We did a 5 day trip to Andaman. Trip planning assistance was done through pickyourtrail.com. The good part about planning your trip with guys like these are that, you get to plan your itinerary more or less by yourself (instead of one of those pre-planned boxed travel agent tour plans). Our requirements were simple. We wanted a relaxed holiday (did not want to keep running around). We wanted to spend some time in a resort with private beach access. The folks at PYT came up with a great plan. Lets dive into it in detail. Most opinions below are strictly mine. Your mileage may vary.
Fly from BLR to IXM (Port Blair). Dep 1130AM and arrival 2PM. Super wierd time, and we hate airline food for lunch. So we picked up sandwiches from Starbucks.
We had our Port Blair tour coordinator Arshad and a driver waiting at the arrival area with a name placard. (Will give phone number details etc at the end of the post).
Arshad gave us the plan for the day, and logistics. He is like a genie kinda guy. Shows up at just the right time and the right locations to help you with next step logistics. Very impressive coordination mechanics.
We checked in to Sinclairs Bay View. Great room (renovated recently) with fantastic views.
The property is kinda slightly aged and is in need of some sprucing up (exteriors, dining area, common area etc). Food is ok-ok in the restaurant. The staff, however, is amazing levels of warm / friendly / smiling. This made up for a bunch of issues. They are genuine and try to help. (Example – there was a large group of about 80 pax (pharma company sales offsite) during the time we were there. The staff made sure to tell us to come to the restaurant ahead of the usual buffet time, so that, we can avoid the noise/rush when the large group comes). Our package had a breakfast and dinner included in the tariff.
After we had freshened up, we headed off to the Cellular Jail. Spent about an hour or so soaking in the history of this place. Despite the crowds, it hits you hard on the kind of lives that the prisoners led here.
We had about an hour and half remaining for the sound and light show at the Cellular Jail. We sneaked a quick visit to the Corbyn Cove Beach. We were not impressed at all in this beach. Bunch of water sports. But nothing else.
We sped back to the Jail for the sound and light show – which was amazing. Tugs at your heart strings. Definitely emotional seeing the hard ships that some of our freedom fighters went though.
Back to our hotel room after this, had dinner and retired.
During all this time, we had the phone number of our scorpio driver (Sarfu). Jio phone signal is weak but not completely absent. In most places, we had some weak signal. We were however told that, if there was any situation where we dont have signal, we could just flag down any tourist vehicle driver and ask to call to Arshad or Sarfu, and people would oblige. I found that fascinating.
We had a ferry (Makruzz) to catch to Havelock at 8AM. Reporting time at the jetty is an hour before. Arshad had whatsapped the tickets the previous night. Sarfu was at the hotel in the morning. We had packed breakfast from the hotel (butter-cheese sandwiches (tad bit small, which we were a bit disappointed with), a muffin, biscuits, an apple and a banana). When we reached the jetty, we saw that almost everyone in line had a similar packed breakfast paper bag in their hand. The cruise is a large air conditioned catamaran type luxury boat. 90 min journey. Took us close to 2 hours though. You need to do security etc (pass bags through xray etc) at the jetty.
On reaching Havelock, we had Basheer (who was our Havelock coordinator) waiting for us on the jetty with a driver (with a name placard). We were whisked to our hotel – Sandyy Wavess. This is one of a half dozen resorts on a stretch of road with an access to the beach.
Super cozy rooms. Great pool. Neat access to the beach. Except please do plan with the tides – which can change the scene within a couple of hours. You would see an awesome beach, but in a few hours, the tide receeds significantly and the beach is just not useable. So enquire about this in advance. (And if this is not available, there is no point in booking a beach access resort). We had this issue.
The restaurant was a mess. Staff shortage (which I learnt from one of the servers whom we befriended). It was one chef churning out stuff. The food was good though, but would always take anywhere between 60-90 minutes at a minimum (which pissed us off quite a bit!). The food being good was the saviour. Breakfast and dinner was a buffet – so we needn’t had to do the excruciating wait. Our package had a breakfast and dinner included in the tariff.
