Havelock Island was the first island I arrived to exactly 14 years ago, when I first heard about the hidden magical Andaman Islands, a place once totally pure and which I was carrying with me for so many years.
Now it has changed a lot and become more of a tourist destination, lines of Resorts and Guest houses in different forms and shapes, with a mix of local Indian package tourists, or main stream western tourists that come for a short vacation, together with young backpackers who look to extend their Goa experience in the beautiful tropical Andaman islands.
The untouched virgin magic of Havelock Island is gone but the beauty surely is still there.
After the first shock upon arrival we decide to switch our expectations as fast as we can and enjoy the place and what it can offer, it is after all still a beautiful island with stunning beaches & jungle, clean crystal clear water and superb diving spots to explore.
If you don’t have any reference to compare before and now, Havelock Island is still an unforgettable place to spend a vacation.
We soon find that it is not really very hard to blend into the easy life and slow tempo the island has to offer, waking up almost every day at five o’clock in the morning to see the beautiful morning sun appear slowly from the sea in warm colors, walking peacefully on the long stretches of beach no 5, passing the many different types of resorts along the beach, all blended into coconuts plantations, still very beautiful, although you already see the appearance of plastic and glass bottles in many places, often piled up, either left behind or drifted ashore from boats. A dreadful side-effect of tourism on a place which has no infrastructure for recycling. It is high season and all places are full, and the owners keep raising the prices as they wish, and ask for simple rooms anything from 500RP for a shackle, to over 10,000RP (10-200$). After stopping in few guest houses and hearing that they are fully booked, or giving us ridiculous over priced quotes from 2500RP and up for small and none attractive rooms, we are very lucky to manage to get a simple room with attached bathroom in a place called Orient for 800RP, not worth it normally but now we grab it with two hands. No point even to argue about the price, the owner doesn’t bother to answer our question and simply say take it or leave it, they know it wont stay empty even for one hour.
The place is full of friendly backpackers, 50% Israelis and 50% from other places around the world. Havelock island is surely dominated by Israeli travellers and local Indian middle class package tourists, who have heard about Havelock in a popular Hindi movie with one of the top movie stars and they now arrive to see the wonder, swim with the swimming elephant and make fun dives, although many of them don’t even know how to swim and are literally taken by hand under water by a dive master, from one spot to the other. We meet many sweet and interesting people in the Orient and specially Lin and Kai are very happy to have the opportunity to speak Hebrew and Dutch with so many people and feel home again.
Our next days are mainly filled with long hours on the beach, meditation, book reading, snorkeling and diving, and great food. We are trying all different restaurants between villages no 3 and 5, from very local places to the up scale places, Anju, Gita, Swapan for the excellent fresh fish dishes they serve and the Meridian & Orient for the great and rich breakfasts, those are our favorites, and in addition to this I often buy fresh fishes at the local market and which either are cooked for us in a tandoori oven or I make a Ceviche with fresh Tuna fish, made into a spicy raw fish-salad with loads of lemon, herbs & mango. Real Yummy delicatessen.
It is a great opportunity for swapping good books with other travelers, and in a week time we finish 3-4 good books each, Lin is deeply into Shantaram, a one thousand page novel based on a true story of the author, Gregory David Roberts, in India, one of the best books I read in the recent years. Meditation with the family on the beach every morning and exploring the island with the bicycles we rented which bring us to different, more secluded places and become part of our daily exercise .
The next days we make our way on bicycles to beach no 7, where I camped in the fairytale-like forest by the beach for 2 weeks in my first visit to Havelock 14 years ago. The beach, the lagoon and the majestic forest are still stunning, surely the best Havelock can offer. Since there are almost no places to sleep and none are on the beach itself, not that many people are around.
Jungle Resort, the first guest house that was established about 2 years before my arrival with few simple huts, is now transformed into the most expensive resort on Havelcok island belonging to Barefoot group that owns several successful enterprises on the island including Barefoot resort and dive center on beach 5, internet shop and B3 restaurant in front of the Jetty. We have the opportunity to meet and become friends with Susheel the founder of Jungle resort and his sweet Austrian partner Ullie, to be invited to their house and spend some time with them, and to hear about the life on Havalock and how complex is to run a business in India with lots of bureaucracy and power often in the hands of the wrong type of people. Susheel and Ullie are beautiful, openhearted people that runs their business with passion and good will, whom we are happy we meet and become friends with. Susheel is extremely helpful with information and help about the islands and what is possible to do off the tourist track and put us in contact with the right local people.
We spend as much time as possible in the Lagoon (next to beach 7) a stunning beach with barely a few people every time we arrive; God bless the many signs warning people from swimming there because of crocodiles! (A few years back a tourist was hunted by a crocodile and since then there is a soldier guarding the passage to beach 7, warning people not to swim in the lagoon). I guess there is a much bigger chance to die from a coconut falling on our head, rather than being hunted by a crocodile, in this dreamland lagoon. The Lagoon is simply a breathtaking place, shaped around a coral reef with crystal water, and the forest hanging out to the beach giving shade and spots to hang your hammock, spending all day long there, in and out from the water, waiting for the colored red and orange sunset.
Walking in the forest make us feel so tiny, the majestic trees, with their silver huge trunks and green tops, standing here for hundreds of years, we feel we are walking in a fairytale, especially late afternoon around sunset, when the soft light breaks into the forest and creates a feeling of magic.
Memories of my time here all by myself with a few alternative back packers camping in the forest are flooding me. I am happy I got back to this spot with the family; it is still magic, it is still unspoiled. for the next two weeks of our stay in Havelock Island the Lagoon is the spot we find ourselves return to, almost every day.
I decide to celebrate Kari’s birthday in the Aquarium, a beautiful hard-to-find small beach which can be reached only on low tide, an hours walk via narrow strips of beaches and small bays, and careful climbing over steep and sharp rocks, but there is no alternative access from the jungle. 14 years ago I spent there some unforgettable days completely isolated with nobody around, only fishermen every now and then dropping me and the beautiful friend I was with, some fishes which we would wrap with banana leaves and cook over fire. Couldn’t be more fresh and could not taste better! I remember the amazing corals gardens and fishes in all the colors imaginable, and there used to be a sweet water spring of drinking water bubbling straight from the ground. Lots of changes here. The tiny beach is covered with many giant trees, ghostly reminders of the massive demolition done by the Tsunami in 1994. Only a few drops are left from the clear spring, and nothing is left from the beautiful coral road, all died 3 years ago when the water temperature went too high for the corals to survive, so the fishes moved on. The place is still beautiful and nobody arrive here almost ever, we spend the day all by ourselves, sunbathing and swimming naked.
Our grand plan to try and get to a deserted island somewhere all by ourselves does not work out in the end, camping is officially not allowed any longer on the Andaman islands, and big penalty is given to both the camper and anyone helping them. The cost of the local traditional fisherman boat, to drop you and take you back are high as well, so we skip the idea for now.
After two beautiful weeks on Havelock island we decide to move on and check what Little Andaman has to offer, the most far and less visited island on the south side, about 5 hours from Port Blair. We had a beautiful time in Havelock we managed to find our moments and places and also blend into the backpackers vibe and enjoy it, but now it feels right to move on to look for the more natural, pure spots that these amazing Andaman islands can offer.
Little Andaman here we come….