The islands lie on the trade route between Burma and India and their existence has been recorded on Ptolemy's 2nd
century map and were also recorded by the Chinese traveler I. Tsing in the 7th
Marco Polo is believed to have visited the islands in the thirteenth century and the British used the island as penal colony in 1867 to send the Indian freedom-fighters and criminals for life imprisonment. The islands were earlier inhabited exclusively by tribal people – the Jarawa, Onge, Sentinelese and Andamanis (of Negrito origin) and the Shompens and Nicobarese (of Mongoloid origin).
Today, most of the inhabitants are Indians, Burmese and Malay. The languages commonly spoken are Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and English. The Andamanese language bears no resemblance to any other language. In the areas of art and crafts, Mother-of-pearl jewellery, shell and exotic wood crafted items, palm mats, and exquisite natural shells are the main craft items for tourist trade on the islands.
The Wandur National Park comprises of about 12 islands and is located 30 km. southwest of Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The park extends from latitude 10013'–140N and the longitudes 920–930E, in the Bay of Bengal.
The Wandur National Park extends over an area of 281.50 sq. km., which includes 220 sq. km. of territorial sea water. There are 15 islands in the park with beautiful sandy beaches and creeks. The soil cover is rather thin, varying from two to five metres. It is mostly alluvial on the hill-tops and diluvial in the valleys and ridges. The coastal flats have a mixture of sand, silty clay and diluvial material. The sand is in general, mild to moderately acidic with a rich humus topsoil. As a result, most of the islands in the park are densely forested. The open spaces are covered by creepers and scrub. A casual look around reveals brilliant tropical flowers, broken branches and leaves spread over jungle pathways. Dense mangrove forests spread right down to the sea. The vegetation on these islands is like none you might have seen in mainland India.
Caves and caverns are another interesting aspect of these islands. The sandy beaches where boats can land are interspersed between the sheer and imposing granite cliffs and walls.
Vegetation and Flora
As mentioned earlier the islands are densely vegetated. The Wandur Park has a tropical climate and there are tropical storms in the late summer which causes great damage. All over the forests tropical flowers including orchids thrive. Other important plant species are gurjan, padauk, bullet wood, silk cotton tree, bamboo, canes and ferns. The mangrove is a great attraction at the Wandur National Park. It is practically an evergreen tree with thick leathery leaves designed to minimise transpiration. This tree has its roots in seawater. Its roots and leaves act as food for marine life.
There are extensive mangrove stands all over the island although many have been destroyed. This tree provides a natural buffer against storm waves. There are 60 species of mangroves existing today out of which, Rhizophora, Bruguiera, Avicennia, and Heritiera species are found at the Wandur National Park. The total area under mangrove vegetation in India is 4827 sq. km. as per the forest survey conducted in 1999. Out of this area, 966 sq. km. are in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The mangroves in this area mainly fringe the creeks, and are seen in the backwaters and muddy shores.
The islands are home to a vast array of animals from the Andaman wild pig and spotted deer to civets and bats. Reptiles such as the king cobra, krait, pit vipers and day gecko roam the vast forest stretches. A marine diversity hotspot, these islands are the nesting grounds for leatherback turtles (the largest turtle species in the world) during November and February. The hawksbill sea turtle, and olive Ridleys live in the shallow coastal waters. Green turtles frequent inshore waters less than 25 m. deep, which are sheltered by reefs.
Several hundred estuarine crocodiles may be seen here and there is a crocodile sanctuary at Port Mouat on the south-west coast of south Andaman. The coconut crab is another important species found on the South Sentinel island. The richness and diversity of the coral is breathtaking – out of 1,000 known species globally, at least 135 have been observed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The reefs are the rainforests of the sea and are home to thousands of creatures such as green parrot fish, blue damsels, yellow butterfly fish, black surgeons and silver jacks. This is cleaner wrasse, giant clam and clown fish country.
The park is also an important birding destination. Great numbers of the Roseate Tern, the Black-naped Tern and the Sooty Tern are found nesting on the islands. The small brown duck that you commonly see here is the Andaman Teal. They are found in fresh water pools, marshes, tidal creeks and paddy fields, usually found in flocks of 20-30. The Whistling Teal, the White-bellied Sea Eagle, parakeets and Reef Herons are also found here.
From Wandur National Park:
Jollybuoy island: The most famous of the islands is Jollybouy, with a sandy beach at the nothern end, encircled by coral reefs. Walking in this area, one can see the starfish, anemones, cowries, sea cucumbers, turbots and spider conches.