We went to the beach (on the property), relaxed a bit, and then in the evening headed to Radhanagar beach – apparently the 6th most cleanest beaches in Asia. True to this, the beach is an amazing one. Super clean. Fine sand. Great waves. Fantastic sunset.
The first half was going to be to Elephanta Island – where all the water activities are organized. Contrary to its name, it is not an island, even though you take a speed boat to it. It is just a remote part of the same Havelock island, which you go by boat.
Super well organized again. You can buy tickets before you take the speed boat. You get assigned a speed boat. You got to remember the boat name (ours was Sea Lion 16). The boat waits for you for 3 hours and brings you back. You can also buy tickets at the destination.
All guests get a complementary introductory 5 min snorkeling session. Basically a bait tactic to take the free session, and then lured to deeper waters. We wanted to do this towards the end, but we ran out of time and skipped it.
Our package had jetski and glass bottomed boat as part of it. The glass bottomed boat ride is awesome. You can see the corals and the coloured fish clearly.
We took a few extra rides – Black eye and Standing rides – which are just different kinds of inflatables pulled by a speed boat. (Wife and kid went on this). We also did Sea Walk (a unique experience) and para-sailing.
The Sea walk is a beautiful experience. You are taken to a platform away from shore. Ladders go down to the sea bottom from the platform. The area is netted all around (so that large fishes / sharks do not come in).
They put a 45 kg pressurized helmet on your head/shoulders and lower you down (climb down the ladder). Each person has a diver assigned and a photographer taking pics. You go down 20-30 feet to the ocean floor. The diver basically moves you around and shows you the corals, the colourful fishes (think nemo type fishes), and sets you up for good pics, which the photographer is busy shooting with a go-pro. This goes on for about 10-15 mins and then you are pulled up. This does momentarily make the ears pop for some folks (it did for me, did not impact my wife).
Overall, the organization is wonderful for the kinds of crowds that this place gets.
Back at the hotel by around 130PM and we had food (had to wait 90 minutes for it though).
We had the evening to ourselves, but we could not resist the urge to head back to the Radhanagar beach again.
Time to head back to Port Blair. This time the ferry was Nautica Lite. A very similar luxury boat. Same duration. The timing was slightly later. So we had the luxury of having a good breakfast buffet before the journey.
Back in Port Blair, we had planned lunch at Cafe Amaya. This roof top restaurant has continental fare and was recommended by PYT and others as well. The food was good and the view was awesome.
We had the evening to ourselves. We did a leisurely walk down to the Flag Point area (this is very close to the Sinclair BayView hotel). A good long walk. We visited this small temple – Alaikadal Ayyanaar. Beautiful temple. We walked down to the first ever tricolour flag that was hoisted by Subash Chandra Bose in 1943. History goes that, when the Japanese evacuated after WW2, they handed the islands to Bose, who was the supreme commander of the Azad Hind Fauj.
We walked past the awesome food trucks, and found one which was selling falooda/ice creams. Yumm-max ice creams was had. We skipped the other trucks, because we were not too confident about handling the veg and non-veg food together.
We popped into the Ramakrishna Mission for 10-15 minutes and listened to the evening aarthi.
Back at the hotel, we had a good dinner and retired.
Originally we did not have anything planned, but in the last minute, we had asked Arshad if there was something we had missed and could cover in a few hours. Our flight back to BLR was only at 230PM.
We realized we had not seen Ross Island (Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep – NSCB Dweep). This was the summer retreat for the British officers.
The place is in ruins with tree roots growing eerily over the ruined walls. But one can imagine, how grand it would have been during those times.
The tourism board has done a good job of putting concrete paths through these ruins all the way to the light house (and the lone sailor man statue) at the edge of the island ; and golf carts (for a fee) to ferry people around. This was super useful, given the scorching sun.
