On Andamans, Bollywood beauty

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Getting there

The Andamans are accessible by direct flight from Kolkata and Chennai, with Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo and SpiceJet all flying into Port Blair with journey times coming in at just over two hours.

Although the destination spreads across a number of islands, the rich flora and fauna along with the tribal heritage of the islands mean that it is a protected territory, with firm access restrictions. Foreign nationals require a permit, which can be obtained upon arrival at Port Blair and is valid for 30 days with further extensions available.

A number of wholesalers package short breaks to the destination. For a complete list of those recommended by the local tourism body, visit www.andamans.gov.in/touroperator.aspx.

As the sun hangs heavy in the sky, a small crowd of Indian holidaymakers surges onto the sand at beach No. 7, also known as Radhanagar Beach, on Havelock Island in the Andamans.

They're not here to bathe in the azure waters at this juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. They're instead clustered together on one patch of powdered-sugar sand, cameras at the ready, to bask in the sunset.

And it is spectacular. Burnt oranges and Bollywood pinks stream across the gently rippling ocean, drawing gasps and sighs from the expectant crowd.

Although not known as a nation of waterbabies, India's burgeoning middle class is increasingly heading to the Andamans, lured by its picture-postcard promise. While many of the older visitors stick to the sand, younger honeymoon couples in particular are keen to try snorkeling or scuba diving for the first time among the unspoiled coral fields, to swim with an elephant or to hike among its densely forested hills.

And while still relatively unknown among international markets, visitors from the West are also gradually coming, often tagging the casual island getaway to the end of a long and arduous discovery of the fascinating subcontinent.

Andamans, Doongi Dives boatThe Andamans offer a tropical island respite with a distinctly Indian twist, minus the grit, grime and chaos of the mainland.

But travelers shouldn't expect to find strips of glitzy hotels here; this is no Maldives, at least not yet. Even at the upper end, properties like Sinclairs are modest although comfortable. Located at the main island gateway of Port Blair, this small city can be a worthwhile base for a day or two to explore both the islands' indigenous and colonial history. A sound and light show brings the Cellular Jail National Memorial to life each evening, while a four-wheel-drive tour into the island's north can introduce visitors to the Jarawa tribe. Visit www.sinclairshotels.com/portblair.

However, for beach time, Havelock Island is the place to go. Boats depart frequently from Port Blair and take between 2.5 and four hours. Once there, travelers will find row upon row of beachfront bungalows ranging from the refined boutique simplicity of Barefoot (www.barefoot-andaman.com), just footsteps from Radhanagar, to quirkily colorful Munjoh (www.munjoh.com) on low-key beach No. 5 or the more budget Barefoot Scuba Dive Resort (www.diveandamans.com), the only property to feature accommodations right on the sand.

Andamans, swimming Elephant.Barefoot Scuba is also where you can arrange to snorkel with Rajan, the aged former logging elephant saved by locals from a retirement of temple servitude on the mainland, who is still partial to a dip in the ocean from time to time.

More hardened adventurers can opt instead to dive a little deeper to encounter white-tip reef sharks, turtles, mantarays or even dugongs on a trip to the reefs of the North Andamans or around Barren Island, the site of a volcano thought to be at least 1.8 million years old.

A number of dive operators have set up here in response to the islands' underwater appeal. Doongi Dives is among the newcomers. See www.doongidives.com.  

After a day of watersports, head to the laid-back Cafe del Mar on beach No. 3 for the freshest of fish curries and fragrant rotis from the tandoor, washed down with a Kingfisher beer against a crackling soundtrack of Bollywood beats.

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