Redskin island: Home to herds of deer, this is a large island with caves over the northern cliffs and mangrove forests in the interiors. It is accessible by boat.
Grub island and the Tarmugli reefs: Across the channel from Redskin island is Tarmugli, a coral reef which is ideal for diving. The tiny Grub island is just next door!
Other islands from Port Blair:
Rangat island: The island is located 170 km. from Port Blair by road and 90 km. by sea. On Cutbert bay, one can view turtles nesting from December to February.
Neil island: This island with lush forests and sandy beaches is 36 km. by sea from Port Blair. There are beautiful beaches at Lakshmanpur, Bharatpur and Sitapur and a splendid natural bridge on the seashore.
Long island: Located 82 km. by boat from Port Blair, the sandy beach at Lalaji Bay is great to watch dolphins.
Havelock island: 50 km. by sea from Port Blair, this island boasts of the Radhanagar Beach, which is very popular with tourists.
Little Andaman island: White sandy beaches, waterfalls, boating in the creeks and elephants, all located 120 km. from Port Blair.
Barren island: India's only active volcano, this island is about three kilometres in diametre and has a big crater, about half a kilometre offshore. Landing ashore on Barren island is not permitted and only special boats may visit Barren Island, located 139 km. from Port Blair. A real homage to the heroes of freedom struggle is incomplete without visiting the infamous Cellular Jail (now a national memorial), Ross Island and Old Jail at Vipar Islands.
The best way to travel around the islands is by the forest department launch or by renting a canoe with a trained guide. If you are planning to rent a private boat, it is advisable to book well in advance at Port Blair itself.
Coral reefs are among the world's most productive fish breeding grounds. They must be protected, for coming generations to witness their beauty so do not touch or collect the coral.
Photography and diving is allowed only on the islands open to tourists, after paying the prescribed fee.
On the islands, food available is mostly vegetarian.
Bicycles can be rented from Aberdeen Bazaar.
All around the park there are dustbins and placards urging visitors not to litter the park. This must be diligently followed if we are to preserve our remaining wildernesses.
Foreigners require a permit to visit the Andaman islands. The permit allows stay for 15 days at a stretch. Foreigners are not allowed in the southern islands of Nicobar.
Lighting fires and carrying arms and ammunition is prohibited.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Van Sadan, Haddo, P.O., Port Blair – 744102, India. Tel.: 03192-33321.
The Chief Wildlife Warden, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Van Sadan, Haddo P.O., Port Blair – 744102, India. Tel.: 03192-33549; Fax: 03192-33549; E-mail: email@example.com
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife division, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Haddo P.O., Port Blair – 744102, India. Tel.: 03192-32816.
The best season to visit the park is from December to early April. May to October is the rainy season, with maximum rainfall of 2532.6 mm. Temperatures vary between 240C to 350C.
Accommodation is available for every budget at Port Blair which is 30 km. from the park, as well as at the park itself. A Forest Guest House with limited facilities and a private lodge are situated at Wandur. The Directorate of Tourism provides cosy and comfortable accommodation at affordable prices at Hornbill Nest at Port Blair.
Some of the accommodation available on the other islands include Andaman Teal House, Dolphin Yatri Niwas at Havelock Island, Hawksbill Nest at Rangat, Swiftlet Nest at Mayabunder, Turtle Resort at Diglipur and Hawabill Nest at Neil Island.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) runs the Megapod Tourist Home Complex at Port Blair. For reservations contact: General Manager, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd. (ANIIDCO), Vishranti, Port Blair – 744101. Tel.: 32098/ 33695; Fax: 03192-35098/ 32702.
Regular flights are available to Port Blair from Kolkata (1,255 km.) and Chennai (1,190 km.). One can also travel by ship to the islands from Kolkata, Chennai or Vishakapatnam (1,200 km.).
From Port Blair, Wandur is only 30 km. by road. State transport buses and private buses and taxies ply regularly between Port Blair and Wandur. The Department of Information, Publicity and Tourism, Andaman and Nicobar islands also provides transport to reach the park. Within the park, a launch is provided by the forest department which visits two or three islands daily.
Another option is renting canoes from local fishermen. Authorised tour operators provide boats at Wandur jetty to visit various other islands which are open to tourists such as Jollybouy, Chester, Redskin, Grub and the Twins. Entry to Wandur National Park requires an entry fee, which can be paid at the forest range office.