The island has quite a few deer (saw many) and peacocks (did not get to see any). The golf card driver said that, the British had brought these deer to this island for food (venison). When the British left, there were about 15 deer, and now there are about 500 of them.
Headed back to the hotel in a couple of hours. Had an early lunch. Headed to the airport. And back in Bangalore for peak hour traffic at 530PM 🙂
The Andamans is super super hot in April. You can get dehydrated / zapped very easily. Wear shades and a hat. Put on sunscreen. Keep drinking water all the time. Interesting tidbit – you will only get 2 lt water bottles in most shops. An elderly shopkeeper lady explained why to us – people drink 1 lt bottle in one go and throw the bottles all over. 2 lt bottles however last for some time, and have a handle on top of the bottle.
Both the islands are super clean. Clean roads, pedestrian pathways. No plastic bottles (in the sea or on land). No junk. Was so heartening to see.
Arshad Port Blair coordinator number – +91 99332 74036
The coordination among these organizers is impressive and you should not have to worry too much at all.
Airtel and BSNL have good signal strength across the islands, I am told. I had Jio and we had coverage in about 50% of the areas.
Take adequate cash when you head there. ATMs are available but do not risk it. Given spotty network connectivity, do not rely on UPI. Especially in Elephanta Islands / Havelock.
PB resorts do not have beach access. Some have good views. We realized that this might not necessarily be that big a deal, for some folks.
Ask about the tides and when the beaches are usable.
Bangalore – Dehradun: Saturday afternoon. Indigo 6E 911. Leaves BLR around 1PM and reaches DED around 4PM.
The return flight for the same leg was way too expensive (Close to Dussehra dates). Hence did DED – DEL (Air India (AI 9610) at around 7AM. A 40 minute flight to DEL.
Terminal change. And DEL – BLR by Indigo (6E 2423) at around 1PM.
Booked these flights pretty early – about a month in advance – got decent rates.
The best way to do pilgrimage in this part of the world – is to take the services of a local cab person.
I had gotten the contacts of Mr. Prem from Twitter (@mohithkrishna). Mohith had done a couple of trips with him.
Mr. Prem is from Rishikesh, has a well maintained Ertiga, and has been doing these trips in around the Char Dham for the last 22 years!. There is no online booking etc. You call him up. He writes down in his diary.
You communicate/remind/confirm using Whatsapp. Since he had seen my DP and I his, on Whatsapp, it was super easy for him to locate us.
Prem-ji can be reached at — 98971 83145 / 94124 09127
All accommodation was booked with Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (GMVNL) – through their online portal – gmvnl.in. Horrible user interface, but hey – online booking + payment works.
Note: If you want to book for one night – say Check-in on Oct 5th noon and check out Oct 6th morning – choose Oct 5th and Oct 5th as From and To dates. 😉
You will get email confirmations.
GMVN is never fancy. Spacious basic bedrooms and relatively clean bathrooms. Government organisation. Best locations guaranteed though. Be prepared for warm good staff but with extreme Government inefficiencies though.
Day1 (Saturday night) – Ganga Resort Rishikesh – Newly opened. Very good rooms. Facing the Ganga. Superb views.
Day2 (Sunday night) – Devlok – Badrinath. Closest feasible to the temple – which is still a good km from the temple, through a pretty steep slopey road. But brilliant locations. 360 degree peak views from outside the rooms.
Day3 and Day4 (Monday/Tuesday night) – GMVN Rishilok – They have nice rooms and cottages. Fairly central in Rishikesh city.
Dehradun airport is closer to Rishikesh airport than Dehradun city. So plan accordingly. Prem-ji met us at the airport and it is about a 40 minute drive of really good paved road to Rishikesh. Reached Ganga resort within an hour. Checked in comfortably. Freshened up.
Left around 5ish to Paramarth Niketan for Gangaji Aarti. Have seen this before and it is one of the best in Rishikesh (second being at Triveni Ghat).
Dinner was at Chotiwala – right next door. Have eaten here. Lots of hype. The food is normal, but clean/consistent.
Night stay at Ganga Resort, Rishikesh.
