written over a hundred years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words echo through our current epoch; symbolized by the emergence of the virtual world, it’s endless vortices and rabbit holes of information, and the neurotic, omnipresent gaze of social media. Most young adults spend the lion’s share of their time in this digital stupor, but unsurprisingly, a counter movement is gaining momentum; one that seeks to redress the balance and go back to nature. As the pioneers of this philosophy set out in different directions, combing the continents and oceans for virginal, unspoiled lands, one such destination beckons them.
Little over 1000 kms east of our Indian shores lie the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Poised tantalizingly between primeval grandeur and human colonization, this remote & protected archipelago is slowly becoming the safe haven for a generation bedazzled by endless choice.
Text by Rahul Nadkarni & Kaamna Patel
Published by Condé Nast Traveler, India
Havelock Island Aerial view, as seen from Google Earth :
A rain-fed canopy devouring the shore. Mangroves rooted in lapping water. The rim of luminescent coral; home to Mantas, Barracudas, Morays and Black tips. The Andaman Sea. Electric blue, broken by the ticker of whitecaps, then emerald green and finally the grey and indigo undulations of the high seas. This is the first taste of the islands if you fly to Port Blair.
Benny Jacob, 44 & Lynda Ketting , 42 :
The couple first met at Benny’s shack-inspired Bangalore eatery in 1998; a time when the city was going through a seismic change, shedding its rustic past to support the burgeoning demands of the growing IT sector. Lynda, a native of Canada, soon began to miss the wide-open spaces and fresh air of her temperate home, reaching the conclusion that it was time for a change. Benny, similarly disenchanted with Bangalore’s metamorphosis, trained his sights on the Andamans in search of any business opportunities they could take up. In a fated sequence of events, they came upon a chance to manage the Wild Orchid Resort in Havelock. The owners of the property, the Jadwet family, were close friends of Benny’s family and banked on his hotel management experience to get the place running. Despite facing challenges organizing supplies and finding trained staff, The Wild Orchid opened its doors in 2001, a time when there were only two other resorts on Havelock. Since then, the couple has founded over ten other hugely successful properties including ‘Emerald Gecko’ on Vijayanagar Beach No.5 and ‘The Flying Elephant’ in Kalapathar. Through these enterprises, they have generated employment on the island for both the locals as well as skilled and passionate people looking to emigrate from the mainland. Their strikingly beautiful abode in Kalapathar is the perfect symbol for the understated opulence of the island; its wide-open wooden chambers and majestic lookouts standing in perfect harmony with the untamed surroundings. The photograph was made at their home.
Aerial View Forest detail, as captured from Google Earth:
A swathe of inky, umbral green. Florets of coconut palm, gurjan, padauk and marblewood. Grasping ferns, woody climbers, mosses and lichens darkening the land. Bronzebacks, kraits and spotted geckos stirring.
Chintan Purohit , 29 :
Fascinated by its rich tapestry of endemic life, Chintan left Ahmedabad to realize her vision of the Andamans; a series of imaginary landscapes and expectations far exceeded in her time on the islands. An employee of Reefwatch Marine Conservation, Chintan works closely with their education cell, teaching the local children about the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, sustainable practices they can setup and conducting livelihood training programs. Of all the joys of the island; the overgrown forests, kaleidoscopic sunsets and lustrous waters, her connection to the island is deepened by the sense of community that follows in tow with her work.
The photograph was made at the ReefWatch office in Chidiyatapu.
Roshni Yathiraj , 27:
After relocating to the Andamans from Mysore in 2011, Roshni has spent 80% of each year on the islands. Her deep love for the ocean; the hypnotic allure of its variegated blue and green waters is what made her stay. Working as a Marine Biologist and Project Officer at ReefWatch Marine Conservation in Chidyatapu, Roshni heads programmes like reef rebuilding and plastic recycling. She spends most of her time largely cut off from the mainland, given the tenuous connectivity on the island. Although this isolation can prove to be a challenge at times, waking up to the calming circadian white noise of the tides, discovering new, virgin beaches, dive sites and the constant interchange of stories with the island’s myriad visitors more than makes up for it. When asked about the fast multiplying load of tourist traffic to the Andamans, she predicts that the islands will be saturated very soon and struggle to sustain people’s need for creature comforts. So for anyone dreaming of a move there, time seems to be of the essence.
The photographs were made at Munda Pahar beach in Chidiyatapu.
Carnivorous deep sea creature resident of the Andaman Sea, the Nautilus shell is often used as an example of the Golden Spiral in geometry. The countershading exhibited by the light colours at the bottom and dark colours at the top help this creature avoid predators by blending into the deep sea when viewed from above, and into the light coming in when viewed from below. The chambered Nautilus is now an endangered species due to over fishing.