Day 2 (Sunday):
Prem-ji had made it very clear. 12 hours to Badrinath from Rishikesh. So if we start at 430AM, we reach at 430PM. The later we leave, the later we reach Badrinath, and it would suck if we reach late.
We left at 430AM 🙂
Brilliant views of the Garhwal Himalayas from the get go. And horrible roads from the beginning as well.
Dev Prayag – The first of the 5 Prayags that we would encounter on the way and back. Prayag means the confluence of 2 or more rivers. The Ganga river system gets built in these 5 Prayags. At Dev Prayag, The Alaknanda and Bhagirathi join to form what is formally known as Ganga, henceforth.
Lunch was had at Srinagar – a sleepy hamlet past Dev Prayag. Brilliant parathas (or perhaps we were just super hungry).
As we trudge uphill, the Alaknanda is still a fairly large river, meandering, cutting across the Garhwal Himalayas. As you will see in the full post below, the Alaknanda will follow us for most of the journey uphill.
We skipped Rudraprayag darshan on the way to Badrinath, because that part of the road is a one-way. Prem-ji promised us that we will get a good darshan on the way back.
Next Prayag up was Karnaprayag – where the Pindari Ganga (from the Pindari Glacier) merges with the Alaknanda
Next Prayag was Nand Prayag ,where the Nandakini merges with the Alaknanda. Not that great a viewpoint, but you can see the two different rivers merging.
You can spot Chamoli and Bageshwar on the way. These are district headquarters. You can recognize these names from the time when there was the massive flash floods in 2012 – the one which affected Kedarnath.
Lunch at Pipalkoti. Decent place. Nothing fancy. Stick to Dal and Roti. Do not go fancy in any of these places.
Note: If you are from the South and are used to well cooked mashed rice, do not order rice items. Rice is usually cooked very rare here. Almost undercooked. My son had a bit of a minor stomach upset because of this.
The Alaknanda looks reduced in size hereabouts, but you can see the force and the rapids.
As we rise higher and higher, the mountain views are spectacular.
Next major stop – Joshimath. This is one of the Sankara Maths that Adi Sankaracharya established (in fact, the first one). We visited the Narasimha temple here. This is one of the 108 Divya Desams as sung by ThirumangaiAlwar (where it is refered to as Tiruppirudi).
And the highest of the 5 Prayags – Vishnu Prayag – where the Dhauli Ganga merges with the Alaknanda.
And as we near Badrinath, we start seeing the first snow peaks.
We reached bang on time at 430PM. New found respect for Prem-ji for his estimation skills. But then 21 years – what can you expect. Checked in to Devlok. And then had a darshan of Badri Narayan-ji.
October is almost the end of the season for Badrinath. The temple closes for winter by Diwali (November first week). There was barely any crowd in the temple.
But then, it was cold. Verrryy cold. It was sub-10 degrees celsius in the evening. Dipped down to -3 deg celsius in the night and early morning. Be very prepared with warm clothes. Gloves. Caps. At least two layers of sweaters.
Dinner was at Devlok. Basic roti + dal stuff.
Day 3 (Monday): After an eventful Day 2, and a great darshan of Badri Vishal, Day 3 was the trudge back to Rishikesh.
Had toast and tea at Devlok – which is the only thing that was available at 730AM. Yep. The same 12 hour rule applies for the return journey too. But then, you are closer to home (Rishikesh) and descended most of the mountains by the time the sun sets.
On the way back, we stopped by the Shankar Mutt at Joshimath. There is a cave temple where Thotakacharya (first disciple of Adi Sankara) had meditated. There is also the Spatika Linga that Adi Sankara had installed for the Mutt. Very calm and serene place.
Lunch again was at Pipalkoti.
Prem-ji stopped at various places on the way for quick snacks (samosa etc) and tea.
As promised, Rudraprayag darshan was had on the way back. This is where the river Mandakini merges with Alaknanda.
Night stay at Rishilok, Rishikesh.
Day 4 (Tuesday): We had done Hardwar Rishikesh a couple of times before (when I used to live in Noida long ago). So, this time, we decided to explore Dehradun and surrounding places. We were in for a treat.
Sahasradhara – Sulphur springs (not hot). A small cable car ride and a park for kids. We went up for the view. Cross the small river, and there is a cave with a Shiva Linga, where Dronacharya is supposed to have meditated. Nothing spectacular – except for the Drona cave.
Lunch was at Anandam. Pure veg restaurant. Chats and combo meals were awesome.
Tapkeswar Mahadev temple – this was a golden find. Beautiful Shiva temple. Couple of cave temples too. One of these caves is where Aswathama (Drona’s son) was supposed to have been born. The small Tamasa river flows by serenely. We took a nice break here. Dipped our feet in the river and just enjoyed the beauty.
Last stop in the Dehradun sight seeing was the Mindrolling Buddhist Monastery. Another golden find. Wow. Brilliant. If you did not tell anyone, folks might be led to believe you went to Thailand or somewhere in SE Asia. 🙂
Headed back to Rishikesh by around 7ish. Did a quick trip to the Triveni Ghat for one last Ganga-ji darshan. The great river flowing swiftly into the night is something that needs to be experienced.
Then on to Rishilok, Rishikesh, in time for dinner / Night stay.
Flight was at 7AM. So rise up early morning. Pack up and head to the Dehradun airport. Bid Good bye to Prem-ji. Settle payment. It is amazing how he operates completely out of trust. No advance payments. I had paid a couple of times for Diesel during the trip, and he reduced that amount, collected the balance amount and done.
Brief transit at Delhi airport – where we had some food. And then back to Bangalore in the 1PM flight.
Reached Bangalore by 4ish. End of a brilliant trip.
History/Context for trip: My mother has been wanting to go to Badrinath for quite a long while. Both my father and mother had (and still have) heart ailments and had been advised not to do any sort of trekking or high altitude gimmickry. Badrinath is the only one of the four Char Dham shrines, which does not require you to do any trekking/walking. You can drive all the way up to Badrinath.
We decided to do it as comfortably as feasible ~ given that the parents are in the later part of their sixties. I tweet stormed most of what is there above, but blogging it here for posterity and for a one-stop-notes place.
Road until Namakkal is awesome (4-6 lane National Highway). I keep referring this to as Vajpayee Road – lest we forget the great man who kicked off the Golden Quadrilateral Highway project.
Speed will drop while approaching Salem though. Even though it is a bypass, several roundabouts and a lot of traffic will reduce your speed.
After Namakkal, it is 2 lane highway. Road quality is pretty decent though.
I was told that the last stretch to Musiri is really bad. So my brother-in-law had asked me to take the Kulithalai bridge just before reaching Musiri. The Kulithalai to Trichy road runs parallel to the Musiri Trichy road – just on the other side of the River Cauvery. The road however is decent.
Once inside Trichy, there are two ways to reach Kumbakonam.
First way is through Kallanai (Grand Anaicut) -> Thiruvaiyaar -> Kumbakonam.
I took this road on my onward journey. This is typical country road. Single lane. The road quality is OK, not spectacular. There are patches of good and bad roads. I am told however to avoid this road during rainy season, since the road quality invariably deteriorates.
Second way is through Tanjore -> Kumbakonam.
I took this road on the way back. From Trichy, take the road towards Samayapuram. You will see the road leading to Nagappitanam. This is a national highway connecting Nagappatinam->Coimbatore. Extremely good road. This road leads you to Tanjore outskirts. Take the Tanjore bypass toward Papanasam. You will hit Ammapettai, Papanasam, Swamimalai and then Kumbakonam.
Tanjore to Kumbakonam is typical of all Tanjore district (tanjavoor jilla roads :)) roads. Single lane. Winding roads with trees and fields on both sides. THe road will pass through every village/town on the road. Crazy bus drivers. Watch out for unmarked speed breakers too.