Photograph made on Vijayanagar beach
Rohan Vidyarthi, 32 :
Taciturn and retiring, the introvert in Rohan gave up on Mumbai last year and settled upon Havelock as his new home. Apart from being a talented photographer and music producer, Rohan works as an Iyengar Yoga teacher at the Flying Elephant, an eco-resort in Kalapathar. Living at ‘The Love Shack’ with a motley group of divers and expats, the only challenge he faces are the frequent power cuts. But in the heart of the unhurried outlook that typifies the place, he’s found a suitable work-life balance in Havelock; one that informs and progresses his creative practices. His family acknowledges his choice to move away from the city and its conventions, dubbing it ‘The Silent Revolution’; a choice that is already echoing across the current generation.
The photograph was made on Kalapathar Beach, famous for the outcrops of volcanic rock that define the coastline.
Gary Lyngdoh Manuel, 28:
The child of an English father and Indian mother, Gary was born and raised in Shillong. An early bloomer, he became financially independent at the tender age of 16, working jobs across numerous fields before ending up with Barclays Bank. But this metronomic routine soon grew tiresome, leading him to whimsically search Google for ‘fun jobs that pay’. The result that caught his eye and lead him to take the plunge was a chance to learn to dive and work with Temple Adventures in Pondicherry. Having completed his training with them, he visited Havelock 2 years ago. Taken by its unique assemblage of characters and Elysian setting, he decided to stay and take up a Dive Instructor position with Andaman Bubbles. He enjoys the communicative nature of the job and the wealth of social interactions it offers up. Financial security has been one of the challenges after switching his line of work, but for now he’s taking things as they come, allowing his diving experience to blaze the trail. For the most part, Gary enjoys the islands relatively primitive technological offerings, claiming it fosters an upswing of social interaction in its stead. The only issues he bemoans are the unpredictable ATM services and the ban on alcohol. Photograph made en route to Juvi’s Hideout, a popular open water dive site.
Coral Graveyard :
Decay and Regeneration. Formed in antlers and tusks of dead wood, rainforest cast offs adorn the sands of Kalapathar Beach. Between masses of basalt rock, stippled by nutmeg and cockleshells, you find stretches of coral graveyards; elkhorns and staghorns bleached by the rising ocean temperatures, overfishing, pollutants and sand mining. In stark contrast to the thriving marine habitats just a few miles offshore, the only signs of life here are the skittish movements of rock pool fish and roving migrations of hermit crabs.
The photographs were made at Kalapathar beach
Shantam Khanna, 28:
Enchanted by the islands, Shantam gave up his life in New Delhi to move to Havelock in September 2016 where he works as the Assistant Manager of Jalakara Resort. Inspired by the magnificence of the natural world that surrounds him, he spends his free time snorkelling and working on music. His lulling, textured, synth heavy pieces attest to his love for the creative process itself. When asked about the challenges he faces on the island, his answer is cryptic. “Being aware of what is, but not being swayed by it”.
The photograph is made on his porch with his cat, Sticker.
John Taye, 33 & Sarah Cattani, 34 :
After an unforgettable week spent in Havelock, John and his wife, Sarah, were captivated, and have been on the island for a month and counting. An interior designer by training, John left his home in Assam and moved to Pondicherry where in the process of applying for residency, he met Sarah, a freelance journalist from Luxembourg who also left her home in 2015 after quitting her job at RTL, the national television network in Luxembourg. The nomadic nature of her job paired with John’s love for photography prompted them to give up their temporary dwellings in Pondicherry and indulge their wanderlust for the foreseeable future. John now teaches various forms of yoga, including acrobatic yoga, at Cicada on Beach no.5, while learning to dive in his free time. The couple’s relationship with the island is still in its infancy and only time will tell how long they stay on. The photograph was made at Cicada on Beach No.5
Zanskar Watsa, 28:
This free spirited gadabout from Mumbai rejected all conventions and has been living on Havelock Island for over 4 years. Named after the northern valley, Zanskar worked at Andaman Bubbles as a Dive Master before moving on to manage the dive shop’s ancillary setup; Fat Martin Café. Doubling up as the fantastic jazz and blues singer on Open Mic Nights and resident DJ for the rest of the week, Zanskar turned the cafe into a nerve center for travelers and residents alike. Away from the chaos and distractions of the city, the island affords her both freedom of expression and a chance for personal exploration. If she isn’t travelling elsewhere, the only time she returns to the mainland is to escape the island’s off-season doldrums.
One of the most recognizable faces on the island; it comes as no surprise that she is endearingly known as Ms. Havelock.
The photograph is made outside her two level bamboo hut.